It’s finally here everyone! After a summer of pain that few franchises have experienced - Kevin Durant bolted town (I pray for the day we won’t talk about that every single day), Russell Westbrook committed with a new contract which delays his inevitable decision, and Serge Ibaka is now playing near Disneyworld - we are ready to embark on a completely new journey.
Welcome To Loud City enlisted some of it’s best writers to discuss the new season, seeking questions from followers on Twitter. Want to be involved in asking questions for future roundtables and mailbags? Leave questions in the comments or on our Twitter feeds and we will answer them.
What are some of the biggest questions heading into the new season? Let’s take a look.
Adam Joseph: With the development required from younger players, you can dream of the Western Conference Finals. Realistically though I think with the current roster it’s the second round, with a defeat at the hands of the Warriors, Clippers or Spurs. Those teams have too much firepower and prowess at both ends. Fairy tales happen of course and I want to be proved wrong, but realistically there are too many “what if’s” about this team going forward.
J.A. Sherman: My absolute ceiling involves all sorts of unmentionables like several players who wear gold and blue going down with season-long but not long-term injuries, leading to one of the greatest underdog tournaments of all time in the West.
But if I’m not feeling too cynical, I would say that OKC has the talent at least to get to a 50 win season. I think most prognosticators end up with around 46-47 wins, which I think is entirely reasonable, given that Westbrook carried this team to 45 wins 2 seasons ago amidst complete chaos. The offense will absolutely be good enough, I’d expect them to be top 10. It is the defense that is the biggest concern, that is entirely predicated on whether Westbrook and Oladipo can sync up mentally and physically to play defense with purpose and maintain a strategy that keeps them in games when Russ & Victor aren’t hitting shots.
Josh Carney: My absolute ceiling for this team is the No. 3 seed in the West and a showdown with the Golden State Warriors in the Western Conference Finals, largely by riding the coattails of Russell Westbrook, who should put up absurd numbers this year on the way to his first league MVP. Defensively, I don’t think the Thunder will have a problem matching up with — and stopping — anyone in the league, especially the Warriors. The real issue will come down to what they have on offense outside of Westbrook, Kanter, Oladipo and Adams. Who steps up off the bench and emerges as a serious scoring option? If teams learn how to take away Russ and slow down the PnR with Russ and Kanter, this team could be in trouble offensively.
Brandon Jefferson: Western Conference Finalists. BOY WOULD THAT BE FUN! If MVP/Scorched Earth Russ is unleashed on the NBA and Steven Adams and Victor Oladipo develop into their best versions of themselves this team has what it takes to return right back to where their season ended a year ago.
Darian Hutchins: I think it's important to temper expectations for this season. The core is there for the Thunder to be a contender, but it's irresponsible to say they have a favorable chance at a ring this year. The Thunder's ceiling for the 16-17 NBA season will be a fun ride with a possible MVP bid for Westbrook and, ultimately, not having enough pieces in place to take down Goliath when the chips are down. The Thunder are better than a lot of pundits want to admit, but still far from where they need to be. A five or six seed and a first round exit from the playoffs are both in play for OKC.
Adam: Alex Abrines. He might have a bit to prove, but with Payne’s injury and unknown timetable going forward Abrines has the highest ceiling this season. His shooting is valuable if Anthony Morrow gets buried on the bench, and he has shown serious flashes in the preseason. There’s a reason the Thunder were so desperate to bring him over, they know talent when they see it.
J.A.: I think it’s tough to argue against Cam Payne once he returns to full health. Every bench needs to have its own identity, and OKC’s, with Payne, Kanter, Lauvergne, and then a bunch of youngsters including Abrines, Huestis, and hopefully McGary, could create a really fun one that keeps the offense on rapid fire.
Who would I say might be the first guy off the bench though? My upset pick is Abrines, because the first unit is going to struggle at times shooting the basketball, and Abrines is probably their best pure shooter right now.
JC: Domantas Sabonis. I absolutely loved his game coming out of Gonzaga and I was thrilled that they were able to get him in a package with Oladipo for Serge Ibaka. Outside of Sabonis, I think Ersan Ilyasova could really be a nice stretch 4 on this team.
Brandon: Alex Abrines. Next question.
Darian: I really like Joffrey Lauvergne. He could see an expanded role if OKC's frontcourt suffers any lengthy injuries this year and it is won't be a huge downgrade.
Adam: Steven Adams. He’s looked terrific in shoot-arounds and preseason, displaying talents we didn’t think he’d be able to show yet. Because the Thunder will need to him to score to balance the inside-out game, I think his role offensively will be vital. Barring a giant Oladipo leap, I’m banking my hope in Khal Adams.
J.A.: I’m going with Domantas Sabonis. He’s got the genes, he’s got the game, and he’s got just enough of the nasty in him to stand tall against veteran players.
