30 preseason predictions: Oklahoma City Thunder

Jesse Johnson-US PRESSWIRE

How will the Thunder fare this season with all of their question marks? Will Westbrook be back at 100% by the playoffs?

Whether because of some questionable reffing in Game 6 of the 2012 Western Conference Finals or Russell Westbrook's questionable fashion choices, it's easy to see why we Spurs fans don't feel the same love those around the league have for the Oklahoma City Thunder.

I have even more less reason to like them: I am from Seattle, Washington. When Clay Bennett and his band of cronies pried the Sonics away from us in 2008, I had fortunately already converted to the Church of Silver and Black. While the loss of the Sonics did hurt, I am much more frustrated by the precedent Bennett and David Stern set, which has encouraged Seattlites to campaign for the Sacramento Kings' relocation (a city whose fans, quite frankly, are much more deserving of a professional basketball team than Seattle).

The Oklahoma City Losers Thunder

Prediction: The Thunder will lose in the Western Conference Semifinals.

This prediction is a result of how up in the air the Thunder's upcoming season is. There are a lot of unknowns heading into this season for the Thunder, including health and bench scoring, that need to be answered before anyone will be able to accurately determine how they will fare next season. These key factors could be the difference between being serious Finals contenders and a first or second round exit.

First off, the health of Russell Westbrook is a major question mark heading into next season. Zach Lowe over at Grantland recently wrote a fascinating article on the Thunder heading into next season. The highlight of the piece in my mind was:

"Westbrook's injuries exposed Oklahoma City's offense for what it has always been in this era: a stagnant collection of four or five set pieces with nothing behind them - no counters, no constant motion, few bits of exciting improvisation. Any halfway smart team could sniff out what was coming by the time the ball crossed midcourt. And if those set pieces failed, the Thunder would fall back on something even simpler - a one-on-one play for Durant or Westbrook, or perhaps a semi-improvised pick-and-roll, as the other players stood around."

Scott Brooks isn't renowned for his brilliant offensive play sets, which hasn't been much of an issue until now because he's had two of the most dynamic scorers in the NBA with Westbrook and Kendrick Perkins Kevin Durant. If Westbrook is at 100% come playoff time, then everything should be fine and dandy for OKC, but I just don't know how realistic that wish may be for Thunder fans.

The other essential consideration heading into next season is the Thunder's bench. James Harden was a major contributor for the Thunder against the Spurs in the 2012 Western Conference Finals. This includes the three pointer that, in my mind, sealed the series in OKC's favor. A few months later, Harden said, "screw the rules, I have money," and ditched the potential championship promise in Oklahoma for Houston.

In exchange for Harden, the Thunder received one year of Kevin Martin, along with a few young pieces. Martin never quite lived up to the standard Harden had set over the previous few seasons, and likely wouldn't have been the difference-maker that Harden was to defeat a team like the Heat or even the Spurs had Westbrook not torn his meniscus. This offseason, Martin departed for the Siberia of the NBA, Minnesota, to join a bunch of white guys.

Now that the Thunder have lost two of the better sixth men out there in the NBA right now, they're now forced to test out two of their farm system guys in Jeremy Lamb and Reggie Jackson (who should really be getting back to the baseball diamond soon). This isn't necessarily a bad thing, as both guys are talented and have shown it in some summer league games this offseason. Until they can dominate in actual NBA games though, Lamb and Jackson shouldn't scare too many teams.

The Thunder is an enigma heading into next season. If Westbrook doesn't come back fully recuperated by the playoffs and if Lamb or Jackson can't play a solid role off the bench, Scott Brooks will have his work cut out for him.

Other Thunder Predictions:

  • Reggie Jackson will be a beast this season, and a serious contender for the Sixth Man of the Year award once Russell Westbrook comes back.
  • Kendrick Perkins will do something good this season
    Just kidding.
  • Kevin Durant will place second in MVP voting behind LeBron.
    After placing in second for the 2013-14 MVP voting, Durant will have gone through a tough couple of years, highlighted by barely missing out on an Academy Award nomination for Thunderstruck.

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