2016-17: 31 statements made with extreme confidence

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It’s that wonderful time again where I predict, nay, soothsay a random number, one that has no meaning or bearing on anything, a number just picked for no reason at all, of things that will happen this Thunder season.

My standing percentage on this hovers somewhere between 99.1 and 99.9 percent.

1. The opening night starting five: Westbrook, Oladipo, Roberson, Sabonis and Adams. OK, so I had this prediction typed up and saved in a draft almost a month ago. I thought the starting five would be something up in the air heading into opening night. Then Billy Donovan basically started that group anyway throughout the whole preseason. But I stand by it! I’m sticking my neck out there and going with it.

2. Russell Westbrook will record 14 triple-doubles. There’s some talk about him pushing for 20. He had the 18 last season, and could’ve had more. There’s been some chatter about him actually averaging a triple-double, but I think that’s far-fetched. Because…

3. Westbrook’s rebounding numbers will be down. He averaged 7.8 a game last season. I’m convinced that number is coming down this season. Probably somewhere around five. It doesn’t make sense for him to kill himself on the glass when the Thunder are so strong there anyway.

4. Westbrook’s usage rate will be under 35. There are some out there wondering if he’ll challenge Kobe’s all-time number of 37.8. No chance. Westbrook posted one over 35 during the time Durant missed most of the 2014-15 season, and that was with him playing like a complete maniac every night. My guess is it’s around 32 or 33. He’s not going to dominate possessions the way people expect. I get the feeling he’s going to be far more inclusive than you think.

5. Steven Adams’ numbers will be in this range (for scoring purposes, give or take 0.5 each way): 14.5 points, 9.5 rebounds, 1.5 blocks and 1.5 assists. Those are really good numbers there. And quite a leap up from last season (8.0 points, 6.7 rebounds, 1.1 blocks, 0.8 assists). Adams played 25.2 minutes a game last season and it’s likely he’ll play between 32 and 34 a night this season. More time on the floor means more numbers, but also he’s in a lot of ways OKC’s number two this season. He’s going to be Westbrook’s primary partner and on top of that, he’s just a lot better than he was.

6. The Thunder will make at least one needle-moving trade. Maybe two. I’m not talking about selling off lightly used bench guy. I’m talking they go get a player that’s in the rotation picture. They have a stable of bigs they can move around, or it could be Cameron Payne who reportedly was part of some Rudy Gay talks. The Thunder aren’t going to keep everybody. They’re going to try and leverage one (or two, or three) of these young players for something helpful.

7. Enes Kanter will finish the season with the Thunder. But he won’t be on the team through the summer. This is a tough one. Kanter is the Thunder’s most tradeable piece because a) he’s pretty good, b) he’s got a reasonable contract and c) he’s expendable. He was always a luxury piece to have on the bench, but the word I had on that was the Thunder were willing to stomach his contract because that’s what you do while you’re contending. Well, they aren’t doing that anymore. Still, I think he plays out the season with the Thunder and then they move him on draft night or something.

8. Andre Roberson makes an All-Defense team. He accomplished the hardest part for a defender last postseason: get a reputation. Everyone saw him lock down Kawhi Leonard, and then give Klay Thompson fits. Everyone knows the Thunder might have a championship had he not gotten in foul trouble in Game 6. Roberson is an elite defensive player and people are starting to recognize it.

9. The Thunder don’t extend anyone before Oct. 31. There are a number of reasons why they should, and why they shouldn’t. If you have players willing to re-up, normally the Presti handbook says you do it, especially if there’s a chance of a discounted rate. But the Thunder want to be players in free agency next summer, and they won’t have cap space if they extend players. And there’s also the pending Collective Bargaining Agreement that’s about to get signed that could greatly change the landscape of team building with re-worked max contracts and such. So the Thunder are probably going to wait and see.

10. Adams re-signs next summer for less than the max. I don’t know why I believe this. But I just get the feeling he’s going to give the Thunder a break. Probably not a big one, but one nonetheless.

