The start of the 2018-19 NBA season is finally here. No more pre-season. No more speculation. The next game the Thunder plays actually matters. It goes down in the win/loss column. And damn-it, I’m ready.
Lots of questions still surround this Thunder team heading into game one. Will Westbrook and Schroder be able to play off one another in crunch time? Will one of the team’s wing players be able to step up and make an impact? Will Andre Roberson come back and play like his old self?
Only time will tell…
Or me. I’ll tell you. I am here to give you ten predictions for the Thunder’s season that you can take to the bank. Go to Vegas and bet on these bad boys, because I guarantee you I am 100% right.
(You can see the sarcasm font up there, right?)
Let’s jump right in:
1. Steven Adams will make “the jump” to the point where he is considered one of the best big men in the league.
Adams is like the unsung hero. He is completely unselfish on the court and does all the little things that helps the team win. I expect a statistical - and production - jump this year. Last season he averaged 14 points and nine rebounds a game. This year I’d bet on 17 and 11. Centers like Nikola Jokic and Karl Anthony-Towns are impressive offensive threats, but Adams is about as solid of a 2-way player as you can get.
2. Terrance Ferguson will establish himself as the best wing player outside of Paul George, earning himself a large role - even in crunchtime.
Ferguson has the length (6 foot 7 with a 6 foot 9 wingspan), athleticism, shooting ability (33.3% last season, 44.4% after the all-star break), and now, the experience to have a breakout year. Hamidou Diallo has shown promise as a rookie and Alex Abrines is a better shooter, but Ferguson’s attributes should set him apart. Once out of concussion protocol I fully expect him to start at the shooting guard position, and wouldn’t be surprised to see a closing lineup of Westbrook - Schroder - Ferguson - George - Adams.
3. Speaking of wing players, at least one of them will get traded by the February trade deadline.
Andre Roberson, Paul George, Terrance Ferguson, Alex Abrines, Hamidou Diallo, Tim Luwawu-Cabarrot, Abdel Nader.. Half of this Thunder roster is made up of wing players. Now, this isn’t the worst thing in the world, I mean, Kyle Singer was on the roster last year. Still, there isn’t enough playing time for everyone.
4. Oklahoma City will start the year 15-5 and be in the national conversation as one the best teams in the league by Thanksgiving.
Last season the Thunder infamously got off to a slow 8-12 start and it looked like the pairing of Westbrook, George, and Melo wasn’t going to work out. This season the team has chemistry and continuity. That, paired with a relatively soft schedule to start the year should allow the team to jump out to a hot start.
5. The Thunder bench will statistically - and in terms of production - be a top 5 bench in the league.
For the first time since Reggie Jackson (or James Harden?) the Thunder have a reserve point guard that should prevent the team from cratering when Westbrook comes off the floor. Pair that with an insanely athletic, rim protecting front court of Jerami Grant and Nerlens Noel and a sharpshooter like Alex Abrines and you have the makings of a solid bench lineup.
6. Staying with the bench.. Dennis Shroder will win 6th Man of the Year.
His quickness, experience being a starting level point guard, his passing ability, and having a plethora of weapons around him should allow Schroder to thrive in OKC against bench competition. If he and Westbrook can mesh together to close games, Schroder will be the league’s best bench player.
7. Patrick Patterson will shoot 40+% from three on the season, on over three attempts per game.
Patterson never got going last season after missing all of training camp and pre-season with a knee operation. Now with a reformed physique, plenty of reps, and not playing Center off the bench due to the arrival of Carmelo Anthony, Patterson should have a better season. Last year he shot 38% from the 3-point line on two attempts per game. It’s fair to think that his minutes - and thus, his production - will climb this season.
8. Hamidou Diallo will play more minutes than Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot.
After watching Pre-Season basketball, it’s surprising to think that Diallo got drafted at the 45th pick AND got traded on draft night. He is a rare type of athlete that seems to play effortlessly. He is already ahead of the curve defensively and has shown flashes of some offensive touch. He also finds ways to utilize his otherworldly athleticism in the context of the game, unlike former Thunder wings like Perry Jones III and Josh Huestis.
9. The Oklahoma City Thunder will win 51 games in the regular season, good for the 3rd seed in the Western Conference Playoffs.
That would be a 3-game win increase for the 2017-18 campaign. This version of the Thunder will - most likely - prove to be a much better version than last year’s team. However, the competition in the Western Conference is stiff. LeBron is in LA, Utah’s young core has grown up, Denver will be an offensive juggernaut. The West will most likely beat itself up throughout the regular season. Portland earned the 3rd seed last season with 49 wins, so 51 should be more than enough for that spot in a more competitive conference.
10. The Thunder’s final game of the season will be a loss to the Golden State Warriors in game 5 of the Western Conference Finals.
I am a homer, but I think Oklahoma City has a legit chance to make it to the conference finals. They are balanced, they are deep, they have star power, and they desperately want to wash the taste of a first round exit out of their mouths.