5 min read

Playing Devil’s Advocate: Looking at 10 Anti-Thunder predictions for next season

Playing Devil’s Advocate: Looking at 10 Anti-Thunder predictions for next season

As we sit here, t-minus one week before the start of the regular season, prepare yourself to see tons and tons of articles about predictions for the upcoming season on every basketball site imaginable (to include this one). Most of those prediction lists will be in favor of whatever team the website represents. But with the turnover on this roster and the almost blind optimism heading into the regular season, I wanted to do something different than just point out how, if everything breaks right, the Oklahoma City Thunder could surprise the world and win a title. I wanted to look at things from a more realistic perspective. I took off my Thunder-shaded goggles and these were the 10 anti-Thunder predictions I came up with.

10. Oklahoma City’s home sell-out streak will end on March 22nd, 2017 against the Philadelphia 76ers

The high of playing the Golden State Warriors on March 20th gets dampened by playing the 76ers on the 22nd on a Wednesday night. Up to that point, the Thunder would have sold out 292 consecutive games, to include the playoffs. But if the season is not going as well as many people thought, this might be the game where people decide they would much rather stay home than head to the Chesapeake Energy Arena to watch the Thunder play a moribund lottery team.

9. James Harden will lead the league in scoring at 33.5 points per game

As if the Kevin Durant defection to the Golden State Warriors wasn’t bad enough, the domino that many think started this new normal will likely lead the league in scoring under the guidance of new head coach Mike D’Antoni. With the departure of Dwight Howard and the insistence that Harden now be the “points guard” for the team, the Beard should find ample opportunity to light up the scoreboard.

8. Victor Oladipo will be traded at the trade deadline

What was once imagined to be one of the more dynamic backcourts in the league, turns out to be a disappointment, as Victor Oladipo and Russell Westbrook fail to differentiate their games enough from the other. Oladipo and Westbrook play a very similar style, with both being slashing, athletic guards that are below average 3-point shooters for their positions. Nearly 42% of Westbrook’s shots came at the rim last season, while 33% of Oladipo’s shot attempts came at the rim. In contrast, only 24% of Westbrook’s shots come from 20-29 feet, while 36% of Oladipo’s shots come from 20-29 feet. If they can focus on this difference, with Oladipo raising his 3-point shooting from 35% to 37%, then the union may work. If not, especially with Oladipo looking for a max extension, then the Thunder may have no choice but to trade Oladipo while they can still get assets for him.

7. Oklahoma City will finish 4th……in their division

Portland will be similar to what they were last season and Utah will finally stay healthy enough to make it to the playoffs. But the surprise of the division will be the Minnesota Timberwolves, who, under the tutelage of Tom Thibodeau, focus on defense and finish one game better than the Thunder.

6. Oklahoma City will lose all four games against the Golden State Warriors

The Warriors will likely run rampant throughout the league this season, and will probably sweep many season series. But the series the NBA and their fans will be keen on will be the Thunder vs. Warriors. Unfortunately for the Thunder, the Warriors will rely on their vast array of weapons to take out the Thunder three times in the season.

5. Russell Westbrook will lead the league in turnovers, usage, and will shoot under 30% from 3-point territory

Westbrook is a great player. But if much of a defense’s attention is paid to one player, then that player, especially if they handle the ball as much as Westbrook, will turn the ball over. It’s just a fact. Last season, Westbrook had a career high in total turnovers at 342. When Kevin Durant was injured in the 2014-15 season, Westbrook had a career high 38.4% usage rate. When you consider that Durant actually played in 27 games that year, it would not be surprising if Westbrook once again leads the league in that category. In regards to 3-point shooting, consider that Westbrook has never shot better than 33% from deep in his career, and has four seasons where he has shot under 30% from the 3-point line. Unless he has a Jason Kidd-like resurgence in shooting later in his career, Westbrook is what he is when it comes to 3-point shooting.

4. Serge Ibaka will be a first time All-Star this season

With an increased responsibility with Orlando, Serge Ibaka will expand his offensive game and will average a career high in scoring and rebounding that will net him his first All-Star game nod. Contract-year Serge Ibaka will be a thing this season. Then he will get a max contract and revert back to the Serge Ibaka of OKC.

3. The Los Angeles Clippers will finish 2nd in the Western Conference, will knock OKC out of the playoffs, and will re-sign Chris Paul and Blake Griffin at season’s end

One of the reasons you try to keep a good team together for as long as possible is because opportunities present themselves from one season to the next. Teams like Memphis and the Clippers have waited the past 5 seasons for a crack in the door into the upper echelon of the Western Conference. Usually in their way has been Oklahoma City and San Antonio. With both the Thunder and Spurs facing extensive roster changes, this will be the year the Clippers finally kick in the door and position themselves in the 2nd spot in the West.

In the first round, they will face the 7th seeded Thunder and will eliminate them in 6 games. Then in the offseason, after making it all the way to the Western Conference Finals, the Clippers will re-sign Chris Paul and Blake Griffin for 4 more seasons, thus negating the Thunder the opportunity to sign hometown boy Griffin.

2. Kevin Durant will win the MVP

The premier scorer in the game will be playing with more space than he has ever seen and will be on the best team in the NBA. Outside of the villain narrative, I don’t see why Durant won’t win the MVP. He’ll likely shoot the highest percentages of his career from 2-point and 3-point range, his turnovers will go down, and his assists will go up. I hate it, but I don’t see how he doesn’t win it this year.

1. The Golden State Warriors will win the championship for the 2016-17 NBA season.

This team is primed to be one of the best collections of talent the game has ever seen. Outside of a combination of injuries and lack of depth, there is no team in the NBA that is built to beat them, not even Cleveland.

It’s a brand new world out there for Thunder fans. There are tons of possibilities in a positive direction. Steven Adams could turn into a double/double machine. Victor Oladipo could become the perfect compliment to Westbrook in the Thunder’s backcourt. Westbrook could turn in a historic season and win MVP. But while you enjoy spending most of your time on one side of the fence, always remember there is another side to that fence where the grass is not very green and extinction level events are always around the corner.

Note: This is meant to be a worst-case scenario article. It’s not what I really see happening this season.