This article is part of our NBA Team Previews series.
STATE OF THE FRANCHISE
Last season, Oklahoma City finished second in the Western Conference regular season standings but went on to lose to the San Antonio Spurs in the Western Conference finals. With a healthy (and well-rested) Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook leading the way alongside an always-improving Serge Ibaka, the Thunder are well-positioned to again compete for a championship in 2014-15. Fourth-year guard Reggie Jackson made strides last season and has solidified his role, Steven Adams is in line to have a breakout sophomore season, and Jeremy Lamb will try to become a bigger piece of the puzzle too. Oklahoma City drafted versatile big Mitch McGary in the first round of the draft, while Anthony Morrow was signed over the offseason to help space the floor and hit outside shots.
PLAYING TIME DISTRIBUTION
We know Durant, Westbrook and Ibaka are going to get a lot of minutes. Durant averaged 38.5 minutes per game last season, and there's no reason to expect that number to go down. Westbrook should revert back to the 35 minutes per contest he averaged in his injury-free 2012-13 campaign. Ibaka's playing time has increased each year he's been in the league, so he could easily top his 33-minute average from 2013-14. Things are less certain with the rest of the roster. Jackson has become an important part of the team's rotation after a breakout season and will play plenty of minutes, while Jeremy Lamb and Steven Adams should see their court time increase too. Veterans Morrow, Kendrick Perkins, and Nick Collison are each likely to play a part in coach Scott Brooks' rotation, though their roles won't be appealing to a vast majority of fantasy owners. The same can be said for McGary, who faces an uphill battle for playing time in his rookie season.
Kendrick Perkins: He may still only be 28 years old, but Perkins is clearly on the tail-end of his career. The big man's role has steadily decreased each year he's been with the Thunder, and he's coming off a 2013-14 season in which he averaged just 20 minutes per game, his lowest mark since 2005-06. With Steven Adams set to take on a much bigger role in his sophomore campaign, Perkins, who averaged 3.4 points and 4.9 rebounds last year, will offer even less fantasy value this coming season.
Steven Adams: The 12th overall pick from the 2013 draft played in 81 games as a rookie, making 20 starts in all. Adams played 15 minutes per game and averaged 3.3 points, 4.1 rebounds, 0.7 blocks, and 0.5 steals during the regular season but saw his role grow come playoff time. He averaged 22 minutes in the Western Conference semifinals against the Los Angeles Clippers and 23 minutes per game in the Western Conference finals versus the San Antonio Spurs, with the seven-footer's athleticism and high-energy play consistently earning him more minutes than starter Kendrick Perkins. Only 21 years old, the potential is certainly there for Adams, though he'll need to work on his free-throw shooting after connecting on only 58 percent of his attempts in 2013-14. Regardless, we believe there's a strong possibility the young Kiwi will take over as the team's starting center sooner rather than later, giving him some sleeper appeal in most formats.
Mitch McGary: McGary's decision to leave Michigan after his sophomore year was made much easier after he tested positive for marijuana during the NCAA tournament, considering he had a one-year suspension levied against him. It was therefore no surprise to see the versatile power forward opt for the NBA draft, where he was snapped up by the Thunder with the 21st overall pick. Assuming the back injury that hampered him in his final collegiate season is no longer an issue, McGary will be given an opportunity to compete for a rotation spot during training camp, but it's likely he'll spend most of his rookie year in the D-League in order to further develop.
Kevin Durant: Fresh off winning his first MVP award, Durant enters his eighth year in the league as a superstar in every sense of the word. Durant played 39 minutes per game in 2013-14 and had his best scoring season (32.0 points per game) ever, while also dishing out a career-best 5.5 assists per contest. He also averaged 7.4 rebounds, 1.3 steals, and 0.7 blocks per game and shot 50 percent from the floor, 39 percent from beyond the arc (while recording a career-best 2.4 three-pointers per game), and 89 percent from the charity stripe. Still only 25-years-old, the best may be yet to come from Durant. That's a scary thought for the rest of the league, and Durant should also be well-rested after withdrawing from Team USA for the FIBA Basketball World Cup this summer. The five-time NBA All-Star enters the 2014-15 season as the consensus number one overall fantasy player yet again, and with his ability to stuff the box score in practically every way imaginable, Durant will justifiably be the first player taken in a majority of drafts.
