(1) The Thunder finish with 24 wins
OKC was on pace to double this win count, and then some. They didn’t just win more games than I thought, they convinced me as the season progressed that the wins weren’t pick-damaging victories for naught, but appropriate shoot-your-shot dings for a worthy squad.
(2) Shai Gilgeous-Alexander will only lead the Thunder in games started
In keeping with my thought process, SGA did benefit from volume (he played the seventh-most minutes in the league). But he was more voluminous a scorer and all-around stat stuffer than I imagined. Opportunistic in his team-leading starts (63 of 64) and minutes (35.1 per game), he scored 19.3 points (first) and snagged 6.1 rebounds (second) for OKC. The last–and one of the most promising–of his team-leading stats is 5.0 free throw attempts per contest.
(3) Chris Paul takes a haircut to accommodate a trade
He wasn’t traded and he hell no’d the idea of giving up money on the end of his deal. I don’t think anyone quite saw Paul’s stubborn “I’m still here” crusade coming. More than anything else this season, Paul’s stubborn greatness has both ruined my predictions and made him the Thunder’s MVP of 2019-20.
(4)The Thunder fanbase rally around a phrase akin to “Trust the Process”
Too soon. Team Tank took so many more Ls than the Thunder did. As direct as Sam Presti was in telegraphing an eventual reset, his Rebuild/Replenish/Recycle/Re-use cornucopia of era-ending euphemisms actually ended up carrying the day. Since the path to a teardown became murkier as the wins piled up, we really didn’t know how to describe this interim period. The Replenishing? is as good as any.
(5)Some other Thunder media and fans will grow to be vocally upset with the rebuild by New Year’s.
There were early anti-rebuilding murmurs, but both those and the “WHY AREN’T WE TANKING?!” shrieks were fading by New Year’s. Fan irritation was down to a whimper by the time Sam Presti didn’t execute a deal to send away Danilo Gallinari at the trade deadline–some wanted a playoffs upgrade, and some wanted to lightly sabotage the season for a pick. Everyone understood why the franchise didn’t go full throttle in either direction.
(6)Dion Waiters is re-acquired
Waiters did get run out of Miami (in spectacular, gummy fashion) as I sensed. But he jumped on LeBron’s end of the Banana boat, not CP3’s.
(7) Darius Bazley starts more games than Terrance Ferguson
Despite playing even worse than last season, Ferguson clung to the starting job for the majority of the Thunder’s games. It took an extended absence from Ferguson and a breakout from Lu Dort for him to eventually lose that spot, and Dort was on pace to pass the former for starts on the season before it was suspended. Bazley’s eight starts–in a season in which no rotation players ahead of him (let alone starter Danilo Gallinari) were traded–is still a feather in the rookie’s snapback.
(8) The Thunder win the draft lottery
No chance. It will be impossible for the Thunder to drop out of the playoffs if there is an abbreviated return to play, and virtually impossible even if they played the full slate of 18 games remaining. Thus, no blue lottery ping pong balls, and no hopes of winning it.
(9) Billy Donovan is fired
I misspelled “receives Coach of the Year votes”. Donovan actually proved he could manage another breed of superstar than he had in the high stakes Westbrook/Durant era that concluded, getting along swimmingly with Chris Paul while still implementing his preferred systems and giving run to younger players as is his wont.
(10) The Thunder trade for a star! Then flip him.
Didn’t happen. The complete and utter lack of reporting in this direction hasn’t stopped Thunder fans from clamoring for every star nearing the “disgruntled” area code. This prediction was unrealistic at the time, and feels even wilder now.
(11) The Thunder shoot better than league average from three, at a higher rate than league average
For all of the hype over the Thunder’s ball-sharing and unshackling from clunky my turn/your turn offenses of the recent past, they didn’t exactly light the league up on that end of the floor. OKC ranked 14th in offensive rating (up two slots from last year’s squad) and shot below league average on the 27th fewest three attempts per game.
(12) One All-Star will be selected from the Thunder
I was right! I accurately predicted
Steven Adams Chris Paul would get recognized for stepping into a new role and providing two-way stability in the Thunder season of uncertainty.
(13) Four more Thunder players will represent the team in All-Star festivities
Hamidou Diallo had to pass on the Dunk Contest while nursing his ongoing elbow ailments, and Gallinari was snubbed from the three-point contest (one appearance for his entire career is ludicrous). Shai Gilgeous-Alexander did make the Rising Stars Game, and subbed in the Skills Challenge. Had Darius Bazley been his Rising Stars teammate I would have counted this as a cheap win for me. Alas.
(14) The Rockets barely make the playoffs
They were in no jeopardy of missing the playoffs, but had to completely deconstruct their model of NBA basketball–reconstructing with microball around Russell Westbrook’s driving, James Harden’s double-team drawing, and the spacing afforded by removing true bigs from the floor–just to hold on in the middle of the pack. They were 1.5 games out of the seventh seed, and could have been a juicy draw for the Thunder in the first round.
(15) When the Nets come to Chesapeake Arena, the Thunder play a Kevin Durant tribute video
While I still think this was likely, they won’t bother with anything like this in the event that the Nets matchup does happen. Playing tribute in an empty arena would be too rife for jokes and a sensitive reaction from KD for the Thunder to entertain.
(16) Russ will also get a video
Are you impressed that I saw this coming? I also could have told you it would be a classy, touching moment that was quintessentially Russ. Bring me my Nostradamus robe.
(17) Dennis Schröder gets shut down by New Year’s
Behold my take, in its awful glory:
“Expect (Schröder) to start and play way more than the Thunder might benefit from for the first chunk of the season, which will serve to cement whatever trade value he has. After that, everyone will be ready to move on.”
So wrong it’s almost right. Schröder’s strong play damaged the Thunder’s draft pick prospects at the beginning of the season, when those of us on Team Tank were crying out. But then, we all realized the overqualified sixth man was just…good. We moved on from the thought of trading him, because his positive value would carry over into next season before his contract expires.
(18) One player from the opening night starting lineup will remain on the roster past the trade deadline
The only player dealt from the 2019-20 Thunder was Justin Patton. I really reverse jinxed this team into being too good to blow up, didn’t I?
(19) The Thunder will enter the 2020 draft with four first-round selections in their control
How many times am I allowed to say “alas”? A host of breaks and surprises went OKC’s way this season. Draft standing was not one of them. Oklahoma City didn’t acquire anymore first rounders, and the two in their relative control were zapped. If the season ended March 11, the Thunder would cough up their own first round pick (conveyed to Philadelphia) and receive the Denver pick owed them all the way down at the #25 spot.
(20) There will be on- and off-court feuding, with ejections coming in games against the Heat and Warriors.
In a sign of Steven Adams’ imprint perhaps being the most lasting between Thunder eras, the team was both fiercely competitive but simultaneously jovial. The most heated trash talk came courtesy of Darius Bazley: a Kawhi joke and some banter with Russell Westbrook, who took most of the old Thunder’s snippy anger with him to Houston. Chris Paul’s lighthearded beef with refs, centered on his exploitation and mastery of the rules and regulations they wield, did not fulfill this prediction, either.
(21) Andre Roberson will play
There is still a sliver of hope for this. Just as with the hopes for an unlikely resumption of NBA play, I will irrationally cling to it. Roberson never made it to the court, and headed west to take a different approach to his return, apart from the team). Now he’s again saying what he did at Media Day eight months ago: he feels ready to play.