By A. Suave Francisco
Finally, Oklahoma City fans get to see this new Thunder team against a Western Conference opponent. The trip to Spain was nice and well-needed for team development, but nothing beats playing against competition you'll be facing multiple times a week for the next seven or eight months. Although the team couldn't get the win, losing to the Dallas Mavericks 114-109, there isn't much concern considering this is just the preseason.
The tenacity of this Thunder team rivals years past and although they may not be as talented as they've been, this Russell Westbrook-led team has the potential to be a spoiler in the Western Conference.
Many NBA specialists believe this team will win 40-45 games this season due to the recent departure of Kevin Durant and Serge Ibaka. With that prediction, not only does it dispute Russell Westbrook's killer mentality, skill, and leadership ability, it underestimates newly acquired guard Victor Oladipo's talent on both sides of the ball as well as already established Thunder players, Steven Adams, Enes Kanter, and even Andre Roberson defensively. Not to mention a couple of the new international player's ability to score the basketball and lock down on defense.
It's easy to talk about what Russell Westbrook brings to the table; unbelievable athletic ability, an elite offensive game, great defense when he commits to it and a developed an eye for knowing where his teammates are, being unselfish enough to kick the ball out for the open shot. It's only fair to think he'll improve in these areas and in his leadership, even though he's already deeply respected by his team. Last season he had 18 regular season triple-doubles. That number could increase this year.
This should be the season where he wins his first MVP award.
Victor Oladipo's worth on this Thunder team has been underestimated thus far. His impact will be bigger than what people assume it will be because he's stronger defensively than he his offensively...and he's pretty darn strong on the offensive end. Last season he averaged 16.0 points, 4.8 rebounds and 3.9 assists on an Orlando Magic team that struggled offensively and didn't have a sound leader or a mega-star like Russell Westbrook distributing the ball. His numbers will continue to go up in this Thunder system, and he will mature as a person and player. Don't forget, this is just his fourth season in the NBA at just 24 years old.
Victor possesses that raw talent, and he's growing day-by-day. Sounds familiar, doesn't it? Oklahoma City fans have watched Steven Adams grow from a raw talent to one of the soundest centers in the NBA, also entering his fourth year at 23 years old. Enes Kanter is a little bit older in professional experience with this being his sixth season, but even he is just 24 years old.
What I see is a team that is talented, potentially a team that can make a decent run during the season and into the playoffs. A team that is developing, just like they were developing when Russell, Kevin, James Harden and Jeff Green were young players with tremendous raw talent, eager for the experience. This should be another very exciting year for Oklahoma City, potentially the most exciting year since the team moved from Seattle nine years ago, simply because of what happened during the offseason.