Setting the bar as realistically as possible

(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 successask 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?

2009-08-24 17:14:26
Uhhm, the only way I see RW having a 3:1 assist to turn ratio is if he somehow manages to average about 10.5 assists..... I like most of the points though.
2009-08-24 22:39:10
- Team wins 41 games & competes for the #8 spot. - Brooks progresses their sense of team & how to compete. - Durant defends. - Westbrook becomes a point guard. - Harden starts from game one & plays like he belongs. - Green makes a difference. - Krstic gets 9 rebounds & 1.5 blocks per game. - Livingston's knee is no longer an issue. - Sefolosha continues to make a difference on defense. - Ibaka makes me keep thinking of Shawn Kemp. - White makes it hard for Collison to get minutes. - Collison keeps twittering & calling radio stations.
2009-08-25 08:07:21
I think the 30-35 wins is going to be more realistic this year than 40+. We're starting to mature, but we did get younger this year. Even though Harden is supposed to be the most NBA-ready rookie this year and did look good in Summer League, we still have to expect some kind of learning curve from him (even if only a month or two). The key for us will be what Royce discussed in the schedule post a few weeks ago... not stumbling out of the gate. Even though that will be a tough stretch, it will be important in setting the tone for the season. The roster sans Wilkins, Wilcox, and Watson will be stronger. Presti and Brooks gave them their chance and they obviously didn't take advantage. Other than our rookies, we've got players who we can know can, and will, contribute. If we can get 40+ wins and compete for a #8 all year long, I think this team is poised to do great things a lot sooner than people realize. Outsiders can hate all they want. Three years and we'll be making deep runs in the playoffs. Go Thunder!
2009-08-25 11:11:16
No blow outs on us. No losses with more than a 20pt differential (i.e. no Minnesota or Phoenix games). Large percent of losses under 10pts (%50, %60, %70...?). No large leads lost by the bench. Frustrate the quality teams even if we don't win. T.
2009-08-24 17:24:03
<a href="#comment-20994" rel="nofollow">@Joe</a> So some aren't so realistic...
2009-08-24 17:41:29
Royce, One thing that I think you should add is to be competitive night-in and night-out. Last year we were blown out in some games, at Portland, at Cleveland, to name a couple. While that is fine occasionally, it shouldn't happen more than 5-6 nights a year. I don't think it was necessarily a lack of effort either when it happened, I just think it was that youth where you lack the discipline to show up every single night. This may be the #1 sign to show the team's maturation. Loved the craziness today--Traber is a blowhard. I would give anything to hear someone call in and ask "Is this Kenny? Kenny Powers?"
2009-08-24 19:02:42
I don't think, and I know I will more than likely be alone on this, but I don't think KD will get to the All-Star game unless the Thunder have a are much improved in the wins. That was the only knock on him last year and I just think that unless we are more competitive. I will still vote as many times as I can though.
2009-08-24 19:08:32
<a href="#comment-21004" rel="nofollow">@Warren</a> If it were solely based on votes I think you'd be right, but coaches pick the team after the starting 5 if I remember correctly...
2009-08-24 19:46:51
On RW's turnover ratio and shot percentage, I think we can all look forward to improvement. It already appears as though the game feels slower to him than it did last year, which should lead to fewer turnovers - just from experience alone if nothing else. He may also get more points playing off the ball this year, as Harden has shown some nice passing ability (certainly better than anyone else on the team not named Westbrook). Harden will also help Westbrook's turnover ratio by giving him another solid shooter on the wing he can pitch to off of the dribble. If Harden delivers, he could really help take pressure off of RW and thus improve the team dramatically. In fact, here is my favorite goal for the team: Harden plays 30 plus minutes a game late in the season because he earns the minutes and takes Thabo's job. If Harden forces Thabo to ride the bench (as much as I love his game) it means that things are going really well.
