Right now in the basketball odds at Bet365, Oklahoma City is +600 to win the championship this season. Most sports betting shops have only the Miami Heat with a better chance of winning the title this season, and among everyone else, the Thunder seem to have one of the best chances of besting Miami.
However the Thunder will have to get past a tougher Western Conference this season, and there are still have many questions yet to be answered. However, the preseason may give us a chance to answer at least a few of those questions.
Scoring from their starting post players could be the biggest issue, whether it is in the post or at all. Serge Ibaka has a budding offensive game, and if he can hit a mid range jump shot effectively like Chris Bosh or LeMarcus Aldridge, his offensive skill set could be enough to qualify as the undisputed third scoring option in OKC. Ibaka’s inconsistency on the scoring end is just one of the many things that could be answered this preseason.
Ibaka just turned 24 years-old, and if he could simply up his offensive scoring by two to four points per game, it would help the Thunder a lot. He averages 13 points per game in the regular season, and when Russell Westbrook went down in the playoffs, his scoring improved a little, but his percentages were still not good for a post player. At least a few post moves wouldn’t hurt either, but for my NBA picks, I do like that emerging range beyond the three-point line for the young forward.
Another thing that needs to be answered offensively is their bench. Kevin Martin was let go after a season of disappointing bench scoring, and now the role of 6th man is up for grabs. Point guard, Reggie Jackson, who played solidly in Russell Westbrook’s absence from the playoffs last season, and Jeremy Lamb are the two top candidates for the job, according to NBA odds. Although I think both could play significant roles this season, for me Jackson is the most likely to take over the role of Martin and before him, James Harden. Jackson’s ability to handle the ball and get in the paint are exactly what the Thunder need to get open shots for their other role players, and if Jackson can develop a three point shot this offseason, watch out.
One of the final questions surrounding the Thunder are not really questions, more like philosophical differences. The question of, “Is a team led by Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and not much else good enough to win the west and beat the Heat?” Truly we may never know, and the question will likely be debated until they do. An NBA season is long, and just as soon as we thought we were going to see a Heat/Thunder rematch for the title last season, Westbrook tore his meniscus.
I’m positive those two alone are not good enough to beat the Heat. However “those two alone,” would signify that Ibaka, Jackson, Perkins, Lamb and others are not contributing. Just the combination of Westbrook and Durant is good enough to get them to the Western Conference finals. When there, who they could play is a mystery. But to advance past that and to the championship without much of the above listed “help,” would be impossible. Westbrook and Durant desperately need Ibaka, Perkins and the young bench to step up their games this season, or once again the Thunder will fall just out of reach of greatness.Join the discussion on the upcoming 2013-14 NBA season on SBRForum's basketball message boards!