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Thunder Roster Preview: The OKC front court starters

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In part two of my roster preview series we take a look at Paul George, Jerami Grant and Steven Adams

NBA: Oklahoma City Thunder at Los Angeles Lakers Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

The Thunder will have a new look to their front court this upcoming season. With the departure of Carmelo Anthony, OKC and Billy Donovan will look to fill the missing power forward spot with a new starter.

Who will it be? Jerami Grant is the odds on favorite, having just secured a contract extension in the offseason. But is he the right pick? Let’s take a look at how Paul George and Steven Adams can put this group over the top, and how Grant arguably represents the best chance of upgrading the the shoes left by Carmelo Anthony. With 60 days until tipoff, let’s take a look at our front court starters.

Part I: the Thunder backcourt

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Paul George

The former Indiana Pacer looked to be on track to be one of the top players in the league before a horrific injury set him off course on August 1st, 2014. I was watching the scrimmage live from a hotel room in Roanoke, Virginia, when George went down after landing on the support stancheon. At that moment in time, nobody knew if one of the game’s budding stars would ever be the same.

Fortunately for George, he didn’t tear anything that night. Just a simple bone break, and bones heal back to full strength. Now he’s back to playing at an All-Star caliber level for the Oklahoma City Thunder and has a year in OKC to get accustomed to a life vastly different from when his best teammate was Lance Stephenson.

While Russell Westbrook will always be the face of this franchise and the biggest voice in the locker room, George has a large stake as well. PG13 won over the hearts of Oklahomans statewide when he chose to stay with the Thunder, as opposed to teaming up with LeBron James in Los Angeles. Now Sam Presti has two superstars in the prime of their careers to build around. While his resources to do so are limited, here’s how George can make the team better himself.

What George Does Well

George is one of the more dynamic playmakers in the NBA. He has a great handle and often uses it to create separation from defenders to create open looks for himself. His drop step fadeaway is one of the more effective moves in the game. This is important for the Thunder because George is one of their better floor spacers. Paul George is the perfect compliment for Russell Westbrook. He does everything he’s supposed to, and he doesn’t need the ball in his hands to do it. PG rebounds and defends at a high level, while being one of the top playmakers at his position on the offensive end. In other words, he takes a lot of pressure off of Westbrook and makes life easier for the explosive point guard, while also giving Russ more room to do his thing.

George scored 21.9 points per game last season on 43% from the field and 40.1% from three point range. The Thunder were +31.9 per 100 possessions with a lineup of Westbrook, Alex Abrines, George, Jerami Grant and Steven Adams. This is a strong lineup for the Thunder that provides a little bit of everything. George is the catalyst with his versatile defense and his 3-point shooting combined with his playmaking ability on offense.

The Thunder offense should flow much more naturally now that Carmelo Anthony won’t be using up possessions using isolation on the wing. George would stand to benefit greatly from this with more open looks and opportunities to feed teammates assists. Now that PG is all in on the Oklahoma City Thunder, look for an even better year from PG next season.

What George Needs To Work On

If Paul George can shoot a higher percentage on his midrange jumper he’d have a full arsenal on offense at his disposal. Also, George struggled to finish at the rim at times, occasionally getting frustrated at the lack of calls despite contact. Playoff P’s effective shooting percentage took a slight dip in the playoffs, and his offensive rating dropped from 112 in the regular season to 103 in the playoffs. After a great performance in game 1, his performance slowly dropped off in games 3, 4 and 5. He didn’t play very well in game 2 and had a horrific game 6, shooting just 2 for 16 from the field. George will have to be more consistent in the playoffs this year.

George needs to step up as a floor general if/when he leads the 2nd unit. Also, this will always be Westbrook’s franchise, and George knows that, but he needs to challenge Russ to run the offense more instead of simply waiting for one screen and then attacking. If Billy Donovan won’t do it, George is the next man up. During their second year together, Russ and PG should look to become one of the best duos in the NBA.

Jerami Grant

The heir to Carmelo Anthony’s...throne? I’m not sure Melo is worthy of a metaphorical throne for his lone season in OKC, but at least he had good intentions. Jerami Grant will be the likely replacement for Melo at the power forward spot in the lineup. While Grant won’t leave the legacy Melo will, he is the better player for OKC in the starting lineup. Here’s why.

