The regular season begins tomorrow night versus the Warriors (9:30 PM CST on TNT), so it’s time to predict how the Oklahoma City Thunder’s 2018-19 campaign will play out. In keeping up with tradition, below are a collection of prophecies that will definitely/probably not come to fruition over the next few months.
(1) Steven Adams will take (and make) a three-pointer
I predicted this last season and it didn’t work out — but I’m confident this one sticks. It’s coming, folks. Likely from one of the corners at the end of the shot clock. He finishes the season 1-of-1 from deep for a 100 percent conversion rate. Enes Kanter will tweet about it roughly four minutes after the ball goes through the net — even if the Knicks are in action at the exact same time.
(2) Russell Westbrook will record 18 triple-doubles
Triple-double regression has to be on the way, right? After 25 and another triple-double average last season, Westbrook takes a small step back and allows Adams to gather more rebounds. That being said, he’ll finish with a 25-8-11 stat line and people will say he’s lost a step.
(3) The Thunder bench will finally have a positive net rating
After posting an overall net rating of -3.2 in 2016-17, the Thunder reserves improved to -0.1 last season. With the addition of Dennis Schroder, Nerlens Noel, and others, the bench mob will finish with a positive net rating and establish itself as one of the better reserve units in the league. Westbrook will be able to comfortably exit the floor without fear of losing leads.
(4) Hamidou Diallo will average more minutes than Terrance Ferguson
This one is a stretch, as Ferguson is the odds-on favorite to start while Andre Roberson is on the mend. However, after an underwhelming Summer League/preseason for Ferguson and Diallo’s emergence over the last few weeks (11 PPG, 4.5 RPG in preseason), I think the rookie will do enough to see more playing time by season’s end. As a little bonus prediction, I think Diallo will receive All-Rookie Second Team honors for his efforts.
(5) Patrick Patterson will start at PF and shoot 37 percent from long range
Patrick Patterson appears to be Billy Donovan’s starter at power forward, and I think he’ll reward the coach with his best season in recent memory. Although he shot 39.8 percent from deep last season, that came on just 2.1 attempts per game (in 15.5 minutes per contest). With the additional minutes afforded to him by Carmelo Anthony’s exit, this season should resemble something closer to his last campaign in Toronto — 6.8 PPG, 4.5 RPG, 25 MPG, 37.2 percent from deep on 4 3PA. 2Pat should turn heads this season after many gave up on him in 2017-18.
(6) Steven Adams will finally average a double-double
This doesn’t happen without prediction #2, but it just feels like the season Adams takes his stat line to another level. I’m thinking 16 PPG, 11 RPG, and a reasonable amount of All-Star votes (though he won’t ultimately make it) for Big Kiwi.
(7) Dennis Schroder will not win Sixth Man of the Year
But he has a solid season and finishes third in voting before being traded next summer. This doesn’t seem like a long marriage to me — he’ll rehab his image before Presti moves him in exchange for cheaper pieces that fill more immediate needs. Everyone wins.
(8) Andre Roberson will return in late February/early March
Although Roberson is set for reevaluation in early December, I don’t think he’ll make his on-court debut until late February at the earliest. I hope to be wrong. I think I very well could be wrong. But after already suffering one setback during rehab of a very serious injury, this is going to take more time than most would like. The Thunder would be lucky to get him anywhere close to his previous form in time for the postseason.
(9) Paul George will attempt a career-high amount of three-pointers
In his first season in OKC, George shattered his personal single-season record of three-pointers attempted, hoisting 609 long balls (previous high was 566). With Melo out of the picture and the Thunder always in need of more shooting, George will attempt 8+ per game from long distance — though his percentage (40.1 percent) will go down slightly from last season. (Maybe not if he sternly declines the invitation to the Three-Point Shootout)
(10) Westbrook will shoot 35 percent from long range
I’m a glutton for punishment here (I predicted 37 percent last season) but this is going to happen. He took three less per game last season than in 2016-17 — the percentage just went in the wrong direction, as he finished with a 29.8 percent success rate. I think he’ll take about the same amount, but find more success when doing so. As he enters his age 30 season, now is the time to see progress from distance.
