Now that the preseason is done and the start of the regular season is upon us, it is time to take a look at what to expect from the Thunder in the upcoming season. If the preseason is any indication, and I believe it is, this season will be one of struggles. But with good planning, this season can be used to lay the foundation for the future.
As the Seattle SuperSonics, this club finished with a 20-62 record with 13 wins at home and 7 on the road. The only real "home field" advantage that the team had last year was not having to deal with a stadium full of fans of the other team. This season, home games will include the screams and cheers of nearly 20,000 fans. This should enable the Thunder to win roughly 50% more home games. I don't foresee OKC doing much better than last year on the road, so we're looking at about 27 wins on the season.
With that in mind, the Thunder really ought to be looking towards the future. The key question, of course, is at what point in time do you give up on the current season. For the first 10-20 games OKC definitely has to go with the best starting lineup, but if we're in pretty bad shape after that, we seriously need to start prepping players for next year.
Earl Watson is the best point guard on the team, but is certainly not the point guard of the future for Oklahoma City. Russell Westbrook was impressive in the preseason and should be made the starting point guard as soon as this season is determined to be a wash. Getting him up to speed as the team's point guard now will help lead the team to playoff contention in the next couple of years. At a minimum, the Thunder are going to want to have him starting even if that means that Kevin Durant has to be moved to a forward position.
Durant, Westbrook, and Jeff Green are going to be the core of this team in the future. Of those three, Green is looking to be the weakest link. gforce suggests that the Thunder allow Green to develop by utilizing him as the sixth man this year and let Desmond Mason start in his place. I suggest that they use a "carrot and the stick" philosophy with him. We need this guy to learn to be a starter, and if he can't do it, then we need to dump him before it's too late. Each game, the Thunder should let him start, and if he starts shooting and missing a bunch of stupid shots, they should bench him (the stick) and let Mason play. If he plays well, then we'll let him stay as part of the core for the future (the carrot).
Moving beyond the core three (or two, if Green fails, but I'm optimistic that he won't), the Thunder will need another forward and a center. Johan Petro has impressed me in the preseason and I'd like to see how he would do in the starting center role. Round out those four with Chris Wilcox, and the Thunder could get a pretty good view of what the team could look like over the next few years and easily identify what it needed from the draft (say, a three point threat perhaps?).
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