Finished 50-32, fourth in Northwest Division, eighth in Western Conference
First Round: Lost to Los Angeles Lakers 4-2
Additions and Re-Signings
Cole Aldrich via trade, Daequan Cook via trade, Morris Peterson via trade, Tibor Pleiss via trade, Ryan Reid via trade, and Latavious Williams via trade.
It's hard to believe that only two years ago, the Oklahoma City Thunder were a struggling young franchise that had just lost it's core and was set to rely on a lanky forward out of Texas that couldn't bench the set weight at the combine once.
Coming into the 2010-2011 season, the Thunder have become Western Conference contenders, and after a successful postseason where they went six games with the eventual champion Los Angeles Lakers, they now have bigger dreams than ever before.
The 50-win season last year was their first since 2004, and they have no one to thank more than Kevin Durant, who will be going into just his fourth year. Durant set the mark for youngest player to win a scoring title at only 21 years old after averaging 30 points and leading the league in free throws made per game at nine.
His length and versatility were nearly unstoppable at times after Durant showed off impressive range, ability to drive, and uncanny ability to get to the line 10 times per game, which tied for the league lead. While his defensive game could use some work, his offensive game is perfectly well-rounded, and at only 21 years old, we can only imagine what he has in store for us for the next decade.
His running mate in Russell Westbrook is the starting point guard on this roster of young guns, and in only two years of work, has shown that he is the point guard of the future for the Thunder after a successful sophomore season where he averaged 16 points, eight assists, and five rebounds. His athleticism was a sight to behold as well as it added another dynamic player on an already exciting starting lineup.
He still has holes to fill when it comes down to his shooting at only 41 percent and his turnovers at over three per game, but like Durant he is also 21 and has plenty of time to develop into one of the premier point guards in the league. His strong drives and ability to find open teammates give him a strong case to make an All-Star Game in the near future and to help Durant lead this team to a championship that could be within reaching distance in the next few seasons.
Harden was selected third in the 2009 draft and was utilized solely as a three-point threat for most of the games he played in. He hit one three-pointer per game on 38 percent shooting and was third on the team in three-pointers made behind Durant and power forward Jeff Green. Harden should see an increased role on the team as the possible largest three-point threat after a quality rookie season.
If the Thunder suffer from anywhere on the court, aside from inexperience, it's their lack of a post threat. Green is a quality forward, but isn't a large threat in the post. Nenad Krstic isn't leading any team to the promise land. Nick Collison is a defender and nothing more, and B.J. Mullens is a project that will probably have to be put on hold.
The Thunder might have made a wise investment in the draft by trading for former Kansas Cole Aldrich. He averaged 11 points and 10 rebounds in his final season at the collegiate level, while showing a hard nosed defensive game, but an offensive game that could really use work. There is little chance that he will develop into a star center to run with the Thunder, but he could be a solid defensive option in the future.
He only hit 32 percent from deep last season in limited time as his spot on the roster fell off due to his poor shooting. When he is hot though, he can be one of the streakiest shooters in the league and can hit from all parts of the court. Whether he can break out of this slump with the Thunder will be up to him and how the team utilizes him, but he would be a huge underrated pick-up if he can pick up where he left off prior to his All-Star weekend win.
The Thunder will be the team to watch for next season as they are set to prepare for a push that could challenge even the most powerful of the Western Conference contenders. Now that the younger players have another year of experience along with a postseason appearance, they are now more ready than ever to propel themselves to the next level.
Projected Starting Lineup
This is part 21 in a 30-day series of previews for each NBA team for the upcoming 2010-2011 season. My profile contains the other teams that I have already previewed.