Chris Mannix of SI has OKC as his favorite next year: “Every core player can improve. Kevin Durant will be better at creating space against a physical defense and playing through contact. Russell Westbrook will continue to mature as a playmaker. Kendrick Perkins will come back 20 pounds lighter with healthy knees that make him a lot more mobile. James Harden’s Manu Ginobili-like game will put him in the hunt for an All-Star berth. With a full season as a power forward, Serge Ibaka will be a better one-on-one defender. This isn’t guesswork: Oklahoma City’s rise has been rapid, and having the league’s third-youngest roster coupled with the return of its top eight players means this conference finalist will get better.”
Chris Broussard and Ric Bucher who has the better dynasty shot, OKC or Miami: “Bucher: The very guy you doubt — Westbrook — is the biggest reason I like the Thunder going forward. He has taken an absolute beating from critics since he entered the league and simply keeps coming. Whether it was P.J. Carlesimo not playing him after he was the fourth pick in the draft or that 3-29 start in OKC or this recent playoff run where so many suggested (falsely) that he was sabotaging the Thunder with his aggressiveness, I’ve yet to see Westbrook show any signs of self-doubt or fragility. He looked at the league’s leading scorer and basically said, “I’m not going down waiting for you to get yourself open or take something more than a 28-foot off-balance 3.” Me, I like that attitude. The pro game isn’t about being liked or magnanimous; it’s about taking the opponent’s lunch, by any means necessary. Dynasties can’t be built on cornerstones faint of heart anymore than a skyscraper can remain sturdy with a milk crate in its foundation. I’ll take my chances with the guys who, so far, are bloodied but unbowed.”
J.A. Sherman of Welcome to Loud City grading James Harden: believe that other than Russell Westbrook, Harden is going to have the biggest question mark on him heading into next season. Going into 2010, Harden could simply be the guy behind the guys, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. He was expected to grow, but not expected to become a key component in their championship push. However, with a playoff run that Harden just had, it all changes. Going forward, Harden is going to play an integral role in the evolution of the Thunder offense.”
A terrific piece on Dirk at Deadspin. Your move, Grantland.
Draft Express’s new mock has OKC taking Kyle Singler: “Oklahoma City’s only real need at the moment is for a combo forward, in the Jeff Green mold. While this can surely be addressed in free agency, drafting a polished and highly experienced senior like Kyle Singler makes plenty of sense. He can space the floor at both the 3 and 4, will compete defensively and on the glass, and won’t need a great deal of schooling to make the transition to the pros.”
Danny Chau of HP: It was supposed to be a gradual process, but Westbrook hasn’t been one for subtlety. His rise to elite status has been as heartwarming as his thoughtless shooting displays have been crushing. The Thunder’s playoff run has once again exposed questions in Westbrook’s game that require answers. There’s no hiding anymore. Westbrook still needs to learn how to play at different speeds, and learn to take contact on drives to avoid awkward loft-shots. And maybe this time, he’ll learn patience. Because the charge he leads, he does not lead alone. He is among friends.