Last season, my success rate was pretty solid on these statements, so to make sure I increase on my hit rate, this season’s edition is going to be full of “Kevin Durant will have a 20-point game at some point” and “Serge Ibaka will block some shots.” I’m feeling pretty good about them.
This is probably the most uncertainty the Thunder have faced entering a season since last season, when they traded James Harden basically a year ago exactly. So what I’m saying here is, uncertainty is really nothing new. The Thunder have two constants — Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook — and because of that you can be certain of at least one thing: They’re going to be pretty good. The question is how good and by that, are they good enough, and for that answer those variables about things like the bench and supplementary scoring and such come into play.
So here we go again. Thirty-five statements made with the confidence of 10 Russell Westbrook transition pull-up jumpers.
1. Kevin Durant will restore order and win his fourth scoring title. The combination of Carmelo Anthony’s ridiculous scoring run with the Thunder’s tendency to blow teams out conspired to dethrone Durant from his perch as the league’s premier scorer, but the opposite might be taking place this season. No Russell Westbrook for a month combined with the Thunder potentially not being quite so dominant could result in some ridiculous numbers for KD.
2. KD will average at least five assists a game. Really, the biggest thing that could stop Durant from leading the league in scoring is probably himself. Durant has taken more and more of an interest in expanding his game towards being more of a distributor, which has been excellent for the Thunder. And without Westbrook, Durant may actually look to pass more, in an effort to distribute the scoring load to others rather than picking up the difference himself. Plus, KD’s just get better in a whole lot of ways, one of the most obvious things being his ability to pass and create.
3. The Thunder will break their losing streak against the Heat. As it stands, OKC has lost six straight to the Heat, going back to the 2012 Finals. The Thunder get another two cracks this regular season, with the first coming in Miami Jan. 29. Whether it’s that one, or the one in OKC, the Thunder are going to snap out of their funk against the LeBrons.
4. The Thunder will again produce two All-Stars. It’s a little bit dicey this season since Westbrook doesn’t have the buffer of being voted in by fans, but assuming there aren’t any setbacks, if he performs at a level anywhere near what we’re accustomed to, he’ll join Durant in New Orleans. I almost went with the Thunder having three All-Stars, but I’m not quite sold on Steven Adams seeing enough minutes for that.
5. Russell Westbrook will return Dec. 1 against the Timberwolves. That’s basically exactly four weeks, putting Westbrook’s return at the earliest of his 4-6 week timetable. Why this game? I don’t know. It could be Dec. 8 against the Pacers, or Dec. 13 against the Lakers or Dec. 15 against the Magic. I’m just pretty certain it’ll be a home game, because that’s how it should be.
6. For the first month of the season, KD will average 34 points a game. In the nine games last postseason without Westbrook, KD averaged 31.7 per game, and that was in a limited offensive system against extremely good competition. Durant was essentially doubled and tripled every game and often scored 1-on-5. So give him a month of games that includes nights against lottery teams, and he could have multiple nights of 40-plus. Again, I think there’s a chance this could go the other way and Durant averages something like 25 a game but with seven or eight assists, but if the team struggles at all with that approach, KD’s natural born scorer instinct will kick in and take over.
7. Jeremy Lamb will average double-figures. I’m not saying it’s going to be 15 points a game, but right at 10 seems possible to me. His last four preseason games — games in which he didn’t even play all that especially well, outside of the last one — he averaged 14.8 points, on 43.4 percent shooting. He averaged 33 minutes a game in those four, and there’s no chance he sees that much time throughout the season, but assuming he plays between 25-30, I think he can put up consistent nights of 8-12 points. Which would be very solid.
8. The Thunder will wrap up the Northwest before April. I’m not saying this as a way to predict an incredible season from OKC. It’s more an indictment on the weakness of the Northwest. The Timberwolves appear to be the only reasonable threat to make it interest and I suppose the Nuggets could exceed expectations, but assuming OKC wins more than 55, they could win the division by at least 10 games.
9. The Thunder will finish top three in technical fouls. Between Durant, Westbrook and Perkins last season, the Thunder had three players in the top 10 in techs. Expect more of the same this season.
10. Serge Ibaka will record 25 double-doubles. I had him putting up 25 last season and he let me down with just 15. But this season things will be different.
11. Ibaka will shoot 60 percent from the field. Ibaka shot 57.3 percent last season, good for fourth in the league. He’s going to probably take more shots this season as he evolves into a more assertive, aggressive offensive player, which means his percentages could dip, but with what we saw in the preseason with his face-up game and ability to score a little more in the paint, Ibaka could have a monster offensive year in store.
12. The Thunder will make a semi-significant trade at the deadline. I’m thinking it involves Perry Jones III and the Mavs’ first-rounder for a quality veteran expiring contract, but Perk could be on the block if Adams proves he’s capable of filling that role, primarily defensively. Or, maybe it’s Thabo Sefolosha, who’s on an expiring deal. The Thunder are going to avoid going over the luxury tax like the plague this season, so as to avoid a year toward the repeater tax, but if there’s a deadline need, I think Sam Presti’s going to try and address it while still minding the finances.
13. KD will go 50-40-90 again. His exact percentages: 52.5-41.7-90.4. Book it.
14. Derek Fisher will lead the league in leadership and intangibles. Probably while also averaging 15 minutes a game. Sigh.
