The Oklahoma City Thunder played a great number of games this past season without forwards Kevin Durant and Serge Ibaka, two huge cogs in this team’s starting lineup. So, with these two coming back off injuries and a decent pick in the coming NBA Draft, are the Thunder worthy of any Futures bets or picks?
On Tuesday we took a look at a Mock Draft for the upcoming 2015 NBA Draft, which will be held on Thursday, June 25 at the New York Barclays Center (ESPN, 7 p.m. ET/4 p.m. PT), so now let’s take a look over the next few days at some teams who may either be a pick or two away from putting themselves in a position of being a contender (like the Oklahoma City Thunder here) or may have to totally rebuild the entire team from the floor up (Los Angeles Lakers, New York Knicks, Friday). Quite often, some teams like the Thunder or the Boston Celtics look like they may just be a couple of key puzzle pieces away from being able to make a run at the Larry O’Brien Trophy. And other times, like with those aforementioned once legendary teams like the Lakers and the Knicks it almost takes an implosion like they do here in Las Vegas with the old casinos to rebuild the organizations from the ground up. Bang, bang, boom, boom. And now you’re Dust. Let’s start with the Oklahoma City Thunder.
How Much Could the Oklahoma City Thunder Improve In the Offseason?
The Oklahoma City Thunder (45-37, 104.0 PF-101.8 PA)—who this afternoon just fired Head Coach Scott Brooks—have a .982 probability (98.2% chance) of ending with the #14 pick in the First Round of the upcoming 2015 NBA Draft and this team seems to be sitting in the perfect spot where they may be able to choose between selecting from a number of really good players at any of the positions they could use a potential future starter or some depth, including Power Forward (Frank Kaminsky, Myles Turner, Trey Lyles, Kevon Looney); Small Forward (Kelly Oubre, Sam Dekker, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson); Point Guard (Kris Dunn, Jerian Grant, Tyus Jones); or Shooting Guard (Devin Booker, Delon Wright, R.J. Hunter). Depending on what Thunder General Manager Sam Presti decides is the neediest position for his organization, although quite often in the two-round NBA Draft, teams select the best available athlete/player and then work him into their roster as they see fit or ship him elsewhere in some pre-determined trade, Oklahoma City will have no excuses if they don’t get the right guy the theoretically need around that #14 pick. And there are a number of logical reasons to be very high on this Oklahoma City Thunder (29-12 at Home) squad next season, who play in one of the toughest conferences in all of professional sports—the Western Conference of the NBA.
First off, as NBA odds makers know, the Thunder (38-41-2 ATS) play in the weakest division (Northwest Division) in the NBA’s Western Conference, so Oklahoma City can expect to continue to flourish, with the Portland Trail Blazers, Denver Nuggets, Minnesota Timberwolves and Utah Jazz their competition. Second, the Thunder will be getting the services of two of its Starting 5 back next season as 26-year-old superstar Small Forward Kevin Durant (25.4 ppg, 6.6 rpg, 4.1 apg) will return from season-ending surgery to his right foot and imposing 25-year-old Power Forward Serge Ibaka (14.3 ppg, 7.8 rpg, 2.4 bpg) will be back after undergoing a relatively mild arthroscopic procedure on his right knee. For much of the 2014/2015 NBA Season, Oklahoma City was hampered and without the services of both Durant and Ibaka—who was replaced with Steven Adams (7.8 ppg, 7.6 rpg) in the Thunder’s starting lineup. With Durant, Ibaka and electric cowboy Russell Westbrook (28.1 ppg, 8.6 apg, 7.3 rpg, 2.1 spg), and with Center Enes Kanter (17.3. ppg, 10.7 rpg) having a breakout season in the middle, a healthy Oklahoma City could be of the toughest to beat in the entire league. And it appears that the Shooting Guard spot (Dion Waiters, 11.8 ppg) would be the most logical one which OKC should draft for, with Booker (Kentucky), Wright (Utah) and Hunter (Georgia State) all looking like nice fits for the Thunder.
