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An early look at the projected Oklahoma City Thunder starting five

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Via free-agency and trades Sam Presti has built an intriguing opening group

Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

Heavily dependent upon NBA MVP Russell Westbrook last year, this summer has brought versatility to a new-look Oklahoma City Thunder lineup.

Entering the 17-18’ campaign, additions Paul George and Patrick Patterson should lighten Westbrook’s hardship while placing the finishing touches upon a remade opening unit.

Consequently, expectations are building for an OKC team which won 47 games in 2017. Many envision high-defensive laurels as well for this group.

As free-agency unwinds, below is an early preview of what we might expect this fall from each projected Thunder starter.

OKC Thunder 17-18 Projections

Point Guard: Russell Westbrook

After shouldering an offensive albatross last season, look for Westbrook’s usage and forced shots to decline as his driving lanes part. While often commanding the opposing teams’ sole defensive focus, Westbrook still averaged 30-10-10 during a memorable MVP campaign.

Fortunately, this year, due to Paul George’s gravity, the NBA’s single-season triple double leader will enjoy an increased offensive workspace. Additionally, Patrick Patterson can improve Russ’ life by simply being available to catch-and-shoot when defenses overload OKC’s All-Star tandem.

Though Westbrook’s 16-17’ averages of 24 FGA, 31.6 PPG (league-leading), and 10.4 FTA will assuredly drop, the All-NBA guard’s efficiency and assist totals are likely to increase.

Firmly in his prime at 28, and joined by two extra outside shooters, Westbrook could add a regular-season assist crown to his awards mantle next spring.

Further, Westbrook’s projected totals for this year might be similar to the 6’3 guard’s 15-16’ output, with perhaps a few PPG added. Russ’ assist numbers and 3P% may boost slightly as well.

Expect the Thunder’s pacesetter to avail himself fully of the supporting options now at his side.

Russell Westbrook 17-18 projected numbers: 27.5 PPG, 8 RPG, 11 APG, 44/33/84 shooting split.

Shooting Guard: Andre Roberson

Signed to a fresh three-year $30 M contract, Andre Roberson figures to renew his familiar role of shooting guard alongside Oklahoma City’s latest dual-star lineup.

Last season, at small forward, Roberson thrived defensively while earning All-Defensive Second Team honors. However, the lengthy swingman’s shooting percentages from both three-point and free-throw distance were an eyesore.

Especially in the playoffs.

Fortunately, the acquisitions of George and Patterson diminish Roberson’s offensive expectations. Therefore, expect greater defensive output from the fourth-year pro as he only attempts FG’s off cuts, fast-breaks, or as a less-frequent bail out in half court sets.

These circumstances should elevate Roberson’s competitive drive, which in turn will maximize his defensive potency, likely resulting in another All-Defensive NBA Team selection.

Robes’ minutes may taper a bit as Alex Abrines emerges, but look for Roberson to nonetheless be an invaluable cog to this Oklahoma City groupings level of success.

Andre Roberson 17-18 Projected Numbers: 27 MPG, 5 PPG, 4 RPG, 3.5 FGA, 48/30/50 shooting split.

Small Forward: Paul George

An Indiana cornerstone for seven seasons, and four time All-Star, Paul George offers coveted two-way skill during a crucial year for Thunder basketball.

While George is adept in all areas, his greatest OKC asset will be an ability to unclog lanes for Russ and Adams, and operate off the dribble. Further, by creating mismatches both inside and out, at 6’9 George’s mere presence elevates his Thunder teammates’ stock.

In 2017, George averaged just under 24 PPG, while rebounding and assisting at a decent rate. However, the X-Factor which sets George apart is his prideful defensive mentality.

George has earned three All-Defensive NBA selections, and last season ranked 2nd in Defensive Win Shares.

To boot, during his Indiana swansong, George netted a career-best 200 3PM.

As the NBA downsizes and versatility becomes the league’s ultimate currency, the 26-year-old George represents an ideal benchmark for any teams’ lineup.

Also, remember, George is playing for a new contract.

Paul George 17-18 Projected Numbers: 23 PPG, 6 RPG, 4 APG, 44/38/88 shooting split.

Power Forward: Patrick Patterson

An underrated signing, Patterson fits impeccably with this group as the gritty stretch-four —and sometimes five.

During his past three seasons, the 6’9 Forward has transformed into the quintessential 3-and-D cog while making 304 3PA. As stated earlier, the main offensive function required of Patterson will be his proficiency as a release valve for Westbrook or George.

Though situations will arise where 3Pat will need to bail out Roberson on the swing pass.

A tough-nosed defender and excellent shooter, especially from the corners, Patrick Patterson’s ability to lure opposition away from Adams, George, and Westbrook will endear him to Loud City.

Patrick Patterson 17-18 Projected Numbers: 7.5 PPG, 4.5 RPG, 42/37/82 shooting split.

Center: Steven Adams

On the block or in the pick-and-roll, with the threat of Russ’ cotton shot, or George and Patterson launching from either corner, defenses will have little choice this season but to commit one defender to Adams.

This will work wonders for the bruising Kiwi’s reclamation following 2017’s late decline.

On the other end, a strong positional defender, due to the length of George, Roberson, and Patterson, Adams’ defensive function should invoke images of his breakout 2016 postseason.

Finally, as teams scramble to limit OKC’s perimeter options, entry passes to a waiting Adams may end in a thunderous hammer or a kick-out for a quality reset three-point attempt.

Like Westbrook, Adams will thrive from the added space which his new teammates create.

Steven Adams 17-18 Projected Numbers: 11.5 PPG, 8 RPG, 58.5% FG/60% FT

While the preceding is an early-July forecast of OKC’s presumed starters —and should be taken as such— there is abundant reason to be excited regarding this bunch. Foremost among these reasons are: toughness, length, increased floor-spacing, and, of course, defense.

Credit Sam Presti for gambling on greatness this summer when standing pat would have been easiest.

At any rate, the Thunder franchise, with Russell Westbrook, Paul George, Patrick Patterson, Steven Adams and Andre Roberson owns hope, and hope is that great motivator and catalyst which produces all remarkable things.