2010-11 NBA Predictions: Why the Oklahoma City Thunder Will Be No. 2 in the West

Jason DouglasContributor IIOctober 8, 2010

2010-11 NBA Predictions: Why the Oklahoma City Thunder Will Be No. 2 in the West

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    Over the last few weeks, ESPN has been rolling out it's annual forecasts for the upcoming NBA Season. This year, stat guru John Hollinger has projected that Oklahoma City will go 49-33 (2nd in the Northwest Division, 4th in the Western Conference). In the latest Basketball Prospectus, they're projected to go 48-34 according to the SCHOENE system they use over at Basketball Prospectus. What then can we expect from the Thunder this season?

    It's important to keep in mind that these are statistical projection systems. As the guys at Basketball Prospectus explain, "The APBRmetrics message board tracked the accuracy of several statistical projections during the 2009-2010 season, with SCHOENE placing second in terms of root mean squared error - the average squared error of the projections". Ideally, you'd want a standard error of 0 (meaning no error). That would indicate that your projection system would perfectly predict actual performance.Thus, minimizing the error (i.e. trying to get it as close to 0 as possible) is what projection systems are all about. SCHOENE's root mean-squared error (RMSE for short) was 9.44 (2nd) vs. Jon Nichols Component Score System which had an RMSE of 8.73. While these were the two best systems on a relative basis, there is still alot of error in the system, which the folks at BP readily admit. Sorry for the stat primer.

    The bottom line is that as great as statistics can be at providing a model for a set of observations, sometimes you just have to use your eyes and go with what you know.

    1. Los Angeles Lakers - the class of the NBA. I fully expect them to repeat as NBA Champions.
    2. Dallas Mavericks - perennial overachievers in the regular season; fizzle out in the playoffs.
    3. Phoenix Suns - same as the Mavericks. Don't play any D.
    4. Denver Nuggets - not as good as OKC (in my opinion) even with Melo.
    5. Utah Jazz - another team that's good year in and year out but never takes the next step.
    6. Portland Trailblazers - probably took a step back last year. Young but still finding its way.
    7. San Antonio Spurs - always dangerous if healthy, but when are they ever healthy anymore?

    I don't see any of the 8 teams who finished out of the playoffs last yaer: Houston, Memphis, New Orleans, LA Clippers, Golden State, Sacramento or Minnesota making a jump into the playoffs this year.

    And now....the Top 5 reasons why the Oklahoma City Thunder will win the 2 seed in the West this season....

Scott Brooks

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    Time heals all wounds. Back in November of 2008, the Thunder fired P.J. Carlesimo after starting the season 1-12. In his place, they elevated a little known assistant named Scott Brooks.The Thunder went on to finish 23-59 in 2008. Last season the Thunder made one of the biggest turnarounds in league history going 50-32; winning Coach Brooks the Coach of the Year Award for 2009-2010.

    For those of you who are old enough to remember, Scott Brooks had an 11-year career in the NBA capped off by a 1994 NBA Championship with the Houston Rockets. He went on to win 3 more championships as an assistant with the San Antonio Spurs. He played for several NBA teams in his career including: Philadelphia, Minnesota, Houston, Dallas, New York and Cleveland.

    Originally from Lathrop, California, he played college ball at: San Joaquin Delta College and TCU before finishing his last 2 years at University of California, Irvine.

    A young coach who has demonstrated a proven ability to reach his players (on both ends of the floor), the reigning Coach of the Year is the perfect manager for a young team. As a former player, his players respect him. As a younger coach he's able to relate to his young squad. His work ethic and passion were on full display last year and should help invigorate the Thunder for the coming season.

The East Is Rising, The West Is Falling

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    Three out of the four guys in this photo now play in the Eastern Conference. All indications seem to be that Carmelo Anthony will join them before the trade deadline in February. What does this mean for the Thunder?

    It was only a few short years ago that the West was so stacked with talent and the East so devoid of it that many complained about the imbalance. Fear not; the balance has shifted back to the East. While the Lakers are clearly the class of the NBA and the Western Conference, the rest of the picture is a bit sketchy. Denver seems to have peaked (even with Melo) and I don't think it's a reach to state that his loss would likely prevent them from making the playoffs. San Antonio is always dangerous when healthy but they haven't been healthy in a few years and Tim Duncan is starting to slow down. Dallas always has a good team year in and year out yet for all the "name" players on the squad, they never seem to get over the hump. As long as Phoenix has Steve Nash they'll be tough, but the loss of Stoudemire is a big one. Utah is another team that's solid year in and year out but doesn't seem to have the pieces to go all the way.