11. Alex Abrines becomes OKC’s best 3-point shooter. This might be by default. Because Abrines might be OKC’s only 3-point shooter.

12. I will think to myself “Man, Joffrey Lauvernge sure does look like Miles Plumlee” 62,000 times.

13. Fans boo Kevin Durant on his return. Look, it’s just gonna happen. And don’t get all self-righteous about it either. You can be grateful for what he did in Oklahoma and recognize him for that while also feeling fine with booing him because he’s on another team now. It’s sports, y’all.

14. Kyle Singler wins Most Improved. No, I’m not serious about that. But if you think about it, him just being like mildly adequate this season should put him in the running because he was so bad last season that him going from that to reasonable fine would be a massive leap in improvement.

15. The “Victor Oladipo Can Sing Okay” thing gets way old by the end of the season. Did you know Oladipo can sing? Like really well? Like, he sings songs and stuff! He even did it when he was in the dunk contest! Did you know he can sing???

16. The Thunder will finish top 12 in defensive and offensive efficiency. They were second in offense and 12th in defense last season. They won’t be second in anything this season, but they’ll be in the top 12.

17. The starting five will be one of the five best lineups in basketball. Relatively speaking, I mean. Among lineups that play a couple hundred minutes, the Thunder’s starting five is going to be one of the best.

18. The bench will induce 6.8 face palms per game. Enes Kanter is pretty good. After that, uhhhh.

19. The Thunder will have one All-Star. And it will be Russell Westbrook, starting alongside four Warriors. Awwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwkward.

20. Andre Roberson will be an adequate offensive player. I don’t think he’s going to be that much improved as a shooter, but as a slasher and screen-and-roll guy. I could see Roberson averaging close to three assists a game.

21. The Thunder’s smallball lineup will eventually feature Josh Huestis at the 4. The Thunder lost the ability to go small when Durant departed, and they’re left trying to figure out a way to do it. Maybe Roberson plays the 4, or you go with Ersan Ilyasova. My prediction is Donovan settles on Huestis as his stretch 4.

22. The Thunder will finish in the bottom five in 3-pointers made. Bold statement there, I know.

23. The Thunder will lead the league in points in the paint. Part of that will be from offensive rebounding, but a lot of it will be because Westbrook and Oladipo will steamroll downhill all that time.

24. Steven Adams will get kicked in the balls. That’s not even a question at this point. It’s just a given.

25. Enes Kanter will miss an easy layup, look at the ref in disbelief, touch his face and check if he’s bleeding when he’s clearly not, then run back on defense saying “Unbeeleebable man.” 

26. Domantas Sabonis will make an All-Rookie team. There’s a little buzz building for him as a darkhorse Rookie of the Year candidate. I don’t think that’s happening because his numbers probably won’t be great, but he’s going to be solid enough to make at least second team.

27. Russell Westbrook will attempt the most 3s on the team this season. And that’s not going to be a good thing.

28. The Thunder will have a losing record in two possession games. This is going to be their big problem, methinks. Westbrook isn’t a very good clutch time player, and there’s a question of if he’ll have enough trust to distribute the ball to others in big spots. I could see the Thunder losing a lot of four and five-point games.

29. Russell Westbrook won’t win the MVP. That’s a weird prediction, because I literally spent the whole summer saying he would. But the more I thought about this, while he’s going to have the goodwill vote with sportswriters ready to award the story, I just don’t know if the Thunder are going to have the record, or seed. My pick is Kawhi Leonard, but I think Westbrook finishes as the runner-up.

30. The Thunder win 49 games. I went on record with that number a few weeks ago, and admittedly, I hate it. I wish it was 46. Or maybe even 44. I’d feel way better with that. 49 feels like too many.

31. The Thunder go out in five games in the second round. They get through the first round (against the Blazers, is my guess) and face a certain team on the West coast. And it doesn’t go very well.

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