The Oklahoma City Thunder are in a precarious situation this upcoming season with the Kevin Durant departure. Russell Westbrook is the only superstar available, and the frontcourt, specifically the power forward position, is lacking major depth, with Serge Ibaka joining the Orlando Magic lineup via a trade on draft night.
In order to alleviate the lack of a stretch four, the team picked up Ersan Ilyasova. The Thunder, in terms of big men, are not expected to fare well. The only glimmer of hope in that department is Enes Kanter, a good offensive player but one who needs to bring his full talent and potential to the court this year. Kanter can be the needed offensive anchor to alleviate the inadequate depth of Thunder big men. His partner in the front court, Steven Adams, is the often irritating 23 year-old center who manages to badger an opponent until a technical is called but who can dominate defensively because of his seven foot size.
As a unit, the Thunder are poised to significantly dip from the team’s playoff seed last year. Shallow depth on the Thunder squad is the palpable glare that causes many critics to pessimistically forecast the Thunder season. This is due to the loss of an elite player in Durant, but here is where everyone is wrong. The Thunder will fight for playoff contention with the new backcourt: Russell Westbrook and Victor Oladipo.
Acquired from the Orlando Magic, Oladipo will start next to Westbrook this upcoming season.
With the devastating loss of Kevin Durant, Westbrook is looking to avenge his team and propel his teammates into playoff contention. Westbrook is like a bitter, in-the-dumps ex-boyfriend who turns his life around to show his ex-girlfriend that he can function without her. Performing at a high level is not foreign to Westbrook. The dominant point guard put up incredible numbers during Durant’s partial absence in the 2014-2015 season.
Last year, Westbrook averaged 23.5 PTS, 2 STLS, 10.4 ASTS, and 7.8 TRBS. This nearly triple-double stat line legitimizes Westbrook’s resume as a superstar player.
Although Victor Oladipo will not be the same counterpart as Kevin Durant, the combination of Westbrook and Oladipo creates an explosive dynamic. Oladipo performed well on the Orlando Magic, putting up decent numbers for his third year in the league: 16 PTS, 1.6 STLS, 4.8 TRBS, and 3.9 ASTS. Scott Skiles, the former Orlando Magic coach, reaped the benefits of using Oladipo as a sixth man, so the guard will have to get used to being in a starting lineup again.
The OKC backcourt has the potential to become an offensive force in the West, with two players wreaking havoc with fast break onslaughts on a night-to-night basis. Westbrook exploits and thrives on fast break opportunities, and while Oladipo is not a high-volume perimeter player, his energy and explosiveness synchronizes well with Westbrook’s aggressive play style.
Westbrook and Oladipo are high-strung which will serve well to shift a game’s momentum to fast-paced and incessant.
Theoretically speaking, the new Thunder backcourt might emulate the success Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum had on the Portland Trail Blazers last year. Although the styles differ, the Portland duo being high-volume shooters, their similarities overlap in success rather than style.
Oladipo and Westbrook, potentially, will be shooting at a higher efficiency due to their abilities to get to the rim and finish with contact. There is latent chemistry that is ready to come to fruition once the season starts.
This Oklahoma team is neither destined to win an NBA championship nor a Western Conference championship, but the upcoming 2016-2017 season will showcase the volatile backcourt and its potential to carry the Thunder into serious contention within the next couple of years.
photo via llananba