Serge Ibaka: Ibaka, entering his sixth year in the league, set career highs in minutes (33 per game), points (15.1), and rebounds (8.8) last season. He also averaged 2.7 blocks per contest while shooting 54 percent from the floor and 78 percent from the line, which was another career best. The calf injury that hampered Ibaka in the 2013-14 playoffs has proven to be tough to recover from completely, so owners will want to monitor his health as we approach training camp. If he's at 100 percent, Ibaka will provide the fantasy goods as usual, as the 24-year-old's offensive game continues to improve each season, and his rebounding and shot-blocking ability are up there with the best in the NBA. As an ever-growing part of the Thunder's offense, Ibaka hoisted a career-high 12.1 field-goal attempts per game in 2013-14, up from 9.7 in 2012-13. He's also a terrific rim protector on the defensive end of the floor. The power forward is locked into a significant role with Oklahoma City, meaning his playing time should only increase if anything.
Anthony Morrow: After playing in 74 games for the New Orleans Pelicans last season, Morrow was signed by the Thunder to a three-year, $10 million deal during the offseason. The sharpshooter played 19 minutes per game for the Pelicans and posted averages of 8.4 points, 1.8 rebounds, 0.8 assists, and 1.2 three-pointers made. Morrow had his best three-point shooting season since his 2009-10 campaign with the Golden State Warriors, connecting on 45 percent of his attempts in 2013-14. Still, there's healthy competition for minutes on the wing in Oklahoma City, so it remains to be seen how much court time Morrow will receive. If he soaks up enough minutes, he could be a decent source of three-pointers, as he's bound to get plenty of open looks while playing alongside Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook.
Perry Jones: Jones didn't take much of a step in his sophomore season, as he played a mere 12 minutes per game (in 62 contests) for Oklahoma City in 2013-14. Making matters worse, the 22-year-old underwent arthroscopic knee surgery in July, and even though he's expected to be ready to go for training camp, knee troubles have plagued Jones in the past. Throw in the fact he'll face stiff competition for minutes off the bench, and it's hard to see much hope for Jones's fantasy value for standard leagues in 2014-15.
Josh Huestis: Selected with the 29th overall pick in the 2014 NBA Draft, Huestis agreed to sign with the team's D-League affiliate in order to free up a roster spot for the Thunder. He will look to improve his game, primarily on the offensive end, in hopes of earning a guaranteed NBA contract some time in the future.
Nick Collison: Collison has offered much more real-life value than he has fantasy value throughout his 10-year NBA career, and that's not going to change this coming season. As the only member of Oklahoma City over the age of 30, Collison will provide veteran leadership and toughness off the bench for the Thunder. He figures to see a similar amount of playing time after averaging 4.2 points and 3.6 rebounds in 17 minutes per contest as Serge Ibaka's backup last season, though he could cede some minutes here and there to rookie Mitch McGary and potentially Perry Jones as well.
Grant Jerrett: A 21-year-old forward, Jerrett was selected by Portland in the second round in 2013 before getting traded to Oklahoma City for cash. He spent last season in the D-League with the Tulsa 66ers, and after signing a new contract with the Thunder in July of 2014, he will try to earn a spot on the active roster during training camp.
Russell Westbrook: After an injury-shortened 2013-14 in which he played in only 46 games, Westbrook appears to be at full strength heading into the 2014-15 season, and that's music to the ears of the Thunder and potential fantasy owners alike. The 25-year-old, who has had three different surgeries on his right knee over the past couple years, decided to sit out the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup in order to get additional time to rest and prepare for the start of the season. When healthy there are few point guards as productive as Westbrook, who averaged 21.8 points, 6.9 assists, 5.7 rebounds, and 1.9 steals in 31 minutes per game during the regular season and 26.7 points, 8.1 assists, 7.3 rebounds, and 2.2 steals throughout Oklahoma City's playoff run. Westbrook finished eighth overall and second (behind only Chris Paul) among all guards in PER (player efficiency rating) at 24.74. A slight uptick in turnovers (from 3.3 per game in 2012-13 up to 3.8 in 2013-14) is somewhat of a concern, and Westbrook's shot selection has always been an issue, but the positives far outweigh the negatives. The explosive guard is just now entering his prime and appears poised to have another outstanding season with the Thunder.
