So the off-season is finally over and training camp beings tomorrow meaning the start of the NBA season is just over a month away. Lot of excitement about the future of this franchise, and rightfully so with a young growing superstar in Kevin Durant, guys that look like potential All-stars in Westbrook and Green, a rookie who could be the 09-10 ROY, and a ton of young talented role players.
The biggest question in my mind is has Westbrook taken the next step in his development as a PG?
Last year was obvious that this was the first time in a while that he had been asked to play a true PG role and while at times he excelled just as often he showed his youth in an up and down season for Russ. After starting out on the bench under PJ, the coaching change to Brooks saw Westbrook become the full time starter at PG and was asked to lead the team. Hopefully this year shows improved decision making, playing under more control, and improved shooting/shot selection.
#2 in my mind is what will Jeff Green look like at PF with a full offseason to dedicate himself to the position?
The biggest thing I think people want to see is an improvement in rebounding. While Green has been a capable rebounder so far, and proved he could play the PF well, he had an up and down season as well and at times was not really a force on the boards. I think most people would like to see him average 8.5 rebs per game this season along with some improved defense and maybe some more low post game offensively.
#3: Whats going on at Center?
Krstic is a nice player, a good guy to pick and pop but he's more of a PF than a center and I don't think anyone in the league is intimidated by him. The Thunder picked up Etan Thomas in a salary dump move to bring in for spot minutes at center as well, if he can stay healthy he will probably give the team 10-12 minutes of solid play a game. Also likely to see playing time will be Serge Ibaka and BJ Mullens, although they will likely be seeing time in the D-League as well. Nick Collison will also see minutes here but that is not what this team wants happening if they want to win. He's a good backup PF but he's no center.
#4: James Harden?
Whats going on with this guy. This is the guy I thought was not only the smart pick, but the right pick and may end up being one of the best players out of this draft. Thunder fans were undoubtedly glad not to have to deal with all the politics and drama that Rubio ended up coming with and Harden looks like a potential star at SG, offensively he can shoot, he's an adept passer, and he's creative enough to get into the lane, and did I mention he can shoot. He will be huge for this team stretching the court and opening up lanes for Russ, Green, and most importantly KD to operate. I'd say he's more likely to come off the bench Manu-style as the super sixth man.
#5: backup PG?
Is Shaun Livingston going to be better in year 2 of his comeback. Too often he looked hesitant/tentative at times, and who could blame him. I cringe when even thinking about that injury. Coaches will need to continue to monitor his health as I don't think he will be able to go full throttle for at least another season. However, he will be very important to give Westbrook rest and give 10-12 minutes of good play. I think Kyle Weaver will also get a look at minutes at this position. Both of those guys will play SG as well.
#6: rest of the team?
How much have guys like Weaver, Sefolosha, White, etc improved over the course of the off-season. Those 3 in particular should see a lot of minutes and will be counted on to give good production off the bench. With Collison have more or less plateaued as a player I see White as a guy that could take some of his minutes and lead to him being used in a trade to land this team a legit center.
#7: Ibaka and Mullens, are these guys legit NBA players or huge draft mistakes?
These guys are going to take time to develop and we as fans need to recognize that they are nowhere near a finished product and might not ever reach their potential. Most of that will fall on them but some will fall on the coaches. Both are extremely athletic and have the potential to be very good players if they develop. Both need to get stronger, become better rebounders/defenders, and develop some sort of inside game. I think we'll see them at times during the season but they will be back and forth between the NBA and the D-League.
I don't know about anyone else but I'm looking forward to the start of the season and am definitely excited about the possibilities for this team, obviously in the future, but for this year as well.