Despite finishing the 2014-2015 season with 8 more wins than losses, the Oklahoma City Thunder missed the playoffs for the first time since 2009. From the beginning of the year, the Thunder had some of the worst injury luck in the league and lost key rotation players, including Kevin Durant and Serge Ibaka, for significant periods of time.
Love him or hate him, Russell Westbrook saw his USG rating spike following Durant’s season ending foot injury. The 26-year old finished the season with a career-high 38.2 USG. To put that into perspective, Kobe Bryant and Dwyane Wade finished 2nd and 3rd behind Westbrook with 33.6 and 32.6 USG respectively. Westbrook saw virtually every stat increase last season, but Durant’s absence really highlighted the reliance that the two have on one another. Not only will Durant help by providing his ridiculous productivity immediately at the start of this season, but it will also open many opportunities up for Westbrook.
The first key match-up for the electrifying duo will come very early on November 2nd when they make a trip to Houston to square-off against former Thunder sixth man, James Harden, and the Rockets. The Houston Rockets and their defense that ranked 6th in defensive efficiency last season will be a worthy test for the reunited Durant and Westbrook. It will also showcase the offense newly installed head coach Billy Donovan. Donovan, who previously coached at the University of Florida for 9 seasons, is thought to have an offensive system that will maximize the talent of Durant and Westbrook. This is something that Thunder fans will be excited for as former coach Scott Brooks was heavily criticized for relying much too heavily on isolations. Donovan has even gone on record to state his intention to experiment with Westbrook post-ups early on in the season.
The good news for the Thunder is that they will have a great opportunity to rebuild their chemistry and test their new offensive system early on. With 18 games on the Thunder’s schedule to be played through November, 11 of them will be played at the Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma. This is a fan base that has the league-wide reputation to be some of the most rowdiest and provide an intimidating atmosphere for opposing teams. This was shown in the Thunder’s success at home last season, where they finished 29-12.
A major concern regarding the Thunder through November held by many basketball experts is their ability to limit opposing teams from scoring. Oklahoma City ranked 16th in defensive efficiency in 2014-2015, down from 5th the previous season. In particular, many critics wonder if Enes Kanter will be able to defend at a high and consistent level, especially come playoff time. If the Thunder are fortunate enough to stay relatively healthy this year, will Serge Ibaka’s presence be enough alone to make up for Kanter’s lack of?
Courtesy of Bleacher Report