2018 NBA Playoff Preview: Oklahoma City Thunder
The Oklahoma City Thunder made huge headlines in the off-season with two trades that brought them Paul George and Carmelo Anthony. The Thunder’s expectations for the season were to finish in the top four in the Western Conference and be fringe title contenders. They reached those expectations in my mind with a finish as the 4th seed in the very tough Western Conference. Despite only winning one more game than they did last season, the Thunder feel like they have an outside chance at winning a championship. There have been some tough stretches during the season, but they have been able to put together some good winning streaks and have played well against the league’s best teams. Avoiding major injuries to their star players has also been a big key for this team, although Andre Roberson’s injury did have an adverse effect on the team.
The team’s biggest strength is that they have two great players that could be the best player on the floor in any given series in Paul George and Russell Westbrook. Those two have had playoff moments and now that they are together, the Thunder have to feel good about their chances against anybody going into a playoff series. Paul George has been great in the playoffs when he was a member of the Indiana Pacers and having him on the team is going to take some of the burden off of Westbrook to be everything for the team.
The team’s biggest weakness is that they still do not seem to have a winning rotation. Head coach Billy Donovan has still not figured out what to do about the Carmelo Anthony problem. Melo is not a player that you should have on the court for defense in crunch time. Donovan has to figure out his rotation and make sure that he is getting the most out of his roster. He has some good players that fill valuable roles and he has to figure out how to balance those minutes. Patrick Patterson and Jerami Grant are two guys that can help the Thunder win games. Both can make open threes and both are solid defenders with Grant also being an out of this world athlete that can protect the rim. I would like to see either of these two in crunch time for OKC over Melo.
The X-Factor for this team was, is, and always will be Russell Westbrook. He is the player that can win them a playoff series or shoot them right out of it. Can he find a way to channel his amazing energy and competitive nature into making winning plays? Is he going to take an off the dribble three pointer with 18 seconds on the shot clock and a guy right in his face or will he make the right play? His history has me very skeptical. If they flame out in the first round again, can we blame the “help” again or do we have to start looking at Westbrook?
A player to watch for the Thunder is Corey Brewer. Brewer is not going to play 20 games for this team, but in his short time with them he has been huge for them as the 5th starter and has fit in Roberson’s spot nicely. While Brewer is not the best shooter or best defender, he helps you win games. He is active and has had big playoff moments in important games. Teams will give him open three point shots and if he is able to make them consistently, he could be huge for the Thunder in determining how far they go. He did suffer an injury in their season finale and if it is a major injury that is a huge blow to the Thunder moving forward.
The Thunder have a very tough draw in the first round and they are going to have to deal with one of the best teams in the league over the past few months, the Utah Jazz. If the Thunder do manage to win their first round series, their likely opponent would be the Houston Rockets in the second round and if they are able to win that series, they would have to more than likely take on the Warriors. The Western Conference is brutal. The Thunder have the talent to make it to the Finals, but based on their play this season, I would be surprised to see them get out of the first round. Despite their talent, the Thunder will lose in 6 games to the Utah Jazz in the 1st round.