    Thus, the relative decline of the West in relation to Oklahoma City's youth and the fact that they have one of the best players in the league is why I have them finishing second in the West this year.

Russell Westbrook

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    I humbly present the following for your consideration:

    • Was 9th among point guards in scoring last season at 16.1 ppg.
    • Was 3rd among point guards in rebounds last season at 4.9 rpg.
    • Was 6th (tied with Jason Kidd) among point guards in assists at 8.0 apg.
    • Was 9th in steals in the NBA among point guards with 1.32 per game.
    • Was 3rd in blocks among point guards with 0.41 per game.

    Russell is a terrific on ball defender, the so-called "ball hawk". A super athletic, ultra-quick point guard who has blossomed into one of the best young point guards in the league. A stint with USA basketball and a gold medal over the summer will improve his leadership qualities and give him more confidence going into this season.

Kevin Durant

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    A few weeks ago I made a case for Kevin Durant as the best player in the NBA. I received quite a strong reaction to this post. Most took umbrage with the idea. I was told variously that he hadn't one anything yet, he hadn't really proved anything in the league, and he's nowhere close to: LeBron, Wade, and Kobe. I presented a number of statistics to support the case that he should at least be in the conversation. I suggested that his performance in Turkey over the summer only strengthened his case but was told that FIBA is not the NBA and that I was overvaluing his performance there. Where then does this leave us with KD?

    At the very least, he's one of the top 5 players in the NBA right now. He might have a higher ceiling than anyone in the league not named LeBron James. Championships teams one of two things: either a transcendent star or a collection of really good players. Aside from 2003-2004 Detroit Pistons team, every team in the last 20 years has had an all-time great player on it. It's rare that a collection of really solid players wins it all. Generally, you need "that guy" who can take over at the end of the game. You need a killer like Michael or Kobe. KD is that guy for the Thunder.

    The fact that he shoots 90% from the free throw line is huge, especially at the end of games because you can't foul him since he's automatic from the line. He's a big time clutch performer and wants the ball at the end of games. If you watch him closely (and you can this year because he'll be on ESPN more often), you'll see he's a killer like Kobe. People disagreed with the assessment in my first article on Durant but I think that might be because they haven't seen him play enough. Put the bias aside and just watch a few of their games this year. You'll see what I'm talking about.

    In short, KD is my pick to win the MVP this year and most importantly he's the reason why the Thunder will secure the number 2 seed in the West this year, setting up a potential showdown with the Lakers in the conference finals.

Changing Of The Guard

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    Negotiations on the new collective bargaining agreement are underway and the potential for a lockout next season looms as a very possible reality. The exodus of players: LeBron to Miami, Amare to New York, Boozer to Chicago, and Melo to....has caused a shift in the power structure in the NBA. The East is King again.

    Traditional western conference powerhouses like the San Antonio Spurs, The Phoenix Suns, and the Dallas Mavericks could all take a step back this year. San Antonio is a year older, Phoenix lost Amare, and Dallas' window of opportunity may have passed. The probable departure of Carmelo Anthony will leave Denver out of playoff contention. The vacuum created by the dearth of traditional powers in the West will be filled by the younger up and coming teams like Oklahoma City and Portland. Could New Orleans return to the prominence with the return of Chris Paul? Sure. Could the Utah Jazz finally get over the hump? They lost Boozer but picked up Al Jefferson and they still have Paul Milsap and Deron Williams.

    To some extent, the Thunder are the trendy pick this season. They're coming off an unbelievable season last year. Their best player had a fantastic year last year (youngest scoring champ in league history) and absolutely killed it in Turkey. Their stock is high. That said, a lot of analysts are selling high right now. Some of them think last season's performance may have been an aberration and that they could take a step back this year. I don't. I think the FIBA experience was important and I'll tell you why. Durant and let's not forget Russell Westbrook was there too, got to play hard and train every day over the summer. They're in fantastic shape and will hit the ground running to start the season. I expect the team to get off to a fast start.