2009-08-24 19:19:49
I dunno, Warren. KD has built a considerable amount of hype this off-season, and I think he's a pretty legit All-Star-lock assuming his numbers stay about the same (and I'm with Royce; I think he'll play even better). Of the other listed benchmarks, I think most are pretty realistic. I am not sure about Westbrook achieving a 3:1 A/TO; in fact, I would probably bet against it--but I'd be really excited for him if he did. I would also be very impressed with a .500 division record. If the team pulls this one off already, I would be very very confident about the future. I'm not sure they're ready for that though.
Cpt. C-Note
2009-08-25 06:10:20
1.) Sell out EVERY home game and let our team know that no matter WHO is coming in here, they are goning to have to earn and win. None of this "We're the Lakers or Celtics so we can take a night off crap!" 2.) KD steps up as the vocal leader.(and continues adding muscle and awesome commecials!) 3.)RW has a big jump in maturity. (turns and making open shots late in the game.) 4.) Uncle Jeff is found a comfy role and minutes. (we want him happy! He's the x-factor.) 5.) EVERYBODY GET TOUGHER!!
2009-08-25 08:53:07
I like these expectations. I have one: Be exciting!
2009-08-24 16:56:18
I definitely agree with "Pick up two more nationally televised games." point. I live in Knoxville, TN; the only Thunder I get is off of online feeds that I find put up by the other teams fans. I lived on Ustream and Justin.TV last year just hoping to find games to watch. I want to see my favorite player and 2nd favorite team play. And honestly, if we get more games, that has to mean that several of those other points have or are happening. So I think that achieving the "more televised games" point would be a great goal.
2009-08-24 16:58:05
I really want to see improved Rebounding from Green and assits and FG% from RW. Those are the two most important things for us going forward in my opinion. If Westbrook can't control is shooting % we're in a world of hurt. Obviously, Green has to step up and become a true 4. Lacking a dominate big leaves no room for a small 4.
2009-08-24 16:58:52
<a href="#comment-20990" rel="nofollow">@Nix</a> Ooh, good call on Westbrook's FG percentage. That's definitely a good one.
Greg Evans
2009-08-24 16:59:43
I agree with all your points. Personally, I'd like to see Jeff Green play better against "big name" PFs. I know Uncle Jeff isn't a natural PF, but the Dirks and Boshs of the world just had their way with him last season. Kevin Durant needs to limit his turn overs. If Harden is the scorer OKC wants him to be, this will be a lot easier. I'd like to see that number fall closer to two per game. Lastly, if Westbrook could play a little less reckless (I know that defines him, but it would be nice) and just find some control. Many of his turnovers (or poor shot attempts) were because he attacked the paint when he should have been looking for the open man. I enjoy reading your stuff. - Greg Evans This Is Thunder Basketball
2009-08-24 17:00:39
<a href="#comment-20992" rel="nofollow">@Greg Evans</a> All good points. Especially about KD's turnovers.
2009-08-24 17:16:08
It's sort of been echoed here elsewhere, but I'd like to see Jeff Green just play a little closer to the basket on offense. We don't need a jumpshooting 4 when we already have a 3 and a 5 who shoot a lot of jumpers.
2009-08-24 17:17:33
<a href="#comment-20994" rel="nofollow">@Joe</a> If he averages 10.5 you would have to put him in top 5 guard talk... His defense will be better then most top 10 pg's. His ability to get to the basket and draw fouls could be top 5 in the league already (Wade and Manu topping that list). Truth is if KD improves RW's assist will improve as well.
2009-08-24 18:29:59
the Rumbles? Are they anything like the Wiggles?
2009-08-24 21:11:11
KD is a lock for the All-Star game. He's gotten lots of attention this summer, KD vs Lebron, awesome hyperizen commercial. And his two weaknesses Team Record and Small cap market are covered. 1) The Thunder are going to be a lot better and 2) KD is a twitterholic, plus RW and KD are human highlight reels. Da Nuh Nuh.Da Nuh Nuh
2009-08-25 05:42:48
If the Thunder win more than 35 games this year and compete for a playoff spot then they are WAY ahead of the curve on the rebuilding project...which would be fantastic, of course. I'd say they have a much better chance of winning closer to 30 games (about 32-34) than they do of winning 40. But I'd love to be wrong on this one.
