As Oklahoma City Thunder fans, you likely hear several questions buzzing around this team’s overhauled roster.
Questions such as: Will Paul George take from Russell Westbrook’s triple-double game? Can Andre Roberson increase his shooting percentages? What will happen with Semaj? And most importantly, how many games can Oklahoma City win this season?
This article offers answers to each of the items listed above in the form of “rise and fall.”
Rise: Westbrook will average more assists.
It’s no secret that Russell Westbrook recently authored one of the historic seasons in NBA history. Averaging a triple-double, Westbrook seemed to never have trouble finding the open man.
His assists, 10.4, came at ease, but Westbrook could find himself averaging even more assists this year.
The addition of Paul George, among others, will give Westbrook a lethal shooting weapon to dish to. Further, Patrick Patterson’s floor-stretching ability should create lanes which lead to more effective ball movement.
Fall: Westbrook will average less rebounds
Unfortunately, Westbrook won’t find rebounds at as much ease as he did last season when he averaged a whopping 10.4…for a 6’3 guard.
A couple of factors lead to this.
Between Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis, two starters for the Thunder throughout most of last season, the pair averaged a combined 7.9 rebounds per game.
With both gone, George and Patterson bring their combined 12.1 rebounds/game to the lineup. That is more than a four rebounds/game uptick.
In addition, Roberson, who averaged 5.1 rebounds/game will move to his more natural position of shooting-guard, which will lead to better matchup opportunities for him, and fewer rebounding opportunities.
Rise: Roberson’s percentages will increase
Last season, Roberson shot a dismal 42% from the charity stripe, while also netting just 24.5% of his three-point attempts. With his shift to shooting guard, he will need to do more than be the elite defender he is for the Thunder to take the next step.
According to Fred Katz of CNHI Sports Oklahoma, reports indicate that Roberson is working diligently with shooting coaches this offseason to fix his myriad form issues.
In his rookie season, Roberson shot 70% from the line, showing the problem can be fixed. His three-point percentage has never been great, but with George entering the lineup, Roberson will again shoulder less scoring burden, and this alone should produce better looks for Robes.
Fall: Semaj Christon’s minutes will go down A LOT (If he isn’t waived)
After the Thunder acquired veteran PG Raymond Felton this offseason, it became clear that Christon was being pushed to the side and maybe out the door. His play last season as Westbrook’s backup left much to be desired, qualifying him as one of the worst statistical point-guards in the league.
Christon played 15 minutes per game while averaging 2.9 points per game. He contributed to the poor team three-point shooting last year, as he shot just 19% from distance.
With that level of responsibility on Christon, the Thunder found it hard, not only to leave their MVP on the bench, but to allow Christon anything more than nominal floor-time.
This year, if retained, Semaj’s minutes should fade with the Thunder, and a lengthy Blue stint could be in order.
Rise: Higher Playoff Seeding/ Better Record
After missing the 2016 NBA Finals by one game, the Thunder turned around, without Kevin Durant, and surprised most by posting a 47-win season and earning the sixth-seed.
Adding George, Patterson, and Felton to the team, it looks as if the Thunder should post 50+ wins. Their scoring definitely improves, but their spacing and defensive mindset should also drastically improve.
Key Note: George never played alongside a superstar point guard, who could change the atmosphere and momentum like Westbrook. Playing with another superstar could coax George’s maximum potential.
For example: Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant, LeBron James and Kyrie Irving. The next big duo that “COULD” win a championship is George and Westbrook. Both players compete with fire in their heart, have the ability to take control of the game, and are desperate to win.
Though the West did make noise this offseason by snatching the likes of George, Jimmy Butler, and Paul Millsap from the East, there are is also a falloff among teams such as LAC, Utah, San Antonio, and perhaps Memphis.
If everything clicks, the Thunder could finish as high as the number three seed (no one is touching the Warriors), but most expect between a fourth and fifth-seed at season’s end.
Honorable mention: Rise: Alex Abrines Minutes. Fall: Enes Kanter Points Per Game. Rise: Paul George Points Per Game. Rise: Raymond Felton return back to form.