As most of you know, Kevin Durant has recently signed with the Golden State Warriors. Does that hurt the Oklahoma City Thunders chance at the playoffs? Well, of course it does, the 2013-2014 Most Valuable Player leaves a big hole in the Thunder’s line-up that won’t be easily filled. But, with downside comes upside, and that’s exactly what I’m going to be talking about today. Here are my five biggest reasons why the Thunder are still poised for a playoff run.
Number One: Russell Westbrook.
Of course number one is Westbrook, the other half of the Thunders success. Westbrook now has to carry a lot more of the load. Westbrook averaged 23.5 points last season, but he still needs to step it up and become the leader that Durant was. Westbrook needs to draw double teams and create more scoring chances for his teammates, essentially play Team Ball instead of Hero Ball.
Number Two: Victor Oladipo
The Thunder traded Serge Ibaka for Oladipo, Ersan Ilyasova, and the rights to Domantas Sabonis. Oladipo has a very high ceiling even with 16 points a game and 4.5 assists. He still has a lot of room to grow. Westbrook will be a very great mentor to this young star and help him achieve his full potential as the Thunder’s number two guy.
Number Three:Billy Donovan.
Donovan took the Thunder from a team who missed the playoffs to a team that missed the finals by one game. Donovan lead the Thunder to a 55-27 record as opposed to a 45-37 record in the previous year. A 10 win improvement may not seem like much but in the NBA that is huge.
Number Four:Enes Kanter.
Kanter played all 82 games last year, only starting one. He played off the bench behind Steven Adams, which declined his production. Kanter started to break out in his 26 games with the Thunder in the 2014-2015 season, averaging 18.7 PPG along with 11 RPG. Kanter desperately needs starting minutes to help him reach his full potential while the young Adams picks a few things up from Kanter coming off the bench.
Number Five:Cameron Payne
This will be Payne’s second season in the league, but to me he has showed great potential despite playing behind Westbrook. I can see Donovan switching Payne to a forward if Kyle Singler doesn’t step and create some great production.
Now, let’s look at this and remember that not all playoff and finals contenders don’t have to be superpower teams. In the NBA, well sports in general, any team can get hot at any point and sneak into the playoffs. A great coach and great chemistry can lead to any team’s success. For example the 2014-2015 Warriors. How many people actually knew who Stephen Curry was before then?
With that all said, how good do you think the Thunder will be? A team that misses the playoffs, a team that just barely sneaks in, or a huge favorite?
Photo Credit: Kathy Willens/Associated Press