Pre-season is upon us, and pre-views are in order. Is the Daily Thunder team pumping sunshine or hankerin’ for some tanking’? (Sorry.) We took the temperature of our writers to see how they see this season going. Also, give a hearty DT welcome to some new friends of the site, a few guys with more thoughtful takes and Twitter smoke than I could ever muster: Dom Flaim, Justin Hickey, and James “Snottie Drippin'” Holas.
And as always, weigh in with your thoughts in the comments or on Twitter.
Thunder wins (as set by the sports books): 31.5
Panchal, OVER: That’s right, you heard me. I think this team is extremely underrated. We’ve got one of the most promising young stars in Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, a veteran point guard who can run the pick-and-roll with Steven Adams (call it Ok-LOB-homa City) and generate open looks for SGA and Terrance Ferguson, and Danilo Gallinari, who received a couple of All-NBA votes after a career-best season with the Clippers last year. I’m ALL IN (on being the 10th seed).
Rahbar, UNDER: The team as currently constructed absolutely wins over 31 games this season. I dare say they could contend for the 8 seed. But I would be shocked if Gallo and CP3 are on this team past the trade deadline. And, again, please check out the Thunder’s first 20 games. It’s like starting a game of Punch-Out, and instead of fighting Glass Joe and Don Flamenco, you immediately have to square off against Bald Bull, Soda Popinski, and Mike Tyson. Even with a talented current squad, OKC will be hard pressed to come out of the gates with better than a 7-13 record, and then December rolls around and trade talks will start to Heat (get it?) up. When the schedule lightens up, the Thunder will have less firepower to pull out the more winnable games.
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander double-doubles: 10.5
Holas, OVER: Last season as a rookie, Shai was only 7th in minutes per game (26.5) and 9th in usage (practically 8th; some guy named Johnathan Motley played 22 games and 7 minutes per but posted a higher usage) for a deep playoff team and managed just a single double-double. But he JUST missed (shy by two or less rebounds or assists) four times. In year 2 for the semi-rebuilding Thunder, look for SGA to be more confident and aggressive while flashing his all-around floor game. I’ll take the over on this one, easily.
Allred, UNDER: The versatility of SGA is getting played up for good reason, but he only came within three counting stat tallies of a double-double five times all last season, when he started 73 games and played over 26 minutes a night. I don’t think playing a few more minutes next to Chris Paul will lead to him racking up many more assists than he had as Patrick Beverley’s running mate.
Andre Roberson starts: 10.5
Panchal, OVER: I’m not rooting for anyone harder than I’m rooting for Roberson. I want to believe that Roberson is an even better defender than he was pre-injury, though history is not on his side. That being said, there may be certain teams (the Clippers and Rockets come to mind) that would want Roberson’s defense in the starting lineup. The current Thunder roster has a lot of redundancies, so I expect there will be many different iterations of their starting unit this season. I hope he’s an even better defender and that the knee surgery magically fixed his shooting, too <3.
D. Brandon, UNDER: As much as it pains me, I think he may be done. He’s been reliant on his athleticism and defense to stay on the court—his offensive game is extremely limited. The only way you can start him is if his defense is at the world-beating elite level he was at before, and history isn’t kind to patellar injuries.
Terrance Ferguson 3 pointers made for the season: 164
Rahbar, OVER: I think this is a coin flip, but since the rest of our panel voted under, I’m gonna show some love to TFerg. The forgotten starter had precious few shots last season, only taking 5.8 a game, including 3.9 from distance. More importantly, he shot a nice 36.6% on those deep attempts. With “ball movement” being the second-most used phrase outside of “plant based” so far this training camp, I expect Ferguson to see an increase in three-point attempts, and maybe even a show a slight bump in percentage as he continues to develop. Averaging half a made-3 more per game doesn’t seem outrageous.
Elrod, UNDER: I’m going with the under here, simply because Ferguson has yet to hit 164 threes in his career, despite playing over 2690 minutes. While Ferg’s usage should see an uptick this season, he still has problems creating his own shot and I don’t see him receiving any more open looks than he did last season.
Steven Adams RPG 11.1 (Westbrook’s mark last year)
D. Brandon, OVER: Steven’s always had very high box out numbers and his offensive rebounding makes it obvious he’s always had more in the tank. Though I tend to agree that the Thunder will probably play at a little more deliberate of a pace this year, that also means that they’re probably not going to be boxing out for guards to ignite the break. That means more Steven rebounds, and I think he hits that 11.2 per-game mark.
Flaim, UNDER: Not because he can’t. I think the Thunder still have him as a box out man on some possessions, and they may play at a slightly slower pace this year leading to fewer possessions. I’m hoping he finally gets a little bit of a minutes reduction to take away some of the wear and tear he’s had later in the last few years. It’s close, but slower pace, plus not totally scrapping the scheme, plus fewer minutes makes lean under here.