Cpt. C-Note
2009-08-25 06:23:15
(sorry about the typos. I accidently hit "enter" prematurely.) 6.) Oh yeah! Compete for the 8th playoff spot until the end of the season. 7.) Go .500 in the divsion and flirt with 40 wins.(maybe a stretch, but I want to set the bar high.) 8.) Maybe make a move to get a legit starting center.(Krstic is fine, but I don't see him as a starter on a playoff team.) 9.) The rookies find their roles and accept them and excell in them. (Either as startes, off the bench, or even in Tulsa...just get better and quick!) 10.) KD= All Star, Harden= ROY, Scotty=Coach of the Year, Presti= Ex. of the Year, &amp; Rumble= haircut and a shave!!
2009-08-25 09:51:29
RW will improve his numbers, nearly every player improves from rookie to sophomore and from sophomore to 3rd year. KDs FG% went up 4.6%, so for RW to improve 3-4% would be realistic and would put him above 42% especially since he was working on his shot this summer, maybe he can correct his form a bit. I know he didnt shoot much better during the summer league, but there he was the focus of the offense, not like regular season where its durant. His assists should go up just because he will have better shooting teammates in harden and DJ white and any improvement durant shows. I think in some ways we all forget about the way DJ white played towards the end of last year, he should be even better this year in better shape. I could see him passing collison as the 1st big off the bench, he is a better shooter then collison and is potentially a better rebounder. He is also supposed to have a post game when he was in college. Livingston also should show a lot of improvement, last year his numbers were better then watson and thats after not playing for so long, he should add a few extra baskets and more consistency at PG. both our 1st and 2nd teams should be stronger offensively, 1st team is better defensively with thabo but our 2nd team might be better if he played with them and harden started, because then he can help with the defensive liability of livingston. I think weaver will be forced out of the rotation completely. with a guard rotation of westbrook, livingston, thabo and harden, all can play 1 or 2 guard. durant and green at SF with maybe thabo and livingston taking a few mins PF/C krstic, green, DJ and collison. Thats a 9 man rotation, which would make sense.
Steve H
2009-08-24 18:51:15
There are so many different areas in which this team SHOULD be improved from last year that I will be seriously disapointed with anything short of 40 wins. Russell IS going to commit fewer turns and shoot a higher percentage. KD IS going to be stronger and play better D. Collison WILL contribute more as a back-up 4 than he did as a back-up 5 last year. Harden WILL provide a perimeter shooting threat. Livingston WILL be a better back up 1 than Watson. The team as a whole will benefit from having a roster and starting line-ups that don't change from night to night, and actually knowing who the guys are they are playing with and what to expect from them. I think the difference between finishing 8th or 9th will depend on the play of Etan Thomas. If he is capable of giving us 20 minutes of solid interior defense and rebounding night in/out- we could very well be playing in the post-season.
Jax Raging Bile Duct
2009-08-25 08:38:25
Russell: Add 3% to each shooting category. 43% FG, 30% 3P, 84% FT. Cut his turnovers per game average in half. Jeff: Develops a back-to-the-basket game, improved defense. KD: Better defense, more leadership. Krstic: Return to pre-ACL form. Thabo: Add 6% to his 3P%, making it 30%. Add 3% to his FG, making it 44%. Harden: Legitimate 2nd scoring option. Weaver: improved defense and decision making. Livingston: Play without injury concerns. Collison: Play like always. Keep me lol'ing with his tweets. Everyone else I don't have expectations for. I don't see Thomas playing much, and I don't think Ibaka gets many minutes. DJ White hasn't played enough for me to build an expectation for him for a full season, and I don't know how often he'll play.
2010-08-25 23:30:17
FAIL predictions, lol