With the NBA offseason activity beginning to wane heavily this week, albeit for a few signings still up in the air- Brandon Jennings/Nikola Pekovic notably. And on the eve of the NFL and college football's annual takeover of all things media, I think it's finally time to make some predictions for the upcoming NBA season given that the majority of rosters are somewhere between working rough draft and fixed. Now before reading this column, I need you guys to realize a few things: 1) I'm making NBA predictions in JULY and literally ANYTHING can happen before the season to derail these predictions. 2) These are 100% serious. I am not here to troll or make fun of anybody. That would be churlish and a waste of time. 3) I encourage you to respond with how you feel about my predictions. So without further ado, I present to you a running column that will include a Fanpost for each and every NBA team, "The Flagrantly Early, Incredibly Half-Baked NBA Predictions Series."
OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER
Despite playing in only 23 games last season and averaging 6 minutes those games, it looks like Oklahoma City is perfectly content to take the Jeremy Lamb train full steam ahead. While the track has hardly been laid down for Lamb's NBA career, it was moments like this crossover from Orlando summer league that make us want to forgive Sam Presti for trading away James Harden last summer. While Lamb will technically backup Thabo Sefolosha on the depth chart, it's clear that OKC has plans to use the 2nd year Lamb in the same role filled by Kevin Martin last year as the offensive counterpart to Thabo's defensive stalwartism. The more you think about it though, weren't Westbrook and Durant kind of thrown out there to figure things out on their own with little competition? They turned out just fine and I'm sure Jeremy Lamb will rise to the occasion as well. Jeremy brings the lankiest 6'5'' frame you'll ever see, with his sick handle and very natural scoring ability so there's a lot to like about the UConn prospect going into this year. Although he's not got the facial hair of his predecessor, Jeremy Lamb does have a contract worth $11 million less per year, and a large role for OKC that he's in just the right place to fulfill.
No. 2: OKC's depth will be their crux
When you look at OKC's starting 5, you can't help but admire how stacked they are. From top to bottom it's a powerful unit and they have a great continuity about them that isn't seen too often these days in the NBA. Yet, after a quick perusal of the bench situation you can't help but be a little worried. While they sport loads of young talent in Jackson, Lamb, Orton, Liggins, Roberson, Jones, and Adams you can't help but feel uneasy because youth is rarely ever served up well come the post season. Take a brief look at the past decade of NBA champions; none of them relied this heavily on the youth revolution as the Thunder beg to do this year. But, man I think we'd all breathe a little easier had they snagged a bench sharpshooter like Mike Miller or Dorell Wright to go along with a 2nd unit including veterans Derek Fisher's corpse and Nick Collison. In no way am I saying the Thunder are in trouble; Westbrook and Durant are world killers worth 50 wins playing 2-on-5 but if the ship starts sinking, it's going to be because they just don't have enough skill plus experience on their bench.
No. 3: Kevin Durant will claim the scoring title
Last year, Kevin Durant came within 0.6 points per game of beating Carmelo for the scoring title. This year Durant will win it, and when you look at the evidence, it's all there. For starters, OKC will obviously bring Russell up to speed gingerly because the last thing they need is Westbrook tweaking something in week one and re-injuring his knee. Now I know it's just a meniscus and he's already off crutches, but you can't honestly- without a shadow of a doubt- know how stable Russell's knee or mental state will be when the first week of the season arrives. And frankly, with a playoff team certainly in hand what's the point of risking it by having him push himself too hard too early? So as he eases into the season, Durant's going to get more touches meaning more chances to pad his numbers early on. Further when you look at the other contender's for last season's belt, Carmelo will in some capacity cede touches to Andrea Bargnani whether he likes it or not- same for Harden to Howard in Houston- so their scoring will dip ever so slightly. Kobe ideally won't play half the season, so I'd bet he's out. LeBron would probably be the greatest challenger to Durant's scoring title run, but he won't win it because he shares the ball too much. And barring a career year from Steph Curry, the title is realistically Durant's to lose.