In-season OKC trades: 4.5
Holas, OVER: Besides Chris Paul and Gallo, there’ll be a market for Steven Adams, Dennis Schröder, and Andre Roberson. Count on GM Sam Presti making a handful of moves to bring in potential young talent, shed salary, and scoop up picks.
Panchal, UNDER: A trade would likely include picks and OKC gave up A LOT for the picks they have now. Even if Chris Paul wants out, the Thunder aren’t going to give up assets just to shed his contract. Presti’s best move is to stockpile picks and package them to move up in future drafts (…not trade them midseason for a poor man’s Danny Green). Also, Presti’s never been one to make big moves at the trade deadline.
Chris Paul games played: 40.5
Flaim, OVER: The longer this goes the more I think Paul’s on the team for the whole season (or at minimum, it’s a deadline day move). I don’t love it, but Sam Presti’s not giving up any assets to move that contract. The only team I could see really making the move is Miami, who has 2021 free agency aspirations. The best case scenario is that some team gets really desperate in February and takes him then. Paul only needs another month, give or take, beyond the 26 game-mark when teams can trade players they just signed.
Rahbar, UNDER: Chris Paul is getting traded. It’s just a matter of when. December? The trade deadline? Next summer? The smart money is the trade deadline, but who ever said I was smart? Check out the schedules for the two teams most likely to be involved in a Paul deal: Oklahoma City and Miami. Both are absolutely brutal to start the season. If the Heat fall into an early hole, Jimmy Butler is likely to go Timberwolves on the youngins. In this scenario, Pat Riley and Co. will be more motivated to pair him with the most attainable superstar on the market. For the Thunder, falling into a big early Western Conference deficit means they can shift from “let’s see if we can make the playoffs” mode to “let’s give Shai Gilgeous-Alexander all the minutes” mode, while also securing a better 2020 draft pick.
Danilo Gallinari games played 40.5
Elrod, OVER: Game 41 happens on January 20th, 2020. Before January 8th (game 40 of last season) there were only six trades in the NBA. One involved Jimmy Butler, who was a disgruntled star, and the other five were minor. It is very possible that Gallo gets injured periodically throughout the first half of the year and misses multiple games, but I believe he’ll play a tad over that 40.5 number this year.
Holas, UNDER: Sam Presti is meticulous about asset management, and the talented Gallinari on an expiring deal is too juicy for a quasi-contender to pass up. You can bet your bottom dollar that even now, Presti is working phone lines and trying to leverage teams against each other for Gallo’s services. He’ll be gone by mid-January.
Mike Muscala starts 30.5
D. Brandon, OVER: I do think Gallo gets traded this season. He’s expiring, he’s good and he plays at a spot a lot of teams could use a hand with. That means unless you get a good replacement back in trade, Muscala’s probably going to get tabbed to start.
Flaim, UNDER: Please be the under.
Nerlens Noel MPG: 13.7 (last season’s mark)
Rahbar, OVER: Noel should’ve played more last year. You know it, I know it, the ghost of Brian Davis knows it. With load management becoming all the rage, and with Billy Donovan not having to worry about every win or loss making or breaking OKC’s playoff seeding, I anticipate a lot more rest for Steven Adams. Spotlighting a talent like Noel for playoff teams in need of a nice defensive big on a minimum contract isn’t a bad idea, either.
Allred, OVER: I know the Thunder frontcourt isn’t any less log-jammed than it was last year, but I have a hunch that developments on the load management and/or trade front could keep Steven Adams out of several contests. Noel as both a trade chip to showcase and next-man-up for the starting 5 spot stands to play more, even if the team goes smaller in general throughout the course of the season.
Bonus: Dearly Departed
Russell Westbrook triple-doubles: 10.5
Flaim, OVER: Yep, its a new team and a different setup but the last time Westbrook hit the under was 2013-2014, when he missed a large chunk of the season. Ever since he’s had at least 11 triple-doules every season. It won’t be like the last few years, bu the’s still a good enough rebounder to snag 10 often, and he will still handle the ball enough for this to happen.
Rahbar, OVER: You know who cares more about stats than Russell Westbrook? If you guessed nerdy blog bois, you’re absolutely right. But the answer I’m looking for here is Daryl Morey. The man who poo-pooed Westbrook’s incredulous achievements during his MVP season will take to Twitter every time Russ pulls off a triple double, blasting a double-MVP campaign for his double superstars.
Russell Westbrook three-point shooting: 34.3%
Hickey, OVER: I believe Westbrook will benefit from extra spacing in Houston. He hasn’t had much space in OKC to play off the ball because the Thunder haven’t had many shooters outside of Paul George, Kevin Durant and Anthony Morrow in his career. Going to Houston–and to Mike D’Antoni is the best in the game at creating space–will help him a lot.
Elrod, UNDER: Regardless of the improved spacing Russell will see with the Rockets, he is simply a historically bad shooter. Westbrook has only hit 34 percent from three once in his career (the MVP year) and has been on a downward spiral ever since. Last season he shot 30% on open threes (four-plus feet of space), so I just can’t see this happening.