STATE OF THE FRANCHISE
What a difference a year makes. Last year at this time, the Thunder were basking in the glow of their first-ever Finals appearance with four excellent players. While history will undoubtedly look unkindly on the trade of James Harden to the Rockets, the swap made some sense at the time because the Oklahoma City brass were trying to stay ahead of the salary cap curve. Additionally, it wasn't completely clear that Harden would quite be the impact player he became in the 2013-14 season.
It may be hard to remember that the team won 60 games and had the best record in the Western Conference after trading Harden, since Russell Westbrook tore his MCL in the first round of the playoffs and OKC was unceremoniously dispatched by the Grizzlies in five games in the conference semifinals. Without Westbrook, Serge Ibaka was exposed and Kevin Durant simply couldn't do everything. Westbrook will not be ready for the beginning of the season, and the Thunder will likely hold him back until he is completely ready to go. Someone will have to step into the void early on.
PLAYING TIME DISTRIBUTION
Kevin Martin, one of the main pieces of the Harden trade, flew up to Minnesota after the season. While his contributions to Oklahoma City may have paled in comparison to what Harden brought to Houston, he did provide 14.0 points off the Thunder bench last season. The team likely hopes that second-year guard Jeremy Lamb can step in and produce. Lamb showed little as a rookie that would indicate that he is ready for such a step. While Westbrook recuperates, Reggie Jackson will likely start and get the bulk of the minutes. Jackson is slated to be the sixth man for the Thunder once Westbrook returns. Thabo Sefolosha will again start at shooting guard, but he has shown limited offensive potential throughout his career. Derek Fisher also returns for his 18th season to provide a veteran presence and diminishing skills.
The frontcourt minutes should be similar to last year with much of the same personnel. Durant played an incredible 38.5 minutes in 2012-13, and the 24-year-old should see about the same in the new season. The superstar will again be paired in the frontcourt with Ibaka who should command at least 30 minutes. Veteran Ryan Gomes should get minutes behind Durant and Ibaka. The center platoon of Kendrick Perkins and Nick Collison won't excite many fantasy owners, but they are nice role players for the Thunder. The bench trio of Hasheem Thabeet, Steven Adams, and Daniel Orton has plenty of length, but it remains to be seen if any them can contribute in a meaningful way.
Kendrick Perkins: Despite being just 28 years old, Perkins has been in the league for 10 seasons and is starting to wear down. He averaged just 4.2 points and 6.0 rebounds in 25.1 minutes in 78 games for the Thunder last year. Those numbers do not represent a quality fantasy entity in most leagues, and it is hard to imagine that they will increase by any large measure in 2013-14.
Nick Collison: The player with the longest tenure on the franchise (he spent four years in Seattle before the team moved southeast) is a player who shows off the distinct differences between fantasy and reality. Collison plays his role excellently for the Thunder, but he does not produce substantial numbers, and he hasn't for along time. His pick-setting and help defense are a big factor in the Thunder winning, but they won't help many fantasy teams.
Hasheem Thabeet: The second pick of the 2009 draft has not been able to translate his 7-3 frame into NBA productivity. He did have a few decent games for the Thunder (including a double-double in November), but he is only a fantasy asset in the deepest of fantasy leagues.
Steven Adams: The rookie from Pitt impressed NBA cognoscenti with his measurables and upside enough to be a lottery pick. The native of New Zealand did not put up numbers as a college freshman and will require a great deal of seasoning to become Nick Collison 2.0.
Daniel Orton: Like Thabeet (and there are few two-word phrases more damning than that), Orton has size and youth on his side. He only appeared in 13 games and played significant minutes in the last three. Major injuries would have to occur to Perkins and Collison for Orton to get playing time.
Kevin Durant: There are many fantasy players who believe that Durant should be the first player taken in drafts. His advantages over LeBron James include more points, more free throws taken and a much better free-throw percentage, more 3-pointers and nice handfuls of steals and blocks. Last season, the Durantula added the ability to set up the offense and averaged a career-high 4.6 assists. In the playoffs, mostly without Westbrook, Durant averaged 30.8 points, 9.0 rebounds and 6.3 assists. Basically, a Durant-LeBron debate is one without a loser. Spend big dollars on Durant in auction drafts and you may get the closest thing fantasy basketball has to offer to an eight-category player.
