Last year, I did this. And let me tell you I was wayyyyy offfff. It’s kind of funny to read some of the things I thought would define a successful 2009-10 campaign this time last year. So might as well do it again this year, right? First the team and then we’ll look at some player goals.
One word comes to mind when thinking about the 2010-11 Thunder season: expectations. They’re there now. They weren’t before. Now the team has that extra burden on its back. The Thunder has a bar already set, unlike last year where there was nothing to jump over. One step up and everyone is happy.
But this year, oh man. Some people have Oklahoma City finishing second in the West. Some have the Thunder winning the West. I need to sit down (yes, I type standing up evidently). Deciding what defines success is actually much more difficult this season than last. Because of expectations and the fact this team is way ahead of schedule, another eight-seed and first round exit would seem to be very disappointing. When in reality, for a young team like OKC, would be another nice year.
But let’s try and hammer out some metrics to go by. Obviously this isn’t the entire list of possibilities, but that’s why God invented comments, right?
Home court advantage in the first round. It’s hard not to wonder what might have happened had the Thunder won that game in Utah last season where Tony Brothers choked on his whistle. It’s hard not to think the Thunder would’ve been in the catbird’s seat to get to fourth in the West and home court advantage in the first round. Then the Thunder would’ve drawn someone like the Spurs, beat them in six games, moved on to the next round, and then kept winning eventually all the way to the NBA title. It totally would’ve happened if Tony Brothers didn’t screw us.
But in all seriousness, gaining home court in the first round means two things: 1) OKC gets home court in the first round and 2) This means the Thunder finished in the top four in the West. Those are both very good things. Obviously one of the upcoming goals for this season will be to get out of the first round and to the quarterfinals. A big help in getting that done would be having the Sea of Thunder Blue at your back for the opening two games and then Game 7 if need-be. I don’t think it’s necessary to say, “OKC needs to finish second in the West,” because it doesn’t necessarily matter that much because it’s all about matchups. But it is necessary to be in the top four and get home court.
Win 50. DT contributor Patrick James made a great point a while back that this team might actually be better than last season, but could finish with fewer wins. But I think most would agree if the Thunder finished with 47 or 48 wins, we’d be a little disappointed. Mainly because I think we’d all agree that in order to get into the top four in the West, you’re going to need to win at least 50. Some have touted the Thunder for 55 or even 60 wins, but 50 is a good benchmark. Winning 60 percent of your games isn’t ever easy and if the Thunder can get to at least 50 again, I think we’d all feel it was at least a successful regular season.
Russell Westbrook an All-Star. This is a stretch. It’s not so much part of the bar to set success, but more of a goal. And he was actually pretty close last season. Because of injuries to starters and players above him, Westbrook nearly moved onto the All-Star roster. But imagine he continues his progression and puts up numbers of 18-8 or 19-9 during the first half. Oklahoma City is No. 2 or 3 in the West. You don’t think he’ll at least be in the discussion? Like I said, it’s a little bit of a long shot because of players like Deron Williams and Chris Paul in front of him. But with players like Tony Parker and Jason Kidd on the way down, Westbrook might be able to solidify himself at the third point guard in the West which might be good enough for a berth in LA.
Win 30 games at home. Last season, OKC went 27-14 at the Ford Center. And you can go down those 14 losses and pick out a handful of games that really, they should have won. So winning three more shouldn’t be that big of a leap. The key is, is to stay consistent on the road. The Thunder had a nice home record last year, but compared to other teams like the Jazz (32-9), Nuggets (34-7) and Suns (32-9), it wasn’t THAT great. OKC made up by having a pretty excellent road record of 23-18, but keep that road record, plus a better home record and you might have the makings for a top four team.
Win the Northwest. It wont’ be easy. Mainly because the Northwest is probably the toughest division in the league. Beating out teams like Utah, Denver and Portland will be tough and something that would require some good luck along with great play. But it’s possible. Last year, OKC finished three games out for the Northwest title and with a few breaks here or there, would’ve won the dang thing. So taking the division really isn’t a reach, especially if Denver moves Carmelo Anthony. Hanging a division banner in Loud City sure would be swell.