Thunder (0-0) vs. Real Madrid
Time: 1:30 PM CST
They say every journey begins with that first step. This is a new beginning for the Oklahoma City Thunder. For eight years before that, Kevin Durant was a big part of it. He gave OKC their first MVP, their first trip to the Finals, and their first look at the NBA as a business. And now he’s gone. The Thunder (and Oklahoma City, for that matter) could have shrunk back onto their insecurities and cried “small-market team.” They could have gone back to their war room and said, “There’s no way Russell Westbrook wants to stay here now. Let’s just trade him, get as many assets as we can, and start all over.” The Thunder front office could have, but they didn’t.
Instead, they doubled down on Westbrook, signing the first team All-NBA guard to a 2-year extension, which was tacked onto this upcoming season. They were proactive in how they dealt with another pillar of the franchise, Serge Ibaka, by trading him to Orlando before his looming free agency could become an issue, and squeezing about as much value as they could for him. They brought over Spanish guard Alex Abrines and signed him to a 3-year contract. They continuously looked towards the future, while keeping tabs on the present.
And now, this is where they are. Are they a completed team? By no means. The blow of losing Durant left a gaping hole in the Thunder’s system. It was a system built largely to cater to the strengths of Durant and Westbrook. And now that system is completely different. The front office has a large task ahead of them, but at least they have a vision. And that vision centers around Westbrook leading the Thunder now. It’s going to be a long, arduous journey, but the first step begins with Real Madrid.
Spain has been known to boast two of the strongest teams in Euroleague play with Real Madrid and FC Barcelona. Real Madrid has, by far, the richest history, having won 9 total EuroLeague championships in their 85 year history. Their roster boasts seven players with NBA-level experience. While none of those players could be considered NBA superstars, many were serviceable role players who had successful stints in the NBA.
Their biggest strength is their backcourt, with Spanish Olympians Rudy Fernandez and Sergio Llull serving as dual ball-handling play-makers who are consistent enough from the perimeter to be considered threats. On the wing, former Charlotte Bobcat Jeffery Taylor can be a pest defensively due to his length, while the crafty Andrés Nocioni still has a knack for being in the right place at the right time. Up front, Gustayo Ayon is probably their most productive big man, averaging 11.6 points and 7.9 boards. Anthony Randolph was once imagined to be one of the more versatile big men in the game. While that potential was never realized in the NBA, he has been very successful in his two seasons in Europe. Off the bench, Jaycee Carroll is their deep threat with a 43.4% career average from 3-point territory, while Luka Dončić is considered to be the top European prospect to be draft-eligible for the 2018 NBA Draft .
3 Big Things1. The Starting Line-up
More than likely, four of the five starting positions are already etched in stone. Russell Westbrook, Victor Oladipo, Andre Roberson, and Steven Adams can probably sleep well knowing their position in the rotation likely starts with the opening tip. It’s the power forward position that is up for grabs. In the Blue-White scrimmage, the starters were out there with rookie power forward Domantas Sabonis, who played surprisingly well.
This preseason the Thunder are likely to try various line-ups to see what works and what doesn’t. There are 6 preseason games and three players vying for the starting power forward position (assuming Enes Kanter will be used exclusively from the bench, like he previously has). Sabonis, Ersan Ilyasova, and Joffrey Lauvergne will all be vying for that spot, and each brings something different to the table. It will all depend on how the other four starters mesh together for the Thunder.2. Wing scoring
There may not be a more offensively inept wing trio in the league than Roberson, Kyle Singler, and Josh Huestis. And I mean that in the nicest way possible. There is no way to know what the 2016-17 versions of these guys will be, but if the 2015-16 versions of each of these three is repeated, then the Thunder will have a whale of a time trying to score over 95 points per game. This is where the whole, “oh crap, we don’t have Kevin Durant” factor comes into play. Hopefully, Roberson’s play in the Blue-White scrimmage wasn’t a fluke and he turns into a serviceable overall offensive threat. Hopefully Detroit/Real Madrid Singler comes out for the Thunder this season. Hopefully Huestis actually is an NBA player. That’s a lot of hoping. Maybe some of it will pan out.3. Thunder basketball is back!
It looks different. There are some familiar parts missing. But if you look closely, it still says either Thunder or Oklahoma City on the front of the jersey. Welcome back, guys. You were gone for too long.