15. Steven Adams will appear in at least 70 games. I think it’s obvious he at least should be the backup center, and conceivably, the starter at some point in the near future. Assuming Adams continues to his upwards trajectory, the situation could be that he and Perk kind of split the starter minutes 20-20 with the rest going to Collison/Ibaka, but I think the point is, he needs to see the floor.
16. Adams will also grow a bushy mustache and endear himself to Thunder fans to the point people are saying things like, “I wouldn’t trade Adams back for James Harden. Really, I wouldn’t.” I can dream, right?
17. KD will record five triple-doubles. He had three last season and six others where he was only a couple rebounds or assists away from more.
18. Reggie Jackson will win Sixth Man of the Year. I’m saying some fairly wild things in here, but this one is maybe the most far-fetched. But I believe it. Look at it this way: Jackson will have a month, and maybe more, to play as the Thunder’s starter seeing somewhere between 33 and 38 minutes a game. In the postseason as a starter, he averaged 15.3 points, 3.7 assists and 5.0 rebounds a game. And that was starting the first games ever in his career with them coming in the playoffs. So for the opening month, Jackson could put up those numbers — or better — and then take over as OKC’s true sixth man once Westbrook returns and run the second unit as a poor man’s Harden. I can picture numbers like 14-5-4 for Jackson this season and if he can have a few high-profile impactful games, he may create enough buzz to pull it off.
19. The Thunder will play 82 games, 41 of them at home and the other 41 on the road. Just trying to get back on track here.
20. Westbrook will have his best season yet. It won’t be a full one, but in terms of production and numbers, Westbrook is set up to play his best basketball. I think sitting out and watching is going to do him a lot of good and help him understand offense and his teammates better. His points per game may dip, but I think he’ll be more efficient and he’ll be a much better distributor.
21. Nick Collison will make an All-Defense team. OK, he won’t. But he should.
22. Perk will record one double-double. He didn’t have a single one last season. I think he’s going to break through this year.
23. Adams will finish with more double-doubles than Perk. It might only take one to do it, so it’s not like this is the craziest thing, but Adams has shown he can inhale rebounds in bulk and finish well around the rim. Three or four on the season seems doable.
24. The Thunder will finish bottom 10 in 3-pointers made. They made only a handful in the preseason and the percentage was so terrible that I didn’t want to look it up to know exactly how bad it was. But other than KD, the Thunder don’t have a knockdown 3-point shooter on the roster. Thabo has shot 40 percent the last two seasons, but he’s a selective shooter. Lamb is unproven. Jackson is mediocre. So is Westbrook. This could be a problem.
25. Derek Fisher will induce 72 facepalms. Most being at the moment he runs the scoretable to check in.
26. Fisher will hit at least five big shots that will make you say, “I never doubted that guy!” Preferably these will come in the postseason.
27. Andre Roberson will be sent to the D-League and then called back up again 297 times. Rough estimate.
28. The Thunder will take a step forward in defensive efficiency, but a step back in offensive efficiency. The Thunder finished second in offensive efficiency averaging 110.2 per 100 possessions and tied for third in defensive at 99.2. They might flip-flop those rankings this season.
29. Perk will be called for 600 illegal screens. If that’s truly going to remain a point of emphasis, he may foul out in the first quarter of every game this season.
30. The Thunder won’t lead the league in margin of victory again. OKC’s margin of victory was slightly obscene last season at +9.2 a game, but this year, it’ll probably come back down to a more pedestrian 5-6 a game. I’m thinking the Thunder will have more close games this season.
31. KD will finally win MVP. OK. This year, this is the year. He’s going to set the tone early by putting up stupid numbers in November and with the Thunder maintaining and winning at a solid clip, he’ll build that necessary buzz in February and March to finally get it done. Plus, it’s just his turn. Come on LeBron. Didn’t you go to kindergarten?
32. The Thunder will win 56 games. With Westbrook healthy from the jump, I had them at 58 and the No. 1 seed in the West. But Westbrook’s quite important and while the Thunder are much better prepared this time around than they were in the postseason, not having a top five player on the floor still has some impact.
33. The Thunder will get the No. 2 seed in the West. The top of the West always comes down to a game or two you shouldn’t have lost and without Westbrook, the Thunder are going to have a couple of those games they shouldn’t have lost.
34. The Thunder will return to the Finals. So I was filling out a Western Conference playoff bracket and every way I shook the thing out, I kept ending up with OKC in the Finals. The Clippers look dangerous, but do you really believe in the Clippers? Or the Rockets? Or the Warriors? The Spurs will Spur and the Grizzlies are always tough, but match the Thunder with a healthy Westbrook up against any of those teams in a seven-game series and who are you taking? For all the perceived issues and questions the Thunder have and need to solve, they have the two best players in the West on the same team. That seems important.
35. The Thunder will lose in six games to the Bulls. That’s right. The Bulls are my title pick. I don’t know how it happened and I don’t like it at all. But 3-peating is so difficult and you look at the Heat’s two championships, a lot went right to make those happen, specifically last season’s. The Bulls are built ready-made to beat Miami and if Dwyane Wade has another spell of being 70 percent in the postseason, Chicago won’t be so forgiving. A Thunder-Bulls Finals would be a total toss-up, and picking OKC to win a title, especially this season, feels strange.