Then, toss in a decent bench which features players like the aforementioned PF Adams, SF Kyle Singler (3.5 ppg), C Mitch McGary (7.0 ppg), PF Nick Collison (4.1 ppg) SF Perry Jones (4.4 ppg), SG Anthony Morrow (10.2 ppg), PG D.J. Augustin (8.7 ppg), PF Steve Novak (1.6 ppg), SG Jeremy Lamb (6.4 ppg) and SF Andre Roberson (3.5 ppg), and you can see that whomever ends up replacing Brooks has some pretty nice parts with which to work, not including any deals which will be made this summer and that near-No. 14 pick in Round 1 of this June’s draft and the No, 48 pick in Round 2. The Thunder could actually have a Kanter—Ibaka—Durant—Devin Booker or Delon Wright—Westbrook starting unit along with a pretty impressive but young and workmanlike talented next five of McGary—Adams—Jones—Waiters or Morrow or Lamb—Augustin. We will see. What’s written on paper or on computers seldom ends up exactly being what is, but it’s always fun to look ahead, especially for those making NBA picks.
As you can see, with a healthy Durant and Ibaka, Westbrook playing MVP-caliber hoops like he did the second half of the season, and a couple of new pieces, the Oklahoma City Thunder could be a much improved team next season and make some noise. But let’s also be realistic. They live and make their beds in the Western Conference where the best Head Coach (Gregg Popovich, San Antonio Spurs) hangs his hat, where the best up-and-coming team, the Golden State Warriors also call home, and where a number of dangerous and hungry organizations like the Los Angeles Clippers, the Memphis Grizzlies (I know, West right?), aforementioned Trail Blazers, Houston Rockets and Dallas Mavericks are also hungrily swimming in the piranha-infested waters, also all trying To Do Their Thing. And the Thunder also call Oklahoma home, which has just this one major professional sports team and 0 world championships to date, as the lone franchise championship (1979) came when this team was the Seattle SuperSonics and when there were way fewer flavors of Pop-Tarts from which to choose like the newfangled Strawberry Milkshake or Pumpkin Pie strains. Progress.
Also, this team will be able to start from scratch with a new head Coach, with Brooks failing to help the team show any consistency on the defensive end of the floor if they really want to win any Silverware as Oklahoma City, although not having your regulars in there is often reflected in the statistics. The Thunder ranked 16th in the NBA in Defensive Efficiency in 2014, an impressive 5th in 2013 and 4th in 2012, 9th in 2011, 13th in 2010 and 8th in 2009—all under Brooks’ tenure. Getting Human Block Machine Ibaka back should help a great deal, but keeping the underrated 6-10, 240 pounder healthy will be imperative for this team next season.
The Thunder are still very young and very hungry and have two of the best players in the game today in Westbrook and Durant gracing its roster. A nice pickup at the SG spot like the Runnin’ Utes 22-year-old Wright or maybe Kentucky’s Booker along with a solid, sure roster-sticking, depth-building pick to strengthen a weak position at #48 in Round 2 may seemingly do overnight wonders for this Sleeping Giant of a team, which ended up missing the NBA Playoffs on the last night of the Regular Season and finished 8 games above .500—and with a final record which would have made them the No. 6 seed in the Eastern Conference this year...and all without the constant services of Durant and Ibaka. (Can we take a moment to reflect how much Russell Westbrook carried this team on his shoulders with these to injured, producing god-like numbers night-in an night-out down the entire stretch of the NBA’s Regular Season? Some kind of award should be invented and named after what Westbrook did, though ultimately in vain. Thank you for your Time.) Anyway, keep your eye on this team and what they do over the next two months. Ibaka, Durant and Westbrook are still young and a very formidable trio, and Oklahoma City properly building on and around them could be like simply putting more muscle on muscle. And more muscle is good.
Expected Highest Opening Futures Odds For Thunder To Win 2016 NBA Championship: 20/1