2017-18: 25 Statements Made With Extreme Confidence
If you’ve been a reader of this site for years, please know — I’m more uncomfortable about this than you are. Royce Young did a wildly popular Statements Made With Extreme Confidence piece before each of the last five seasons, and it’s difficult to pick that up and run with it. I even asked if Royce would be available to come back for a cameo, but he hit me with a “New phone, who this?” text.
Like it or not, it’s you and me now.
One thing that makes this easier — well, this and a lot of things — is the simple fact that the 2017-18 Thunder is a team filled to its brim with story lines. It could be the greatest show south of Oakland. It might devolve into an unmitigated disaster. Either way, the possibilities are spellbinding.
Below is my list of predictions for the upcoming Thunder season, and I suspect we won’t agree on them all. That being said, these pieces are a lot of fun to do, look back on, and completely tear apart. I’m ready.
1. Russell Westbrook will record 18 triple-doubles. Eighteen triple-doubles? Only Eighteen?! Thing is, Thunder fans should never want Westbrook to replicate last season’s performance ever again. It was fun to watch in the way Titanic is fun to watch — entertaining, sure, but you know the boat is going down at the end. I settled on 18 triple-doubles in 2017-18 to match what he did in 2015-16, and the rebounding numbers will return to normal. Do less, young man. You deserve it.
2. The Thunder (finally) has three All-Stars. I don’t actually believe Carmelo Anthony will deserve the nod in a loaded West, but he’ll sneak in and give the Thunder its three All-Stars that we’ve been waiting on for years. Fan voting will push him over the hump, and people will complain about it nonstop.
3. Andre Roberson makes First Team All-Defense. This never happens if Paul George doesn’t slide Dre back into his natural position of shooting guard, but the move allows Roberson to avoid Kawhi Leonard and Draymond Green in the Forward category. It’s been coming for quite some time, and this is the season it happens. Lock it in.
4. The Thunder gets one against Golden State. OKC finished 0-4 against the Dubs last season, and nothing kills a rivalry like getting drummed every time out. The Thunder will get at least one this regular season — in Oklahoma City — and fans will attempt to rush the court afterward. Russell Westbrook will do his post-game interview holding a cat.
5. KD will be mercilessly booed in OKC yet again. There’s a contingency of fans that are ready to move on, but the booing is going to happen. I don’t think it will be anything remotely close to last season — and doubt there will be an over-sized cupcake roaming the crowd — but it will be another spectacle. The guy just provides too much material for fans not to use it, and there’s a couple more cathartic experiences in line for Thunder faithful.
6. Alex Abrines will make 175 three-pointers. He made 94 last season on a 38 percent clip, so this is a considerable jump. I think he will see a lot of run with guys that demand a lot of attention, and he should be open quite often. He shot 42 percent from deep after December of last season, and his final percentage in 2017-18 will end up north of that.
7. Billy Donovan will break the record for most times using “very” in one sentence. “I thought Carmelo played very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very…..”
8. Westbrook will shoot 37 percent from downtown. He hit 34 percent on 7+ attempts per game last season. He will take fewer, make them more frequently, and no I wouldn’t put money or my life on this holding up.
9. Nick Collison is going to play. Jerami Grant and Patrick Patterson will see decent time at backup center, but I think there are minutes available for Hair Jordan. He appeared in just 20 games a year ago, but will exceed that number in 2017-18. He’ll ride off into the sunset after the season and be the first player in Thunder history to have his jersey retired.
10. Jerami Grant’s three-point percentage will crater deep into the earth’s crust. I have nothing against Jerami Grant — in fact, I think he’s wildly entertaining, showed flashes of being a functional NBA player, and will likely see a decent amount of run at center. But let’s be clear — he’s not hitting 37 percent from downtown again. I reckon it will fall into the 30-32 percent range.
11. The Thunder bench will keep its head above water. The OKC bench was a dumpster fire last season, but vastly improved over the offseason. In adding a functioning backup point guard in Raymond Felton — along with with Alex Abrines, Patrick Patterson, etc. — the Thunder reserves will finish with a positive plus/minus for the season and not bleed the team dry/make fans want to turn the channel. It’s not a perfect bunch, but it will be much better.
12. Enes Kanter will pass the ball to Russ at least once. Probably not even because he forgot he switched teams. He just honestly loves Russell this much, and will never not pass Russ the ball if he’s open.
13. There will be three 20+ PPG scorers. Can you guess them? Hint: Andre Roberson isn’t one.
14. Josh Huestis will deserve to play more. Because Josh Huestis always deserves to play more, right? That being said — he will blow last season’s total of two appearances out of the water. He won’t make his way into the regular rotation, but he’ll find his way deeper into our hearts.
15. Steven Adams will make his first career three-pointer. All net. Runs down the court holding his form. Says after the game that he will now begin shooting more of them. Remember this.
16. Patrick Patterson will shoot 45+ percent on corner threes: He’s never actually done this, but has gotten somewhat close (42% in 2012-13). But with the open looks he’ll have from his favorite spot on the floor, he’ll take last season’s 41 percent on corner deep balls and boost it to 45+ percent. He’s going to be a lot better than people realize.
17. PJ Dozier sells an inordinate amount of custom #35 jerseys. I ordered mine yesterday and I don’t even believe anyone should be allowed to wear the number.
18. The Thunder break the franchise record for three-pointers made. OKC finished with 692 three-pointers made last season — good for most in Thunder history, and second-most behind the 2003-04 Seattle SuperSonics (723) in franchise history. This team will hold the top spot on both lists at season’s end, because shooters.
19. Paul George & Russell Westbrook will both be on All-NBA teams. Westbrook will finish on the second team, and George will sneak onto the third team based on increased efficiency. There will be talk of Westbrook deserving First Team, but the spots will be occupied by Steph Curry and James Harden. A better team/better odds in the playoffs will make it all feel OK.
20. The Thunder win the Northwest Division by 4 games. Followed by Minnesota, who I think will keep the race interesting for some time, then Denver, with Utah and Portland being complete question marks. No one ever knows what’s going on in Portland.
21. Russell Westbrook won’t win back-to-back MVPs. This one is obvious since I don’t have him on the First Team, but MVP has LeBron James written all over it. Westbrook finishes fifth behind James, Kawhi, KD and Harden.
22. OKC will have a 54-28 record in the regular season. The Thunder won 47 games last season, so it feels counter intuitive to assume this new roster will only add seven wins. That being said, 54-28 would be a great finish and allows enough wiggle room for the inevitable growing pains. Anything north of this and I’m thrilled.
23. The Thunder will finish third in the Western Conference. Golden State > Houston > Oklahoma City > San Antonio, in that order. Pop will somehow win 60 and make me eat my words, but this feels right for now.
24. The Warriors will eliminate OKC in six games in the Western Conference Finals. I wish I felt differently about this, but barring injury — there’s just no way anyone is taking down the Warriors. I do think the Thunder get two games in the series — à la Seattle in the ’96 Finals — but there won’t be enough. But perhaps enough that…
25. The band will stick together — if only for the short term. With Russell Westbrook locked-in for the long term, and Carmelo Anthony holding a healthy $28 million player option for 2018-19, the real question is Paul George. I think it’s a total 50/50 on whether he stays or goes to LA, but the Thunder will perform well enough to warrant another look. He re-ups on a shorter deal, and re-evaluates his options at a later date. I’m not convinced he grows old in Oklahoma City, but he won’t end up being a true rental.
At least that’s the hope.