Furthermore, I see attributes to his game that resemble Marc Gasol’s, including shot discretion, the ability to see the court and make quick reads and passes, and he might work really well with Westbrook in the PnR game. He probably won’t set the world on fire with eye-popping stats, but his measure to the team’s chemistry could be considerable.
JC: Victor Oladipo. I totally understand the concerns with his shooting and ability to create with the ball in his hands, but playing next to Westbrook will help immensely. He’ll certainly be a benefactor of space on the floor. 20 points a night should be the expectation for Oladipo this season.
Brandon: Alex Abrines. Next Question. Just kidding, slightly. I think we could really see Cameron Payne take the second year leap once he returns to action. We all saw the struggles in the preseason that the Thunder had without Westbrook on the floor. Payne will be tasked with leading the second group and if he can score some buckets and make plays he’ll help this team reach it’s full potential.
Darian: As much as I want to say Enes Kanter, Victor Oladipo is a prime candidate to breakout offensively with the Thunder. Oladipo feeding off of Westbrook could thrive and if both guys are on, it might be close to impossible to tame.
Adam: Leading OKC to a four seed. People who don’t watch this team day in, day out will assume otherwise but Russell Westbrook isn’t who everyone thinks he is. He’s not Kobe Bryant, nor Michael Jordan. He’s matured and he’s learned. 2014 was necessary, 2016 is different and his revenge reign is about to begin. 26-6-10 equals a good playoff seeding. Too much scoring means not enough help.
J.A.: I really don’t think we’re going to see Westbrook’s “great balls of fire” dance much this year, to be honest. Remember, we only saw it in 2014 because Westbrook was just trying to get his team to the playoffs when he and everyone else believed that #35 would be returning.
However, I think we’ll see this season something much more similar to last season, where Westbrook was fully willing to buy into Donovan’s new system and get his teammates on the same page. He’ll have his Kobe moments for sure, but Westbrook understands the long game really well. A 4th seed is going to be tough, but I think still more realistic than Westbrook pulling a 2006 Kobe.
JC: We’re about to witness a Russell Westbrook campaign for the ages, but I think they’ll be outside of the top four as a No. 5 seed, so I lean big numbers slightly, but not by much. OKC is not a bad team by any stretch.
Brandon: Top 4 seed. While I already have RUSSELL WESTBROOK’S SCORCHED EARTH TOUR merchandise printed and ready to go, the talk heading into the year seems like the team is trying to tailor Westbrook’s approach towards making his teammates better. Maurice Cheeks has been in his ear about the 00-01 Philadelphia 76ers team and how Allen Iverson was able to carry that team to the NBA Finals. The Thunder have a better roster one through 15 than that Sixers team. If Russ is able to get the rest of the team to play at its best it will mean great things for OKC.
Darian: Russell Westbrook is going to obliterate teams on occasion this season. But after reading Lee Jenkins' fascinating SI.com story that went up earlier in the week, it was really a glimpse into how little information the public has on Russ. The quotes Jenkins used from Westbrook lead me to believe he is eagerly accepting the challenge of being a leader and he will do whatever is best for the team, night in and night out. A fourth seed is in play if the Thunder can maximize the talent on the roster.
Adam: This would mean Oklahoma City have assets to trade? I just don’t think there’s enough there for them to get a deal done. Sam Presti is a smart, opportunistic man who will make a deal if it’s there to be made. If a team collapses, and is looking to sell assets Presti is a willing buyer, but I wouldn’t hold my breath waiting on a deal. Free agency next summer is likely on the mind of Thunder management.
J.A.: I don’t see any major changes this season, because I think OKC simply wants to position themselves for the big fish next year in Blake Griffin or the smaller fish, Gordon Hayward. Unless something goes really wrong with the team’s chemistry or direction, I could see a small trade involving the role players such as Josh Huestis or Kyle Singler, but what they would net in return will be minimal in impact as well.
But for the love of all that is good, just say no to Derek Fisher in any form.
JC: I agree with J.A. You won’t see a big deal at the deadline this year because Presti will be trying to the Thunder for a run at Griffin and Hayward while trying to keep flexibility to re-sign Oladipo. I think a small move for a shooter off the bench (Nick Young? Reaching here) could be the way to go, but I wouldn’t rule out a weird move for Rudy Gay.
Brandon: Aside from the obvious deal for Rudy Gay--I mean honestly, I think every single media site has connected Gay with the Thunder at some point this offseason--I don’t think Presti looks to make big changes to the roster this season. Maybe they’ll find a sucker to unload Kyle Singler on (a man can only hope).
Darian: I'm looking forward to the "Back to Where It All Began" Players’ Tribune story from Blake Griffin.
Thanks for your input on Twitter, leave your feedback and more questions in the comments below and if there’s a healthy response we’ll do it again!