Hardwood Paroxysm 2008-2009 Season Preview: Oklahoma City Thunder

We begin our previews with the Oklahoma City Thunder. Let the fact that there’s actually a team called the Oklahoma City Thunder that plays professional basketball in Oklahoma City kind of roll over you. Your opening preview is by Rob Mahoney.

Projected Record: 24-58 (5th in the Northwest, 15th in the Western Conference)

Sometimes your team is just bad. With the Thunder, I’m not sure there’s any other way to slice it. Last season, their best scorer was a rookie, their defense was awful, and the four guys on the court with Durant at any given time just didn’t mesh/weren’t very competent players/need some coaching. I hate to be boring, but this season you can expect to see more of the same.

Let’s get the big one out of the way early: Kevin Durant is incredible. Absolutely incredible. And despite some criticism for supposedly underwhelming, the Durantula put up a LeBron-esque rookie campaign (sans assists, of course). The most exciting thing in OKC this season may be seeing what Durant does next. At the tail end of last season, Durant flipped the switch. He scored well all season long, but the last two months (err month and a half, really) he had pretty incredible efficiency for a rookie and his points per game skyrocketed despite taking fewer attempts. His defense…well, so he has some room or improvement. Those turnovers could stand to be reined in a bit too. But with Durant as the beacon of what’s to come for the Thunder, the future is certainly bright.

But that future also depends on the development of Russell Westbrook. He can provide some steady defense at the point, but what can he bring to the table on offense? His jumper is a big question mark heading into the season and his speed will probably get him into trouble in trying to do a little too much on offense. On the bright side, he should have some time to develop. Earl Watson may be the most overlooked player on the roster despite the fact that he played the second-most minutes on the team. He’ll be keeping things level while Westbrook adjusts to the pro game, discovers his on-court persona, and learns the art of fighting without fighting.

Unfortunately, that means the Thunder aren’t going to be taking any big steps forward in the short-term. The roster is really more of the same ol’, same ol’; instead of making a big splash with a rookie starter out of the lottery, they’ll have Westbrook coming off the bench. Jeff Green and Nick Collison figure to improve, but it’s not enough to pull OKC out of the West’s basement. Oh wait, I forgot about the blockbuster that ended the Luke Ridnour era and the team’s acquisition of superduperstars Desmond Mason and Joe Smith that will indubitably thrust the team into the upper echelon of the league. Both are better alternatives than most of the rest of the roster in terms of viable production options, and I wouldn’t mind seeing Desmond Mason starting alongside Durant on the other wing. Jeff Green and Kevin Durant are a strange fit, and if things don’t pan out I wouldn’t be surprised to see Mason get some serious time if he has the juice left. Joe Smith gives them some frontcourt depth behind Collison and Chris Wilcox, and I hope to God Shammgod that he gets playing time over Robert Swift. I can tolerate a lot of wacky things, but I’m not sure that a tattoo-covered big man with painted nails playing basketball is among them.

So that puts the Thunder…just a bit ahead of where they stood last year. A year older, a year wiser, maybe, and with a ridiculous string of sold out games ahead of them, but only a few wins ahead of their 2007-2008 production. So Thunder Fans: fight for those season tickets if you will, but set your homepage for DraftExpress and buckle up. It’s going to be a loooooong season.

Image Nation by Trey Kerby:


Reasons To LOOOOOVE The Thunder by H. MacKenzie:

Matt gave me the task of giving reasons why you would love each team, but he didn’t tell me he’d be throwing OKC at me to kick things off. Why would you love the Thunder? Well, they’re not the Knicks for starters. Just a reminder that it can always get worse. Of course, we love OKC because of Durant and the career he is starting to make for himself, but if you’re nostalgic at all, Joe Smith is their second best player. Who can root against a guy like Joe? KD is a young star who looks the part. Most guys look as if they’ve been 35 their entire lives; Durant still has that wide-eyed thing going on. He’s also got another jersey to slip off in the commercial.

If you’re an AC/DC fan, then there will be lots to love about the team, as “Thunderstruck” is sure to be playing throughout the arena early and often. While this will pain the people of Seattle, it is going to be fun for the people in OKC as they become fans and followers of their new team. Russell Westbrook is going to be an exciting rookie to keep our eyes on. Right now, the team is kind of like that girl at the party who is so severely under dressed, that everyone feels horrible for her cluelessness so they all pretend she looks fine. With those awful uniforms that look as though they are not finished, you can’t help but feel badly for the team and in the process, start rooting for them because of the whole underdog thing.

REASONS TO HATE THE THUNDER by The Corndogg:

It’s 200H8, Y’all, So Suck on This. Well, it’s far too easy to pick on Bennett. And I will leave the Damien Wilkins trashing up to Trey. S, there just so happens to be one thing I have in common with Seattle (OKC) – a severe and unrepentant hatred of DEFENSE. A good reason to dislike this team is that watching them trying to stop people is nauseating, at best, and aneurysm inducing at worst. I don’t care how meek Durant is or how funny looking Earl Watson might be, this team is to defense what the Elephant Man is to a swimsuit calendar. If you like winning basketball, don’t bother with OKC. If you, like me, just want to see people jack up shots and play defense like their playing an Xbox, then check out the Sonics Thunder. It’s enough to make a dude wanna choke a b*tch. Where you at, PJ?

(Also to be hated, those awful jerseys – Yuck).

A MUSICAL INTERLUDE

Don’t buy the hype. Yeah, they’ll play “Thunderstruck.” But this is Oklahoma people. “Thunder Rolls” will be heavily featured. Now most of you likely hate country, which is understandable. I know plenty of people that hate country, which is fine. There’s enough people around that hate every kind of music. But there’s an important note here. A. The fact that this song will probably be played when it’s about infidelity, in the House That Bennett Bought, is notable. Also, if they do decide to play this, I’m begging you, Thunderites, play the extended version above. The extra verse is what makes the song and its absence on the album version is an abject crime. The viciousness of the final verse combined with the symbolism of gunfire and thunder makes this song about a million times better. Don’t screw this up, OKC.


RIDICULOUS NOTES:

Player to Watch: Russell Westbrook- The kid could be absolute dynamite this season if Summer League was any indication (which of course, it never is). A counterplay of him and Durant has the potential to be devastating. Too bad they have absolutely no significant frontcourt players.

Best Rookie: Same.

Most Important Player: Kevin Durant, of course. Let me put it this way. If Durant were to get injured for any length of time, I would bet all the money in my pockets that the Thunder would lose every game in which he does not play.

Worst Player: Pick ‘em!

Over/Under: 17.5 wins

Hardwood Paroxysm