Reggie Jackson: Jackson had a breakout season in 2013-14, averaging career highs in minutes (29), points (13.1), assists (4.1), rebounds (3.9), and steals (1.1) in 80 games. He emerged as an integral part of Oklahoma City's rotation, especially during the middle of season when he filled in admirably for an injured Russell Westbrook. Once Westbrook returned, Jackson's role naturally decreased, but his high-energy play on both ends of the court forced coach Scott Brooks into giving the guard significant minutes anyway. Jackson even played alongside Westbrook in the backcourt at times, particularly in late-game situations, so he should continue to be an important piece for the Thunder, even if he doesn't enter the season as the starter. The fourth-year guard rebounds well for his position, and his stellar free-throw percentage (89%) from last season is worth noting too, but it's still hard to get too excited about Jackson's fantasy outlook, given he's at best the fourth option on offense behind Kevin Durant, Westbrook, and Serge Ibaka. Nonetheless, given Westbrook's recent injury history, Jackson has some added appeal attached to his name after proving he can handle the starting point guard role just fine in 2013-14.
Jeremy Lamb: Lamb earned a bigger role in Oklahoma City's rotation in 2013-14, averaging 20 minutes of court time in 78 games (zero starts) after playing just six minutes per game in his rookie year. The shooting guard averaged 8.5 points on 43 percent shooting overall and 36 percent from beyond the arc but didn't contribute much elsewhere, only putting up 2.4 rebounds and 1.5 assists per game. With Reggie Jackson, new additions Anthony Morrow and Sebastian Telfair, and Andre Roberson in the mix for playing time in the backcourt alongside Russell Westbrook, it's unclear what kind of role Lamb will carve out in 2014-15. That being said, should the third-year guard get an opportunity to play a significant amount of minutes, he'd be a solid source of points, three-pointers, assists, steals, and the occasional block.
Andre Roberson: This will be Roberson's second year in the league. As a rookie, the 6-7 shooting guard split time between the Thunder and the D-League, playing in 40 NBA games while starting 16 times. Though he's proven to be a reliable defender and rebounder, Roberson still has a lot to improve on the offensive end, and it's highly unlikely he'll play enough minutes to warrant much fantasy consideration in 2014-15.
Sebastian Telfair: Entering his 10th year in the league, Telfair returns to the NBA after spending the 2013-14 season in China. During his most recent stint in the association, Telfair was with Toronto, with whom he played in only 13 contests, averaging 4.3 points and 3.0 assists in 14 minutes per game. In July of 2014, the 29-year-old point guard signed a veteran's minimum deal with the Thunder, and he'll enter the season listed third on the depth chart behind Russell Westbrook and Reggie Jackson. As a result, Telfair's fantasy prospects remain extremely limited.
Semaj Christon: A second-round draft pick in 2014, Christon was traded to the Thunder from the Charlotte Hornets for cash and will likely spend the upcoming season in the D-League. Christon is an ultra athletic point guard that left Xavier after his sophomore season, when he went for 17.0 points and 4.2 assists per contest. At 6-3, Christon is a good sized ball handler, but he's more of a scoring guard, and his jump shot lacks the consistency needed to keep NBA defenses honest. Christon will sit behind Russell Westbrook, Reggie Jackson, and Sebastian Telfair on the Thunder's depth chart and will struggle to play regular minutes in the rotation.
Steven Adams: Adams enters the season in one of the more advantageous positions of any young center in the NBA. He's already cut into Kendrick Perkins' playing time significantly, and it looks like the 2013 first-round draft pick has a legitimate chance of winning the starting job after earning a more prominent role throughout the 2013-14 playoffs. Even if he doesn't crack the starting five initially in 2014-15, Adams has already played his way into more minutes and should take over on the depth chart soon enough, thus making him a legitimate sleeper candidate in most fantasy formats.
Reggie Jackson: Jackson is a talented player, and he was able to carve out a sizeable role with Oklahoma City last season, but it's fair to wonder if he'll garner enough minutes to improve on his 2013-14 numbers. It's a crowded backcourt with a healthy Westbrook soaking up almost all of the minutes at the point and Jackson, Lamb, Morrow, and Roberson all in the mix for playing time at shooting guard. Plus, Durant, Westbrook, and Ibaka are going to dominate the lion's share of the available offensive touches for the Thunder, another factor hindering Jackson's potential output.