(11) Nerlens Noel will really matter
This seems like an obvious thing to say, but I’ve long felt wildly uncomfortable with the Thunder’s options at backup center. With Adams playing a very rough-and-tumble game, along with a history of nagging injuries that cost him a game or two here and there, having this security blanket behind him will prove to be invaluable. Noel’s stat line won’t shock anyone and he may very well have plenty of quiet nights, but he will anchor the second unit’s defense and likely step in and start a game or two. The difference between him and Dakari Johnson (who started six games last season) is substantial — something that will be very obvious when the time comes.
(12) The Thunder broadcast team will fail to make national news
With Brian Davis out of the picture, the likelihood of the Thunder broadcast team causing a nationwide stir has decreased dramatically. Our only hope is Michael Cage losing all control of himself and storming the court in order to prove he’s still got it. Unlikely — but you can see it happening.
(13) Russell Westbrook will become the franchise leader in field goal attempts
This one will be out of the question if Westbrook’s knee injury holds him out of any more than a few games, but he is within striking distance of Gary Payton’s record for the most field goal attempts in franchise history. Westbrook trails The Glove by 1,782 attempts at the moment — a lot — but Westbrook has attempted more than that amount once (2016-17) and only took 95 fewer than that last season. If Westbrook’s health holds up and he’s able to play in 78-80 games, I think he’ll get there. Melo’s field goal attempts are alllll on the table and they’re not going to shoot themselves.
(14) Carmelo Anthony will revive the “See?! Players are better off without Russ!!” argument
I mean, of course he will. That’s how this works.
(15) Alex Abrines will break out…or be traded
Abrines should see an increase in opportunity due to Roberson’s injury — and, hey, he shot 39.5 percent from deep last season. That being said, I wouldn’t be shocked to see him moved at the deadline if things haven’t improved. He’s a restricted free agent after the season and I don’t know how much longer his leash is — even if the team desperately needs shooting.
(16) Jerami Grant will average double-figures in scoring
Grant averaged 8.4 PPG last season, playing in a shade more than 20 minutes per contest. His three-point percentage will climb up over 30 percent (29.1 percent last season) and with Melo no longer taking minutes, Grant will average double-digit scoring for the first time in his career. I think he’ll more than earn his $9 million paycheck for this season.
(17) The Thunder will have one All-Star
I want to confidently say Westbrook and George will both be representing the Thunder at the All-Star game, but that’s no sure thing. After all, George was only added to last season’s roster as an injury replacement — and now the Western Conference has LeBron James playing the same position. It will be very crowded and the small market could hurt him with fan voting still being part of the equation. It will be an All-Star caliber effort — just not sure he gets the nod.
(18) The Thunder will finish with a record of 52-30/end up as the 4-seed
Vegas currently has the Thunder’s over/under set at 48.5 wins, so this expectation is on the optimistic side — but 52 wins is certainly achievable for a team that won 48 last season while playing horrific basketball against sub-.500 clubs. The 52-30 record will be good for the 4-seed in the West, setting up a first round match-up with LeBron James and the Lakers. Paul George will be relentlessly booed at Staples Center en route to the Thunder winning in seven games.
(19) The Utah Jazz will win the Northwest Division
It will be close, but I think the Jazz end up taking the Northwest with a record of 54-28. This isn’t a knock on the Thunder, either. The Jazz should really be that good if they remain healthy.
(20) The Warriors will eliminate the Thunder in six games in the Western Conference Finals
Should Roberson return and look anywhere close to his former self on the defensive end, I think the Thunder have a great opportunity to meet up with the Warriors in the Western Conference Finals. Houston and Utah are issues, yes, and I’d listen to any argument as to why they’ll be there in place of OKC. But I think the Thunder get through and are able to steal a couple before falling to the defending champs — who will win another title and then lose Kevin Durant after the season, restoring competitive balance in the NBA.