Serge Ibaka: Offensively, Ibaka made a move in the right direction in 2012-13. He averaged a career-high 13.2 points on 57.3 percent from the field along with 7.7 rebounds and 3.0 blocks. His playoff performance without Westbrook left something to be desired, even though his numbers were mostly consistent with his regular season averages (12.8 points, 8.4 rebounds, 3.0 blocks). Ibaka's field goal percentage fell to 44.4 percent in the playoffs, which may leave a bad taste in some fantasy owner's mouths. That distaste may lead to a fantasy opportunity since there are very few players who provide as many blocks. Ibaka may never be an offensive force, but he is an impact shot blocker and should be drafted in the first few rounds as such.
Ryan Gomes: Gomes joins his fourth team in his career after the Clippers used their amnesty clause on the 6-7 forward. After scoring in double digits for three years with the Timberwolves, Gomes never found a consistent role in Los Angeles and provided just 2.3 points in 32 games last season. His minutes will still be limited with the Thunder, but he could get many open looks on 3-pointers.
Perry Jones: The second-year forward from Baylor is one of those players who looks like he should be good, but rarely is. The 6-11 Jones appeared in 38 games and rarely had crooked numbers on the stat sheet. He averaged 2.3 points and 1.6 rebounds and should provide about the same this year.
Andre Roberson: Roberson spent three productive years at Colorado before getting drafted in the first round by the Thunder. He is a terrific rebounder as a wing, but his lack of offensive skills will limit his production. Roberson will likely spend a large percentage of the season in the D-league.
Grant Jerrett: The one-and-done Arizona Wildcat is a project. After being a highly-touted recruit out of high school, he had a less than stellar year in the Pac 12. If everything goes right, he could be a stretch four. Jerrett will probably spend most of the season in the NBDL with Roberson.
Russell Westbrook: Westbrook was famous for never having missed a game in high school, college, and his professional career because of injury. This fact made Westbrook's torn MCL against the Rockets even more stunning. The sixth-year guard had another incredible regular season campaign with 23.2 points, 5.2 rebounds and 7.4 assists. Like Durant, Westbrook is an excellent free-throw shooter (81.4 percent over his career). He hit more than one three-pointer per game for the first time in his career, but still converted just 32.3 percent of his shots from beyond the arc. It is hard to know how his first injury will affect Westbrook's mindset, but the bigger question on fantasy owners' minds is: when exactly will the star guard return? The OKC higher ups have not set a timetable for Westbrook's return, but this doesn't seem like it will turn into a Derrick Rose situation. He underwent arthroscopic surgery a few days into camp after his knee swelled up. The Thunder expect him to miss the first 4-to-6 weeks, putting him out until mid-December, and a later return is possible. With Westbrook's situation a bit hazy, he might represent a major bargain in the third round or beyond, but other players will probably take a risk on him in the second round of a lot of drafts. We wouldn't advise taking that risk.
Thabo Sefolosha: After eight years in the league, we basically know what the Swiss swingman is: a perimeter defender who is a below-average NBA scorer. Despite playing significant minutes, he has never averaged more than 8.5 points and 5.2 rebounds (his averages in his first season with the Thunder in 2008-09). Sefolosha did hit 41.9 percent of his 3-pointers last season, so he can be a long-distance streamer in some head-to-head leagues.
Reggie Jackson: Jackson showed some decent offensive potential in the Thunder's playoff run. He took most of Westbrook's minutes and averaged 15.3 points in the team's last nine playoff games. The third-year guard hit just 21.4 percent of his 3-pointers against Memphis, but was 12-of-14 from the free-throw line. He should inherit Kevin Martin's role and possibly be a late-round flyer in terms of points, free throw percentage and assists for fantasy teams.
Jeremy Lamb: Lamb spent most of the season bouncing between the Thunder and the D-league. In college, he had great range on his jumper, but he made just 30.0 percent of his 3-pointers last year in limited playing time. The Thunder could use another bench scorer, but it remains to be seen whether Lamb can fill that role.
Derek Fisher: Fisher is hanging around the league despite being a defensive liability as a 39-year-old. He can still hit three-pointers, but the rest of his game is limited. Leadership is not a fantasy category.
Reggie Jackson: Jackson should start while Westbrook is out during the early portion of the season. Even when the starter returns, Jackson should have value as the team's best bench scorer and backup point guard.
Perry Jones: While Lamb could be considered a bust, Jones is the pick here because he is achingly talented, but frustratingly passive. Against equal competition at Baylor, the 6-10 forward would simply disappear. In the NBA, every team has at the very least equally talented players. Jones has a number of relevant NBA skills, but it seems unlikely that he will put them on display in a manner that would make him fantasy relevant.