Team Preview #29: Oklahoma City Thunder
by Eric Wong AKA Roto EvilSeptember 11th, 2008
LAST SEASONThe Supersonics lost 62 games, but performed valiantly considering the impending move to Oklahoma and the fact that their best player was a 19-year old rookie.
PJ Carlesimo's team pushed the tempo, ranking 5th in pace factor (96.5), 3rd in field goals attempted (85.8), and 2nd in total rebounds (44.6), but their opponents made a ridiculous 294 more 3-pointers than them (607 vs. 313)!
OFFSEASON MOVESKey Additions: Russell Westbrook, Joe Smith, Desmond Mason, K. Weaver, S. Ibaka, DJ White, D. Hardin
Key Losses: Luke Ridnour, Francisco Elson, Adrian Griffin, Donyell Marshall, Mickael Gelabale
Of course, their biggest offseason move was packing up the team and going to Oklahoma City. My condolences go out to Seattle fans, but perhaps they'll get a new team down the road.
On draft day, the Thunder picked up their point guard of the future in Russell Westbrook. He's the most athletic guard to come out of UCLA since Baron Davis, and if you're not sure about that statement, I suggest you watch these 2 plays...
Russell Westbrook (Jan. 2008)
Baron Davis (circa 1998)
With Westbrook now in town, OKC decided to get rid of Luke Ridnour, pawning him off to Milwaukee with Elson & Griffin for Desmond Mason, Joe Smith, and Kyle Weaver. Smith is a nice upgrade over Donyell Marshall, who signed on with Philly. Mason went to college at Oklahoma St., so perhaps he can bring in some extra fans. He'll replace Mickael Gelabale, who tore his ACL last March and was let go. Weaver is a rookie combo guard who can play solid D, but he likely won't get many minutes this season.
For a team that made just 3.8 threes per game last season, you'd think they might want to add an outside shooter. Instead, the Thunder drafted 3 more big men. Serge Ibaka is a freak athlete from the Congo who may play in Spain for several more seasons. DJ White averaged 17.4 points and 10.3 boards for Indiana, while Devon Hardin averaged 7.4 boards in just 23.8 minutes for Cal. Both players have NBA bodies, and could contribute down the road.
ROTATION / PLAYING TIMEOklahoma City has just one player who shot over 33% from beyond the arc last season, and that man is the streak-shooting Earl Watson. Watson played with Baron Davis at UCLA, and now he'll battle fellow Bruin Westbrook for minutes at point guard. I'm projecting 28-30 minutes for Watson and 20-22 minutes for Westbrook to start the season, but don't be surprised if the rookie is starting by the All-Star break. At shooting guard, Kevin Durant is the unquestioned leader of this team. As a rookie, he averaged 33.1 mpg before the break, but 37.1 minutes afterwards, which is what I'm projecting for him this season.
Similarly, Jeff Green averaged 24.5 mpg before the break, but 33.9 afterwards, so I'm marking him down for 32-34 minutes in his second season. Damien Wilkins (24.3 mpg last season) & Desmond Mason (28.9 mpg last season) will battle for the backup swingman minutes, and one of them (I'm guessing Mason) will be very disappointed riding the pine. In the paint, Chris Wilcox (28.1 mpg) and Nick Collison (28.5 mpg) will likely start once again and play roughly the same number of minutes. Joe Smith should receive 18-20 minutes off the bench behind Wilcox, while Johan Petro gets 14-16 minutes of action at center. Meanwhile, Swift, Sene, and White will battle for the remaining big man minutes.
DON'T SLEEP ON: Jeff GreenGreen struggled mightily as a rookie and was wildly inconsistent from a fantasy standpoint. He finally put up solid numbers in April, when he averaged 15.9 points, 6.3 rebounds, 1 steal, .4 blocks, and .3 threes per game, but he shot just 40.7% FG and 15.4% 3P that month. However, I'll contribute that more to him being inexperienced and less to him being a poor shooter.
One positive sign is that Green played very well in the Orlando Summer League. In 4 games, he averaged 22.8 points, 4 rebounds, and 2 steals, while getting to the line 13.3 times per game and shooting 79.2% FT. He also made a few treys, which is an area where the Thunder are desperate for help. He'll still be inconsistent, so don't go crazy and use a Top 100 pick on him, but if he falls to the 11th or 12th round, Green is definitely worth a gamble.
BE CAREFUL OF: Earl Watson & Russell WestbrookFor the same reason I warned you to be careful of Mike Conley & Kyle Lowry, I would watch out for this OKC duo as well. In this article, I concluded that losing teams usually provide fantasy owners with very unreliable and inconsistent options at point guard, which is what Earl Watson has been for most of his career. After the All-Star break, Watson shot a rock solid 49.1% FG and 79.2% FT, but those numbers were well above his career marks of 41.9% FG and 69.9% FT.
Similarly, Westbrook shot just 46.5% FG and 71.3% FT last season. I would feel much better about him if he was a great 3-point shooter, but he made just .7 threes per game and shot a sub-par 33.8% from beyond the college arc. He's a great defender, so he'll get solid minutes this season, but I don't think he'll be a reliable fantasy option until he averages 30+ mpg, which will be hard for him to do unless Watson gets hurt. I've seen some sites rank Westbrook in their Top 100, but I wouldn't use anything more than a last round pick on him.
ROUND BY ROUND TARGETS(Where you should draft these guys in an 8-cat Roto league with 12 teams and 14 man rosters)
Durant: 4th - 5th