What Grant Does Well

Jerami Grant shot an excellent 53.5% from the field last season. Part of this may be due to the fact that he didn’t have as large of a role as he will next season, but his showing was good nonetheless. The athletic forward is most valuable because he is able to switch 1-5 on defense, a quality that has become very important in today’s NBA. Having Roberson and Grant on the floor at the same time will be beneficial to the Thunder on the defensive end, and may be a lineup the Thunder will want to consider when opponents start to go on runs. Bringing in Grant off the bench to help establish discipline on defense might be the better use of Grant’s skills if his offensive game doesn’t continue to develop.

While Grant still struggles shooting from the perimeter, during the latter part of last season he showed an adept ability to draw contact through the shot, which led to both free throw opportunities as well as that high shooting percentage. Lastly, he proved to be the Thunder’s best PnR man after Adams.

What Grant Needs To Improve On

If Grant wants to secure a spot in the starting lineup, he’s going to have to shoot the 3-ball at a higher clip. Last season, Grant shot just 29.1% from deep. Shooting the ball well from deep has become a necessity in the NBA to help stretch the floor. If Grant isn’t able to do so, the Thunder may look to Patrick Patterson to start instead because of Patterson’s ability to shoot from the corners. Because the Thunder already have a poor 3-point shooter in Roberson in their lineup, it would be hinder OKC’s ability to stretch the floor and create open looks for teammates if Grant doesn’t develop his accuracy from beyond the arc.

So far Jerami Grant has developed nicely each season he’s spent in OKC, and there’s no reason to think this season will be any different. He will likely see an increased role, and will have the opportunity to compete with Patrick Patterson for a starting spot. Grant could fix a lot of OKC’s issues on the offensive end by becoming a better 3-point shooter.

Steven Adams

The big kiwi! Steven Adams has quickly become one of the best young players in the NBA. The versatile big man is a fan favorite in Oklahoma for good reason. The Thunder wouldn’t be the same without him, and here’s why.

What Adams Does Well

Steven Adams averaged 13.9 points, 9 rebounds and 1.2 assists per game last season. Those marks are all above his career averages. He’s become a much larger part of the offense since Kevin Durant left town, and it’s important for the Thunder to get him involved on offense in every game now. While he doesn’t shoot beyond the arc (yet), Adams shot 62.9% from the floor last season. This is because most of his shot attempts come in the paint. Adams is a good defender and rebounder, and is one of the reasons the Thunder were so good on defense before Roberson went down. The 7’0 center also fits well next to Paul George and Russell Westbrook, especially on the offensive end where he sets sledgehammer picks.

Something that Adams provides to this Thunder team that can’t be measured is his heart and leadership. As cheesy as it sounds, Adams seems to be the steady hand in the locker room. Every team needs a great locker room guy that can help hold everything together when things get tough, and Adams appears to be that guy. Westbrook has been known to get a little out of control when things get tough. This is where it’s beneficial to have Adams step in and calm everyone down.

What Adams Needs To Work On

Steve doesn’t shoot 3’s and likely never will. As a center, it isn’t crucial to be able to shoot 3’s, however, the centers who can shoot a 3 every now and then provide more spacing for their teammates. The funny thing is, Adams has a decent 3-point stroke. It’s really a matter of the Thunder coaching staff’s willingness to let him take them.

On the offensive end, it would be nice to see Adams take more jump shots up at the elbow. This would help bring the defense out a little more and adds another element to his offensive game that opponents have to worry about. It also provides more room under the basket for guys like Jerami Grant to come in for a thunderous putback, or for Russell Westbrook to do what he does best and drive to the hole.

On defense, the biggest thing the 7’0 big man needs is to avoid the cheap fouls early in contests so he’s not sitting on the bench instead of helping coordinate the defense and assist the offense. Furthermore, he needs a solid backup who can help keep him healthy. For the past 2 years, Adams’ health has waned in the 2nd half of the season, and his productivity with it. Hopefully Nerlens Noel is that man.

