10 Bold Predictions for OKC Thunder's 2013-14 Season
It's certainly not a "title or bust" year for the Thunder. This season will tell us a lot about the franchise, though, specifically the young talent that the Thunder are hoping will step up and contribute this season.
Even with uncertainty on the bench, there are consistent things the Thunder can rely on, like Kevin Durant being an MVP candidate, Serge Ibaka dominating the boards and blocking shots like it's going out of style and Kendrick Perkins generating zero offensive production.
Those consistencies will help the Thunder contend in the West once again, but just how far can they carry them this season?
Ahead are 10 bold predictions for the Thunder's upcoming season.
Consider yourself warned that some of the predictions may be a bit shocking.
Kevin Durant Returns to the World of Winning Scoring Titles
Another year, another scoring title for Kevin Durant.
It would be his fourth scoring title in seven years, which would put him just six behind Michael Jordan, who won 10—yup 10—scoring titles.
After taking a year off and doing the gentlemanly thing by letting Carmelo Anthony take a stab at the scoring title last year, Durant should be ready to amp up his offensive production.
The main reason for that is because he will be without Russell Westbrook for a good chunk of the beginning of the season.
He had the most efficient shooting year of his career last season, with a 50/40/90 percent shooting year, and there's no reason to believe that can't happen again.
It will take 30 points per game to win the scoring title this year, and there's no way that Durant' isn't up for the challenge.
Thunder Big Men Not Named Serge Ibaka Will Actually Produce
It looks like the Thunder may have gotten one of the steals of the draft in center Steven Adams.
He's already grabbed his first NBA double-double, with 10 points and 15 rebounds, while shooting 71.4 percent from the field, in a preseason matchup against the New Orleans Pelicans.
Sure, it's the preseason, but don't overlook Adams' impressive production because it's going to be a major piece of the Thunder's success this season.
OKC hasn't had significant frontcourt production from guys not named Serge Ibaka in quite some time, and it's refreshing to see a legitimate big man stepping up on the offensive side of the ball.
When you think of what kind of player Adams will be this year, think of Omer Asik. He's a guy who can score around the basket with efficiency, and that's exactly what the Thunder need if they are going to compete in a Western Conference that is deep with big men in the paint.
Russell Westbrook Won't Be in 'Pre-Injury Form' Until After the All-Star Break
It's a shame that Russell Westbrook won't be the Thunder's starting point guard when the season gets underway, but hey, what is OKC going to do about it?
Luckily, the Thunder have Reggie Jackson and Derek Fisher to hold the fort down until Westbrook comes back.
The bad news is that those guys may have to hold the fort down for longer than they'd like to.
Recovering from one knee surgery is never easy. Recovering from two knee surgeries is even more difficult, and that's what Westbrook will be doing.
Westbrook is just too intense and too aggressive of a player to be able to step back onto the floor and be back to 100 percent health right away. His body will need time to adjust back to game-time form, and that's exactly what is going to happen.
That doesn't mean Westbrook won't be an integral piece of the Thunder's early success, because he will adjust his game to help his team win by any means necessary.
We just won't see this version of Westbrook until he's had a number of games under his belt to adjust. That sound you just heard was the collective sigh of relief every NBA team just took after reading that previous sentence.
Jeremy Lamb Plays His Way onto the Bench by the All-Star Break
Jeremy Lamb is such a tease, isn't he?
One day he's hitting game-winners during summer league games, and the next he's scoring seven points on 16.7 percent shooting in 40 minutes during a preseason game against the lowly Philadelphia 76ers.
There's a chance that Lamb can be a legitimate contributor off the bench for the Thunder, but that's a long shot because the efficiency it takes is just not there yet for the athletic shooting guard.
Lamb has shown glimpses of decent play this preseason, scoring 12 points in back-to-back games. But the main issue for Lamb is whether or not he can be consistent with his production.
If the preseason has shown us anything, it's that efficiency and consistency aren't his strong suits yet.
That doesn't mean he can't be a good player in the NBA, but the Thunder aren't going to be getting the bench player they need in Lamb this season. He just needs more time on the floor during actual NBA action to develop into his full potential.
Kendrick Perkins Won't Be a Member of the Thunder for the Entire Season
Let's call a spade a spade—Kendrick Perkins isn't much more than an enforcer for the Thunder.
That role has been an easy one for him to fill, but it's becoming less and less important for the OKC because Perkins can't put up production offensively.
