2016-17 Oklahoma City Thunder Season Preview: Bye Bye Kev

Now that Durant is gone, what lies in store for the Thunder this season?

Last season by the numbers

  • Record: 55-27 (3rd West)
  • Offensive rating: 109.9 (2nd)
  • Defensive rating: 103.0 (12th)
  • Pace: 99.4 (8th)
  • True shooting: 56.5% (2nd)
  • Turnover rate: 14.0% (24th)
  • Offensive rebounding: 31.1% (1st)
  • Defensive rebounding: 76.0 (15th)
  • Giveashitameter: 14th
  • Highest PER*: 28.2 (Durant), 27.6 (Westbrook)

(*) – minimum 1,000 minutes.

At a glance

(Converts the above rankings into a rating out of 10).

okc

Recap

One wonders what the Thunder could have achieved if they didn’t turn the ball over so much. Chief among the culprits was Westbrook who, for his amazing relentlessness in attack, simply gave the ball away too much (11.9% turnover rate, ranked 46th out of 77 point guards). While it may seem like nitpicking when you’re talking about a guy with a 27.6 PER, often that’s all that’s left to distinguish the winners and losers as the final dance approaches.

That said, it wasn’t just Westbrook who was generous with the ball. Durant (11.3%, ranked 46th out of 62 small forwards) was just as bad – especially when taking into account the fact that he used almost as many possessions as Westbrook. Ibaka (33rd among 76 power forwards) and Adams (37th out of 58 centers) also hardly helped things.

That the Thunder were still able to post the league’s second best offense was a testament to Westbrook and Durant’s abilities to create and make any shot they wanted. When Westbrook wasn’t smashing his way to the basket, helping the Thunder to the league’s 5th ranked FTA/FGA rate and posting a very respectable true shooting percentage of 55.4% (for someone with such an insanely high usage rate), opponents had to contend with Durant (TS 63.4%) lighting it up from literally everywhere else.

When scraps had to be fed on, Adams (TS 62.1%) and Kanter (TS 62.6%) also made opponents pay dearly.

The main sore spot was Ibaka, who delivered at a subpar 53.3% (45th out of 76 power forwards), while Waiters was predictably awful at TS 49.2%.

Elsewhere on offense, the Thunder had the league’s offensive rebounding vacuum in Enes Kanter (2nd behind only BOBAN! – who played significantly less minutes). The number of times he would collect a miss and turn it into an easy two was staggering and largely responsible for the Thunder’s 1st ranked offensive rebound rate – and giving opposing coaches absolute fits.

On defense, the Thunder were far less effective, ranking 12th overall. Given that Adams, Ibaka, Durant and Westbrook were all very good defenders in most people’s eyes and by almost every advanced metric (defensive rating, defensive box plus/minus, defensive win shares) – it was difficult to understand how this could be.

That said, while perceptions and advanced metrics were obfuscating things, there was simply no hiding the Thunder’s lack of effectiveness on:

  • perimeter defense (17th in three point accuracy allowed);
  • interior defense (15th in FTA/FGA allowed);
  • defensive pressure (27th in turnovers forced); and
  • defensive rebounding (15th).

If Westbrook and Roberson were supposedly such good perimeter defenders, then why were opponents able to find and make threes at a league average rate – and protect the ball so well? *

If Ibaka and Adams were so good at protecting the rim, why did opponents get so many free throws?

Any why couldn’t the Thunder mop up opponents’ misses?

So while the overall defensive product was still slightly above average, it simply wasn’t good enough for the Thunder to properly contend.

(* Yes, I’m perfectly aware that giving Waiter 2,152 minutes didn’t help things either).

Reasons to be optimistic

Dion Waiters is gone.

Oladipo was the 12th ranked shooting guard in PER last season (16.8) and is still only 24 years old. He and Westbrook could form the league’s best rim-attacking back court.

Reasons not to be

Did we mention Kevin Durant?

Now starting at small forward, for your Oklahoma City Thunder… ANDRE ROBERSON!!!

Sorry, scratch that. Now starting at small forward for your Oklahoma City Thunder…

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Oh yeah, Ibaka’s gone too. How often does a team lose both their best offensive and best defensive players at the same time? (PS: you’re not allowed to be a smartass and say Cleveland and LeBron in 2010 and Miami and LeBron in 2014).

Lastly, where is the three point shooting going to come from?

Major Ins 

Victor Oladipo, Ersan Ilyasova, Joffrey Lauvergne, Domantas Sabonis.

Major Outs

Kevin Durant, Dion Waiters, DJ Augustin.

The Dunkyard’s recommended ‘death’ lineup

  • Westbrook
  • Oladipo
  • Roberson
  • Kanter
  • Adams

Dave’s lowdown

Despite suffering through the second most controversial departure of the year behind Brexit, OKC is right at the top of my list of teams to watch this season. My reasons are three-fold:

  • The team now belongs to Westbrook. Remember what happened when Durant missed 55 games during 2014-2015? Russ produced a 28-7-9-2, led the league in scoring and had a PER of 29.1. There is a real chance he could become just the second person in NBA history to lead the league in points and assists in the same year. The other? Nate ‘Tiny’ Archibald in 1972-73 (34.0 ppg, 11.4 apg).
  • Enes Kanter – sure, he’s not a great defender but, with Ibaka gone, Kanter will be paired up front with Steven Adams who should help to conceal a lot of Kanter’s defensive shortcomings. Playing only 21 minutes per game off the bench last season Kanter threw up a 13-8 and was the most productive offensive rebounder in the league. When you convert his numbers to the 36 minutes he should get if he’s a starter this year: 22-14.
  • Lastly, and most importantly, the Thunder are a EWING THEORY CANDIDATE!!!! Do not underestimate this phenomenon – in fact, I’m getting on those 60/1 championship odds now before SportsBet finds out about this.

Forecast record: 50-32

This is what happens when you steal a team. While the good people of Oklahoma certainly didn’t conspire to swipe the Sonics, they also didn’t deserve to have a completely rebuilt team – replete with two transcendent stars – gift wrapped and handed to them.

Without Durant, the decline is now in motion and the Thunder are on the downward spiral to the abyss (unless you really think Oklahoma is a top free agent destination). While Westbrook will be fun to watch and keep the Thunder respectable for another two or three years, they aren’t contenders any more and won’t be for a loooooooooooooooooong time.

Westbrook is about to turn 28 and his game relies almost exclusively on athleticism. Consequently, his decline is likely to happen sooner rather than later (but certainly not yet). Once it does, the Thunder can get on with organically growing and earning their own team to be proud of – and I can finally stop wishing for their demise.

Now that Ibaka has departed, it’s time to truly ponder what might have been if the Thunder hadn’t traded Harden for Adams and some ancillary pupu.

 


(NB: Lloydybird is a long-suffering Sonics fan and sincerely apologises to OKC fans).

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