Thunder Thoughts – Officially Ready To Thunder Up (12-13 Season Preview)

My thoughts on the upcoming Oklahoma City Thunder season.

It’s my first official season as an Oklahoma City Thunder fan and I’m ready to Thunder Up! After jinxing the team in the NBA Finals last year, this year I’m sticking to my guns for an entire season and riding it all out, good or bad.

I expect there to be more good than bad for the majority of the season. At least I hope so. With the Cincinnati Reds collapsing in the playoffs, the Carolina Panthers season all but over, and the Colorado Avalanche possibly not taking the ice at all, I need the Thunder to lift my spirits. Every year this team has come one step closer to the NBA Championship, but have ultimately fallen to the team that eventually raised the trophy. With the Los Angeles Lakers reloading, the Boston Celtics getting healthier, deeper, and hungrier, and the Miami Heat still having the best player in the league, getting back to the finals won’t be easy for the Thunder.

The season hasn’t even started though and yet the Thunder have already made headlines by trading away their third best player and the sixth man of the year. The team and James Harden couldn’t agree on an extension so general manager Sam Presti acted quickly and dealt Harden, Dequan Cook, Cole Aldrich, and Lazar Hayward to the Houston Rockets for Kevin Martin, Jeremy Lamb and a bunch of draft picks. Once it became apparent that Harden wasn’t going to sign an extension, Presti felt it would be best to deal him to try and build the chemistry during the season rather than wait until the deadline or risk losing him for nothing after the season. I think the trade is a good deal, both this season and definitely in the long run.

Kevin Martin is every bit the scorer of Harden and as the third option, I think he’ll excel in OKC. Lamb replaces Cook as a shooter and with the emergence of Perry Jones and Hasheem Thabeet actually playing like a lottery pick this preseason, Aldrich became expendable. The draft picks just allow the team to get better and younger with high picks since they’ll likely finish in the top five during the regular season. I don’t think they team lost much this year and if one of the picks pan out, they’ll definitely improve over the next few years.

Here’s what he know about this team after the trade: they’re really good, they’re really young, and they’re really experienced. Kevin Durant is the best scorer in the league, Russell Westbrook is one of the best and well-rounded, at least offensively, point guards, Kevin Martin is a great scorer, Serge Ibaka is dynamic at both ends, Kendrick Perkins is intense, and the role players aren’t too shabby either. This team isn’t missing an ingredient, they just may not take first prize at the cook off.

Durant is poised for a MVP season. The sting of losing in the Finals last year will only make him more fierce and he spent his offseason in London with guys like LeBron James and Kobe Bryant. He saw how much work they put in to be great and be champions and he hopefully took notice. As mentioned, he’s the best scorer in the league, but he can still improve his low post game and he can definitely improve his defensive game. He definitely has the build to do both, but it remains to be seen if he’s put in the work or not. If he has, he could become even more unstoppable on the offensive side and limit his match up defensively.

Westbrook has been highly criticized over the years, but all of his critics are idiots. The Thunder need his scoring. They need him to use his speed to get to the hoop and get easy baskets. We all saw his decision making improve last year in the playoffs, and even that carries over, he’s only going to become that much more dangerous. But on a team that settles for jump shots way too often, which is something I hope changes this year, Westbrook’s aggressiveness is what the team needs. Unless Durant starts voicing his frustration with his teammate, something he’s never done despite people always trying to create a rift between the two, then Russell doesn’t need to change what he’s doing.

Martin is going to be key for this new look Thunder. He’s a guy who wants the ball and likes to score, but he has to realize that he’s the third option behind Westbrook and Durant. If he can accept that role, he’s going to be a scary player coming off the bench.

A lot has been made about the Harden trade because it could screw up the chemistry that the team has built up over the years. If anything, I think it improves the chemistry. Harden and his contract situation was going to be the elephant in the room all season and trade rumors were going to swirl if they couldn’t reach a deal. Sam Presti could’ve kept Harden all season, try to win a title, and risk losing him in the off-season, he could’ve kept him until the deadline, dealt him, and really screwed up the chemistry, or he could’ve dealt him now and given the team all season to come together. I think Presti made the right move and I don’t think Harden’s loss will impact the team as much as others.

The interior is still a worry for this team. Ibaka is a flashy player who can finish just about any dunk, but he has a weak offensive game from the low post and hasn’t found consistency with his outside the paint jumper. Perkins actually has a sneaky good jump shot, but he also has no low post game, and looked lost defensively for the much of the playoffs last year. Perkins was brought in for his defensive intensity, but I don’t think it’s worked out quite the way that the team and fans have hoped for. If he doesn’t turn things around this year, he could become a trade candidate at the deadline. The team definitely has the flexibility to package him with a draft pick or two in order to secure a player who better fits them in the future.

This NBA season feels like a four team race and the Thunder are one of those four teams along with the Los Angeles Lakers, Miami Heat, and Boston Celtics. Of course any team could sneak up and a number of things could go wrong, but if the team stays healthy and play up to their capabilities, they should finish at the top of the western conference and make a deep playoff run. I’m not sure they have enough to get past the Lakers, but I wouldn’t count out any team with the talent that the Thunder have.

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