He hasn't averaged more than 5.1 points per game in any season with the Thunder, and honestly, the lack of production OKC gets from the center position has held it back.
Durant and Westbrook can make up for that lack of production, but imagine how much more damage they could do if opposing teams had to focus on some sort of frontcourt presence.
With Steven Adams showing that he's more than capable of putting up production around the rim, Perkins' minutes could be more and more limited as the season rages on.
I wouldn't be surprised if by the final stretch of the season, Perkins minutes are divided between him and Nick Collison. Perkins is a solid defender, and that's a role better served coming off the bench, which is what I believe the Thunder will do down the home stretch of the season.
The Western Conference Title Won't Go Through OKC This Year
Last season, the Western Conference title was all set up to go through OKC because the Thunder were the proud owners of the Western Conference's best record.
That all unravelled when Westbrook went down and the Thunder lost to the Memphis Grizzlies in the semifinals.
This season, the Thunder won't have the best record in the West for two main reasons. First, not having Westbrook will hold the Thunder back more during the first part of the season than some would like to think.
The second reason is because the Western Conference just seems to keep getting better and better and more top heavy.
Finishing in the top three out West is almost a certainty for OKC, but finishing ahead of the Grizzlies and Spurs is a long shot at this point—especially without knowing just how strong Westbrook will be when he returns.
Ryan Gomes Will Be the Thunder's Best Bench Player by the Year's End
Yup, Ryan Gomes is going to be the Thunder's main man coming off the pine this season.
He's long, athletic and has serious range—as he showed against the New Orleans Pelicans this preseason, scoring 11 points in 12 minutes on three three-pointers.
The more Gomes gets back up to NBA speed, the bigger impact he will have for OKC.
The only issue with Gomes is that he finds himself behind Kevin Durant on the depth chart. He's not going to win minutes over Durant, which means the Thunder will have to be creative with their rotations to maximize Gomes' potential.
If the Thunder go "small" with a lineup of Westbrook, Thabo Sefolosha, Ryan Gomes, Kevin Durant and Serge Ibaka, they can have an extremely versatile rotation that would be hard to match up with on the offensive side of the ball.
Thunder Will Start Winning Games with Defense 1st
The Thunder haven't been a bad defensive team by any stretch of the imagination.
Last year, they allowed the ninth-least points per game, giving up just 96.5 points on average.
Instead of solely overwhelming teams with offense, though, like they've done in the past, the Thunder will start to win games with defense first, because honestly they will have to if they want to stay at the top during the first few weeks of the season.
With more size in the paint thanks to Steven Adams, the Thunder will be more competent in the paint, and the only question will be in their perimeter defense.
Amping it up on defense is something Durant, Reggie Jackson, Thabo Sefolosha and Derek Fisher shouldn't have any problem with, and it will make them a more dominant team in a stacked Western Conference.
Thunder Will Be a No. 3 Seed in the Playoffs but Still Reach the NBA Finals
The Thunder are going to struggle to stay atop the Western Conference—like I've said a billion times in this article—and it's solely because the West is extremely deep.
What the Thunder need to be elite again this year is serious chemistry between all the players in their lineup rotations. That includes guys like Jeremy Lamb, Ryan Gomes, Steven Adams, Reggie Jackson and Derek Fisher.
All of those guys not only need to step up their production, but also need to understand their roles on the team and let Durant and Westbrook truly run the show.
That will take time to develop, and that's why they won't be sitting atop the West when the playoffs role around.
OKC will lose some games early that it probably shouldn't as it is waiting for Westbrook to return, but once the late second half of the year comes, OKC will be the most dangerous team in the West.
Kevin Durant Will Win Both the Scoring Title and MVP Trophy
The NBA scoring title and MVP award haven't been won by the same player since the 2000-01 season when Allen Iverson dominated the league.
Well, it's time for that to change, and Durant is the perfect player to do it.
He's going to need to absolutely dominate the scoreboard during the first two months of the season for the Thunder to own the West.
Without Westbrook, the scoring will fall solely on Durant's shoulders, and he can handle that responsibility—as seen in the playoffs when Durant ran the show against the Rockets and Grizzlies.
Durant has a great opportunity to show just how great of a player he can be flying solo without Westbrook. If he seizes this opportunity, he can join the elite group of players to win the MVP and scoring title in the same season.