I would also like to see Adams’ assist numbers rise by one or two a game, but he doesn’t get the ball enough times to do so. He could achieve this if the Thunder ran the offense more through him, especially when Westbrook isn’t in the game. Ideally, Adams would get the ball in the pick and roll and either be able to score or kick to either Abrines or George in the corner for 3.

How The Thunder Stack Up Against The NBA’s Best

Golden State Warriors: Kevin Durant, Draymond Green and Demarcus Cousins

If we’re assuming Cousins is able to return to previous form, this might be the best front court in NBA history. Durant is an all-around player that can score from anywhere on the floor, Green gives you a little bit of everything, and Cousins is a physical beast in the paint who can occasionally step outside. I don’t think there’s anymore that needs to be said here.

Boston Celtics: Gordon Hayward, Jayson Tatum and Al Horford

The Thunder get the edge in this comparison by a slim margin. Paul George and Gordon Hayward have endured two of the more horrific injuries in the NBA in recent memory. George has proven that his injury hasn’t effected his play. Hayward on the other hand will have a lot to prove this season. I’d take George even without the injury Hayward suffered, but it will be interesting to see if Boston gets Hayward back at full all-star form this season.

Jayson Tatum is better than Jerami Grant. Both are long, athletic multi-tool players. Tatum models his offensive game after Kobe Bryant. The 20 year old is already leaps and bounds ahead of Grant offensively, but Grant may be close defensively.

I’m not sure who I would want to take between Steven Adams and Al Horford. Adams is the better defender, rebounder and all-around player. Horford is the better offensive player who occasionally can step out and sink the deep ball. Both are essential to their teams success and are two of my favorite players in the league.

Philadelphia 76ers: Robert Covington, Dario Saric and Joel Embiid

Once again the Thunder win this comparison. RoCo is a good defender who is consistent on offense. He isn’t the all-around player that Paul George is, but he is becoming one of the better three-and-d players in the NBA. Saric is better offensively than Grant is, but Grant is the more athletic defender. It’ll be interesting to see if the 76ers insert Markelle Fultz into their lineup and move Ben Simmons into Saric’s place in the starting lineup at any point next season. Joel Embiid put finally put together a nice season last year while playing in a career high 63 games. I need to see Embiid stay healthy before I’m ready to put him ahead of Adams, but he looked like the more all-around player last year.

Denver Nuggets: Will Barton, Paul Millsap and Nikola Jokic

While the last two comparisons have been close, this Thunder distance themselves in this one. George is far better than Barton, although Barton is a nice player. Millsap is a better all-around player than Grant is. That leaves Jokic and Adams, two of the best young big men in the game. There will be plenty of people on both sides of this one, but Jokic’s offensive brilliance slightly edges Adams’ all-around game. I like the Thunder as a unit more because I view Barton as more of a sixth man than a starter.

Utah Jazz: Joe Ingles, Derrick Favors and Rudy Gobert

I have Oklahoma City by a slim margin here. I know the Jazz got the better of these two groups in the playoffs, but the Thunder are the better group. Paul George is a better all-around player than Joe Ingles is, but don’t let the appearance fool you, Ingles is a better two way player than you might think. Favors is good on both ends as well, which gives him an edge over Grant. I give Adams a slim advantage in this comparison, even though Gobert outplayed Adams in their 1st round matchup. Gobert is a great player who is very similar to Adams on the offensive end, and a better defensive player. Adams is the more effective offensive player who fits in better in his role with an explosive pick and roll point guard than Gobert does with Ricky Rubio.

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Thank you for reading my preview of the Thunder front court starters. Next up I will have a preview of the Thunder bench. Until then let me know what you think in the comments section below!

Poll

Which front-court trio will have the biggest impact this upcoming season?

This poll is closed

  • 56%
    Thunder: PG, Adams, Grant
    (589 votes)
  • 30%
    Warriors: Green, Cousins, Durant
    (312 votes)
  • 8%
    Celtics: Hayward, Tatum, Horford
    (91 votes)
  • 0%
    76ers: Covington, Saric, Embiid
    (10 votes)
  • 1%
    Nuggets: Barton, Millsap, Jokic
    (11 votes)
  • 2%
    Jazz: Ingles, Favors, Gobert
    (21 votes)
1034 votes total Vote Now