Friday Bolts – 12.23.11

SB Nation lists the Thunder as one of the three most watchable teams: “Fairly obvious choice here. The only reason I have them at No. 3 is their games can sometimes get choppy. The Thunder were tied for second with Miami in free throw attempts per shot attempt (only Denver was higher), and a lot of that is because Russell Westbrook, James Harden and Kevin Durant tend to drive to draw fouls rather than finish. Durant also has his rip move, which can be kind of annoying, if effective. But I’m nitpicking here. Clearly, the Thunder are a team you have to watch every night.”

Zach Lowe of SI.com on Westbrook-Durant: “But that doesn’t mean the issues aren’t real against good defenses in crunch time. It just means the issues go beyond the simplistic “can they co-exist?” question fans drool over in hopes of witnessing a developing feud. The Thunder’s offense fell apart at times in the clutch, devolving into Westbrook dribble-dribble-dribble isolations when Oklahoma City’s first options failed. Sometimes those options involved Durant running off screens, something he had trouble with against Tony Allen. Sometimes they involved the near-indefensible Westbrook-Durant pick-and-roll — a play the Mavericks could defend by simply switching.”

ESPN.com’s predictions has KD as the MVP, James Harden as Sixth Man of the Year and Scott Brooks tied for Coach of the Year.

Michael Wilbon of ESPN.com on the season: “Thing is, everybody out West is flawed. It’s hard to pick Oklahoma City until we know whether Russell Westbrook is going to concede that Kevin Durant is the best player on the team. If not, the Thunder will falter again.”

Bill Simmons previews the Western Conference and has OKC with the top seed in the West and at 48 wins.

Christmas wishes for every team.

Brian Windhorst of ESPN.com on new contract extensions: “Kevin Durant made the same move last season when he signed a full five-year agreement with no out with the Oklahoma City Thunder, another team that doesn’t usually hand out player options. In an era where top stars have been seeking flexibility and to apply pressure to their teams, the decisions of Rose and Durant signal a significant shift. “We had it in the contract, it was already negotiated,” said Durant’s agent, Aaron Goodwin. “Kevin asked us to take it out. He said the team was fully committed to him and that he should be fully committed to the team.” So Durant is, through 2016.”

KD: “OKC: I’m taking my van out tomorrow to spread the #basketballneverstops movement around OKC. Look out for my tweets tomorrow.”

Andrew Sharp of SB Nation: “Likewise, if you’re betting on whether Westbrook can evolve–or predicting the NBA Title based on it–you gotta have faith that a 23-year-old has plenty of room to mature and understand his role. If he evolves, the Thunder become the favorites in the West. They’ve got the deepest, youngest team in the NBA, and they’re probably the most talented from top to bottom, too. Kendrick Perkins should be healthier this year, and that much better as an anchor for them down low. And in a year where everyone’s endurance is going to be tested, this is as good a time as any for the torch to be passed from one generation to the next. As long as Russell Westbrook plays along, KD continues progressing, and everyone else stays healthy, it’ll be OKC on the receiving end.”

Chris Mannix of SI.com: “A slimmed-down Kendrick Perkins provides Oklahoma City with a rugged low-post defender to match up with past Thunder tormenter Pau Gasol in the West finals. An improved Russell Westbrook will rebound from a heavily scrutinized 2011 postseason and the Westbrook/Kevin Durant/James Harden trio will send Miami home without a title for the second straight season.”

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