You may be sick of these types of stories. The “Oh the Thunder’s so good right now, can you believe it?” articles. I’m guilty of mentioning quite often how Oklahoma City has exceeded expectations and is redefining a successful season constantly. I’m not sick of it by any means, because I can’t get enough of it. The Thunder’s having an awesome season and no one saw it coming? TELL ME MORE.
So today, I started shuffling through some preseason prognostications for a look back on what was predicted for the Thunder and how that stands relative to where we are today. Considering that Oklahoma City isn’t just battling for the playoffs anymore, but playoff seeding, I felt like maybe this would remind us all what an amazing season this has been. I found them interesting, so I thought I’d share. Let’s start with this guy:
“The team is basically assembled, and now it’s just a matter of player development and progression. If last season’s final 50 games say anything, this team is headed for another step up. Maybe it’s not the playoffs and maybe it’s not 50 wins and a championship, but this season will be a step in the right direction away from the suck that was 3-29. The Thunder may not win more than half their games, but with over half the roster unable to get an alcoholic beverage still, steady improvement and progression is the name of the game.”
Yep, those were my preseason thoughts. I had the Thunder pegged for 34 wins and I had convinced myself that would be an excellent season. Well, I was way off. And I’m very happy about that.
From ESPN’s preview:
Jon Barry: “I love this young group of talented players. Kevin Durant was terrific last season and is only going to get better, but the Thunder are still a couple of years away.”
Chris Broussard: “This is the supposed team of the future, but the future is still, well, the future. Even though Kevin Durant will show more growth, as a whole, they’re still young and learning, and a year away from being in the playoff mix.”
Marc Stein: “The focus will soon shift from Durant’s plus/minus figures to what the Thunder are doing in the standings … and I’m not sure that’ll be any more pleasant. Lots of folks are expecting too much from such a young group.”
David Thorpe: “It’s easy to drool over the expected growth of Durant. But I’m also excited about Westbrook. We saw what Rondo’s freakish athleticism did in Year 2, so expecting something amazing from Westbrook is fair. Management and coaching are stressing defense — will we see it?”
J.A. Adande: “Sure, they’re supposed to be the “next” team. But next isn’t now. Kevin Durant, Jeff Green and now James Harden have to keep waiting. Ask the Trail Blazers.”
I guess next is now. Maybe that could be our slogan for the playoffs: “NEXT IS NOW. GO THUNDER.” The highest anyone had OKC finishing was ninth (Chris Sheridan), the consensus was 11th and the consensus win total was 32.
From Sports Illustrated’s preview:
“Brooks has stressed to Durant how important it is for him to continue showing those same leadership skills if Oklahoma City is to make a playoff run for just the second time in the franchise’s past seven years. ‘We’re all young, and we want to win right away,’ says the 21-year-old Durant. ‘But you have to go through the ups and downs. We can’t rush this process. We have to do it the right way, stick together and be patient.’ In other words, pencil in the Thunder as a playoff contender… in 2010-11.” SI predicted OKC to finish 11th in the West.
Kelly Dwyer of Ball Don’t Lie:
“I know the Thunder won 20 of their last 50 games in 2008-09. I understand how fun they are. I get just how much you like Kevin Durant. I like him, too. He’s fantastic. But we really have to slow down here. In several BDL chats this season, I was asked by several presumably clear-eyed readers if the Thunder had a chance at the playoffs in 2009-10, and that’s just a ridiculous notion … Prediction: 29-53.”
Brian Kamenetzky then, for the L.A. Times:
“They’re still likely a year away from postseason play, but the Thunder are no longer an easy win. There will be nights where they look awful, but also games in which the OKC’s are capable of beating anyone. And down the road, watch out. Prediction: 35 wins, 4th in the Northwest, 11th in the Western Conference.”
Sean Deveney of Sporting News:
“A good second half of the season and a promising young core of Kevin Durant, Jeff Green and Russell Westbrook have pushed up expectations for the Thunder. Certainly, the West isn’t quite as imposing as it has been in past years, which could open the No. 8 spot for Oklahoma City. But the team still has issues with depth and youth, and without much of a presence in the paint, OKC will struggle to defend the interior. Those realities could keep a playoff run more of a hope than a reality.”
“It’s almost as though Presti has made it clear to his young core that this is the year he expects them to mature. Winning 20-some games and yakking all season about potential apparently isn’t going to cut it in 2009-10. No, we’re not talking playoffs. But we are talking about more wins, plain and simple.”
“Prediction No. 1: Your 2009-10 scoring champ. Prediction No. 2: Lots of “The NBA’s Hottest Young Superstar!” national stories. Prediction No. 3: With 10 days to go, the Zombies will be fighting for the eighth playoff spot as everyone says, “Wait, are they going to make the playoffs?” Not a prediction, but definitely in play: 29-plus points and 8 rebounds per game, with 50-40-90 averages for FG/3FG/FT. Last guy who did it? The Basketball Jesus.”
Our own Clark Matthews:
“Sure, 32 wins doesn’t sound like a lot, but a nine game improvement is massive in professional basketball. For the Thunder, that would be a 39% more wins than last year. While I would love for The Columnist Who Shall Not Be Named to be correct and for the team to be challenging for a the eighth seed and flirting with a .500 record…I’m a realist. If the team can post more than thirty wins and be in the game during the fourth quarter night in and night out, that will be enough improvement to make me happy.”
One guy appears to be right:
“I’ve been thinking this whole summer that we have to start off well to become a playoff team,” Durant said Tuesday at his basketball camp. “Anything less than the playoffs is a failure for us. “(Making the playoffs) is a realistic goal for us.”
Here’s that one guy with a parting thought:
“But us fans have to do our best to stay reasonable. I’m excited and I have high hopes for this season. Best case, I’d love a playoff run. I’d likely tear my shirt off and run down I-35 screaming “Thunder Up!!!” if that happened. But you can’t let the hype get to you. Shaun Livingston said, ‘Of course the playoffs are a possibility. That’s what everybody wants.’ But it can’t be expected. Unless of course if Russell Westbrook becomes that superstar point guard and if Kevin Durant…”
I can’t wait to rip off my shirt and run down the interstate yelling Thunder Up. Can’t. Wait. But we still haven’t got there… yet.