Oklahoma City Thunder 2012-13 Season Preview
Playoffs: Lost in finals to Miami Heat (5 games)
Draft picks: Perry Jones
Signings/trades: Hasheem Thabeet, Daniel Orton, DeAndre Liggins, Andy Rautins, Walker Russell, Hollis Thompson
Nazr Mohammed, Derek Fisher, Royal Ivey
Projected starting lineup
C - Kendrick Perkins
PF - Serge Ibaka
SF - Kevin Durant
SG - Thabo Sefolosha
PG - Russell Westbrook
What to expect
The Oklahoma City Thunder did what many thought they would last season: they got to the NBA Finals. They may have lost to the Heat in five games, but it was still a big moment for the franchise as a whole.
This year, the Thunder are basically going to look exactly the same as they did in 2012. They did not make any notable additions (unless you count Jones), and they did not lose anyone of significance, either. Instead, they will rely on the Big Three of Durant, Westbrook, and James Harden to continue to improve and hopefully get them over that final hump.
We can sit here and criticize Oklahoma City all we want for not making any moves to get better during the offseason, but you have to realize the team is very strapped for cash right now. It has a load of money invested into the likes of Durant, Westbrook, Perkins, and the newly re-signed Ibaka, plus it has to try and figure out a way to extend Harden. Taking all of that into consideration, one would be hard-pressed to find a way that the Thunder could have taken on more salary this past summer.
Regardless, Oklahoma City is still good enough to win it all. The competition is certainly tougher in the West with the improvement of the Los Angeles Lakers, but the Thunder are still the defending conference champs and should be treated as such until they are dethroned.
What's scary is the prospect of Durant, Westbrook, and Harden all likely getting even better. They comprise what is one of the deadliest trios in recent history, and they still have growing room. Harden does need to shake off a miserable Finals performance, but he should be fine.
One thing that does concern me about Oklahoma City is its lack of depth. This was a problem for the team last year and it may end up costing it again in 2012-13. Fortunately, the Thunder will be getting Eric Maynor back from injury, and that will be big, but OKC still lacks offense from its role players. Unless someone like Cole Aldrich or Daequan Cook steps up, the Thunder may need to make a move to acquire a bench player sometime during the season.
Key player: Maynor
It may seem odd picking Maynor for this spot when I have the likes of Durant, Westbrook, and Harden to choose from, but I am going with the backup point guard for the reason I just mentioned in the final paragraph above: Oklahoma City needs some offensive production off the pine.
By definition, Harden is a bench player, but let's be serious: he is basically a starter for the Thunder. Think of him as the team's Manu Ginobili. Outside of him and the other two members of the Big Three, OKC doesn't have any reliable scorers in reserve.
Daequan Cook can hit the three-ball, but he averaged a mere 2.2 points per game during the 2012 postseason. Nick Collison can crash the offensive glass, but he is not someone you can depend on at any time to score the basketball.
This makes Maynor all the more vital to the Thunder this season. If he can give them some buckets off the bench, it will take a whole lot of pressure off of the Big Three and will help compensate if one of them has a bad game.
The biggest problem for Oklahoma City in the Finals was Harden's disappearing act. The Thunder simply could not find a third scorer, and it doomed them. Maynor can help soften the blow should something like that happen again.
I still think OKC could afford to go out and get another bench player, but a healthy Maynor is a good start.
Could the rookie Jones be that guy off the pine for the Thunder this year?
Considered by many to be a Top 10 pick going into last season, Jones slipped all the way to Oklahoma City at No. 28 overall. While exceptionally talented, Jones has been known for having a poor work ethic, and that likely contributed to his lackluster 2011-12 campaign at Baylor and, subsequently, his freefall in the draft.
There is no denying Jones' talent, though. The Thunder may have gotten a steal here, as this is a kid who has the ability to develop into a very good NBA player. Jones also fits OKC's uptempo style of play perfectly, as his athleticism should mesh very well with the likes of Durant, Westbrook, Harden and Ibaka.
Given Oklahoma City's lack of bench quality overall, expect Jones to get some minutes this season. He could end up being a pretty big X-factor for the Thunder.
Playoffs: Could win it all
There is no doubting the talent on this team. Oklahoma City certainly has what it takes to go all the way. In terms of winning the West, it's just a matter of whether or not the Lakers can best them, and I look forward to what seems to be an inevitable Western Conference Finals clash.
Should the Thunder get to the Finals, they will face stiff competition from—most likely—either Miami or the Boston Celtics.
And, of course, we'll hear stories throughout the year about how Westbrook is ruining the team—even though it isn't true.
It should be yet another exciting season for Oklahoma City Thunder fans.
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