James Harden left before last season starter, yet the Thunder improved — they scored 2.6 points more per 100 possessions and allowed 0.8 less per 100. They were a 60-win team, a better team than the year before, their playoffs just cut short by Russell Westbrook’s injury.
This year Kevin Martin is gone and the Thunder are going to need Jeremy Lamb and Reggie Jackson to step into bigger roles and thrive — and that just may happen. First off, Kevin Durant and Westbrook are just 25, their games are still improving each year. Also, the Thunder have built a Spurs-like system where guys just can step in and do the job, whether it be Serge Ibaka or now Lamb.
Thunder GM Sam Presti said at the team’s press conference he thinks the team will improve this year, as reported by the Oklahoman.
“We’re excited about the opportunity to build on the success and strengths of last season,” Presti said, “and we think we have an opportunity to do that….
“I think Reggie Jackson and Jeremy Lamb have, really, almost pushed the standards higher for some of the younger players that will follow them in our program in the future,” Presti said. “They’ve been incredibly diligent. The time they’ve put in and the quality of the work has been exceptional.”
The Thunder will be one of the NBA’s best teams in the regular season (I think they will have the best record in the West). The fact is in the grind of the regular season you just can’t prepare and make changes to deal with OKC’s athleticism (it’s the same reason Miami just overwhelms teams in the regular season). That is mostly about Durant and Westbrook being healthy.
The playoffs, when teams have time to prepare and can take away your first couple options in your offense, that is when I wonder how the Thunder will do. Last season when Westbrook went down the Thunder were lost when the primary options on their basic sets were taken away. I’m not sure they have all the weapons they need for the playoffs.
But this is still a contender and a team that could improve off last season, and make their GM look even smarter.