(Let’s get back to basketball for a minute, shall we?)
What makes a good year? Well, depends on who you ask.
Ask a Laker fan and he’ll say another title. Ask a Celtic fan and he’d say the same. Ask a Bobcat fan and he’ll say playoffs. Ask a Blazer fans and he’d say Western Conference Finals or bust. Or ask a Maverick fan and he’d give you a list.
Which is exactly what I’m going to do. This upcoming season for the Thunder is quite a conundrum. The team has been hyped, de-hyped and then re-hyped all offseason. Expectations are beginning to soar, even though realistically they shouldn’t be as high as they are. Nevertheless, success must be defined in some way for this year. Some might have playoff hopes, which I think are a bit aggressive. Some might just want improvement from last year. I guess I’m somewhere in between.
I think we can add to this list as we go along too. Maybe the team goes 25-10 before Christmas. I think goals will change a bit, but while the season will inevitably be a success, aspirations for the year may evolve.
Win at least 30 games. That doesn’t sound like all that high of an expectation, does it? The Thunder won 23 last year and that’s after winning just four in 2008. So adding seven wins shouldn’t be that big of a deal, right? Well, I’d love to see more than 30. I’d love to be in the 35-40 range. But I think that’s getting ahead of ourselves. We’re trying to define a successful season and I think improving on last year’s win total and getting into the 30’s is a nice step for a team with an average age under 24. I want more, but if OKC wins at least 30, I feel OK.
Kevin Durant is an All-Star. I think we all know he should have been one last year. And with the buzz around him right now with all the LeBron or KD talk and the Team USA camp, he’s almost a lock if he performs at all similar to last year. But I don’t think he’ll do that. I think he’s going to blow last year’s season out of the water. He needs to be an All-Star to raise his profile and also that of his team.
Top 20 in offensive efficiency. Everybody loves to talk about the Thunder’s deficiencies on the defensive end and how that’s the area that needs the most improvement. But in reality, the offense was the worst part of the team last year. Granted, the offense was stunted by P.J. Carlesimo’s historically bad start (they were seriously on pace for the worst offensive season ever), and while Scott Brooks got them on track a little, the team finished 29th in offensive efficiency. With all the offensive talent on this team, there’s no excuse for being that low. Getting into the top 20 would be a major step in the right direction.
Russell Westbrook has a 3:1 assist-to-turnover ratio. I truly think if that happens, this team can and will win 40 games. I think Westbrook’s development is where everything hinges, at least for this forthcoming season. Last year, he was a 5:3. That’s not very great. If he could be somewhere in the six assists, two turnover territory, I think this team is winning games. Now if he gets to nine assists, three turnovers, well, then color me tickled.
The longest losing streak is stopped at five games. Last year, the Thunder endured a franchise record 14-game losing streak and also stretches of eight and seven straight. A big step for this young club would be to throw a tourniquet on and stop the bleeding before things get out of control.
Pick up two more nationally televised games. Right now, OKC is slotted for one appearance on ESPN (Dec. 16 against Dallas) and two NBA TV games. While that’s nice because there’s some teams that don’t have ANY, I think Thunder fans were a little disappointed by the amount of televised games. But if you win, the TV comes. So not only does getting more games picked up mean more wins, it also means there’s more buzz about this exciting team and more positive exposure for the franchise.
Beat at least five title contenders. Home, road, wherever. Last year, the Thunder’s big statement wins were two against the Spurs, one at home against the Blazers and I guess, one at home against Dallas. A big step in OKC’s progression would be to beat a few title contenders at home and maybe even a few on the road. And notice I said “at least.” That’s what would be successful to me. Beating more than five is a home run.
.500 division record (4-12 last year). The Northwest Division isn’t known as one of the toughies in the league, but it isn’t bad by any means. Denver is good, Portland is good, Utah is alright and well, Minnesota is, you know. But with 16 games against division foes (four against each you smarties), that’s almost 20 percent of your schedule right there. It’s a big step towards legitimacy to be able to win within your division. A 3-1 record against Minny would be nice, a split with Utah would be fine and stealing a total of three against both Portland and Denver would be considered a success in my book. (You should read my book. It’s very awesome.)
At least .500 at home (15-26 last year). Take away OKC’s horrendous start and this was actually a possibility last year. Counting the Thunder’s New Year’s Eve win against Golden State, OKC went 13-12 in 2009 at home. And at one point, the Rumbles were 12-6 at home in 2009. This team will have an awesome home court advantage again this year and if it can win half its games at the Ford Center, that’s at least 20 wins right there.
Better road record (8-33 last year). Just two teams had worse road records last year than OKC (Sacramento and Washington). And for a time, the Thunder looked to be historically bad away from home. By “better” I mean simple improvement. Ten wins on the road coupled with a .500 home record means OKC wins 30 games. It’s as simple as that. I’d love to get into the 14-16 range, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves here.
What say you? Any goals for success I left off? James Harden as Rookie of the Year? First team All-Defense for Thabo Sefolosha? Thoughts, ideas, aspirations?