Kevin Durant and the Thunder are ready to kick off another season.
The Oklahoma City Thunder's summer is just about wrapped up now, and that means it's time to dole out some final offseason grades.
Unlike most of the Western Conference, the Thunder were relatively inactive this summer, opting not to amnesty the oft-maligned Kendrick Perkins or sign a big-name replacement for Kevin Martin.
That's not to say it was a boring offseason, though.
OKC added some veteran leadership, drafted a potential impact rookie and finally got hit with the first wave of "Will Kevin Durant leave?" speculation. (Note: Durant's deal expires after the 2015-16 season. This speculation may be a tad premature.)
So let's just get to it, shall we?
Obviously, it's way too early to judge the Thunder's 2013 draft class.
The season hasn't even started yet, and we likely won't know who any of these guys are as players for a few years. Still, summer league and the preseason have given us a small look into where they're at, and thus far, things have looked pretty good for OKC.
The biggest name (and to be honest, the only rookie with a serious shot of getting minutes next season) is Steven Adams, a center taken as the 12th overall pick.
Going into the draft, Adams was billed as a serious project, the type of player who would have to be groomed for a few years before he was ready to be in an NBA rotation.
DraftExpress' Jonathan Givony wrote of Adams:
All in all, Adams is clearly a long-term project who a team will need to invest a few years of solid coaching in order to be able to expect to reap benefits from down the road.
He's not a bad pick for the Thunder, who were looking for a center to replace Perkins and already treat the D-League as their own minor league system.
But even the most optimistic fan expected Adams to spend most of his time on the bench or with the D-League's Tulsa 66ers this season.
Might be time to reevaluate those expectations.
Adams looked absolutely awesome in the preseason. He averaged 12 points and 12 rebounds per 36 minutes on 62 percent shooting, via Thunder Stats & Info. He also ranked third among rookies in win shares and posted a PER of nearly 19, per RealGM.
He looked every bit the part of a top pick.
Now the fact that this was preseason ball needs to be highlighted, bolded and then underlined a few times.
Preseason basketball isn't exactly predictive of NBA success (just look at a few of last year's top performers), and chances are slim that Adams has that kind of impact in the regular season.
Still, almost everything he's shown has been positive, and he doesn't at all look like the project he was billed as.
Adams is no elite offensive big, but he put in some nice jump hooks and was very active in the pick-and-roll. Adams can catch and finish well—important when teams double Durant, and though he got lost at times defensively, he held his own as a positional defender.
Scott Brooks may not opt to play Adams much, especially with Russell Westbrook out.
It's hard to say if Adams is really a better choice than simply playing more small ball with Nick Collison or Serge Ibaka at the 5, but the fact that it could even be a question is impressive.
Adams is making a serious case to crack the rotation, and odds are he'll be in there sooner rather than later.
The Thunder's other first round pick, Andre Roberson, wasn't nearly as impressive, but he showed some flashes and really just needs time to develop.
The problem with Roberson—a terrific defensive and rebounding wing—is that he has no jump shot. At all. He's a great athlete and can finish at the rim, but outside of five feet, he doesn't have much.
Wings who can't shoot are hard to play unless they have a Tony Allen-like impact on the defensive end, so it's unlikely that Roberson sees many minutes this year.
Still, rebounding and defense go a long way in the NBA, and with Thabo Sefolosha's deal set to expire following this season, Roberson could end up having a role in the future.
The Thunder's other two picks, Alex Abrines and Grant Jerrett, definitely won't be seeing the floor any time soon, but they're both interesting players.
Abrines, a 20-year-old shooting guard for FC Barcelona, is already a solid scorer and should continue to develop overseas.
Jerrett is a stretch 4 who shot 41 percent from three in his lone college season. Guys like that have real value in the league (hello, Matt Bonner), and as of early October, Jerrett was expected to sign on with the Tulsa 66ers, per The Oklahoman's Anthony Slater.
It's far too early to form any real conclusions, but as of right now, there's a lot to like about the Thunder's draft class, especially if Adams keeps on defying expectations.
Offseason Acquisitions: C-
Derek Fisher and Ryan Gomes? Talk about star power.
In all seriousness, neither of these were bad pickups.
Fisher understands OKC's schemes, he's a good leader and he proved in the playoffs that he can still provide reliable spot-up shooting.
Gomes is more unproven, but he looked solid in the few preseason minutes he was given. If he can hike his three-point percentage back up to 37 or 38 percent, he might be able to carve out some situational minutes for himself.
The biggest storyline for the Thunder was their decision not to chase a big free agent, trusting in Reggie Jackson's and Jeremy Lamb's abilities to step in and fill the void left by Kevin Martin.
It's a gamble, but not a big one—Jackson proved himself in last year's playoffs, and Thunder general manager Sam Presti has enough young players and picks to go after a veteran wing at the trade deadline, if need be.
Jackson's a killer pick-and-roll guard, who was sixth in scoring efficiency last season, per Synergy Sports Technology (subscription required), and finishes at the basket like few players in the league.
He shot 74 percent at the rim last season, per Basketball-Reference, and he's become very good at fooling opposing bigs for easy layups.
A potential Jackson-Westbrook backcourt is intriguing for the Thunder.
Both guards are big and athletic enough to defend opposing 2 guards if the situation demands it, and Westbrook is surprisingly good off the ball, per Synergy Sports Technology.
The one roadblock in those lineups would be Jackson's three-point shooting—he hit 23 percent from outside last year and has looked no better in the preseason.
But even if he doesn't get much burn with Westbrook, he should terrorize opposing benches, especially since he'll be running pick-and-rolls with Collison now that Martin's gone.
Lamb is the wild card, and his play in Westbrook's absence (where he'll be the top scorer coming off the bench) will be telling.
Lamb shot horribly in the preseason, hitting 37 percent from the floor and an anemic 17 percent from three. It became clear that Lamb was in his own head after a while, and he looked more and more frustrated with each miss.
For about the 1,000th time, it's important to remember that this was the preseason. Lamb was stellar in the D-League last year and looked awesome in the Thunder's final preseason game against the Chicago Bulls as well.
Still, the Thunder can't afford poor play with Westbrook out, and Lamb didn't exactly ease the doubts of those who felt he wasn't ready to step into a real role with the Thunder.
Preseason Performance: B
The Thunder went 4-3 in the preseason for what that's worth. (Hint: very little.)
The preseason is almost always about seeing how a team's young talent is developing, and as outlined above, things looked solid on that end for OKC.
It's worth mentioning that Ibaka also looks to have made some strides on the offensive end.
Ibaka's biggest weapon will always be his mid-range jumper, but in the preseason, he made more of an effort to back down or face up and drive on defenders. Ibaka doesn't have the tightest handle, so it's probably not something he'll do that often. Still, adding any kind of variety to his game should give him more room to hit jumpers, and that's never a bad thing.
With all that being said, there was one pretty disappointing thing about OKC's preseason—its offensive scheme.
The Thunder offense essentially looked the same as it did last season. That's not all bad—they had the top offense in the league last year, per Basketball-Reference.
But the Memphis Grizzlies showed how easy it was to shut down the Westbrook-less Thunder's simplistic, iso-heavy offense in last year's playoffs, and it would've been nice to see some more off-ball movement or misdirection.
There's always the chance that OKC is saving new wrinkles for the regular season, but it's more likely we see the same old stuff from the Thunder. It's a little disappointing but hardly a problem once Westbrook returns.
Overall, OKC enjoyed a decent preseason and looks ready to start another year at the top of the Western Conference.