The Oklahoma City Thunder completed their preseason last night by beating the Dallas Mavericks 88-76. The Thunder went 4-3 in the preseason and will begin the regular season Nov. 1 with a road game vs. the San Antonio Spurs.
The Thunder are one of the few teams truly in contention for an NBA title. They made very little roster changes from last season’s team that made it to the NBA Finals. Besides drafting rookie Perry Jones III and getting Eric Maynor back from injury, the Thunder will look very similar to what they were last year.
After watching OKC in the preseason, here are a few things to take away from those games.
Durant and Westbrook looking like veterans
Durant and Westbrook looked totally confident and in their respective elements during the preseason. Durant is entering his sixth season in the NBA and Westbrook his fifth. One thing that really looked to be improved with both of them was passing. Both had a few games with pretty high assist totals. This may be partly because they were trying to get more people involved in the preseason but they were the right basketball plays too. Durant and Westbrook had fairly low assist totals last season and if they can start to become better playmakers, the Thunder offense will become that much better.
James Harden slumping
Harden really struggled in the preseason. He only played in three of the games but shot 28.6 percent as well. He took significantly more mid-range shots which is something he rarely did last season. That resulted a less-efficient looks than we are used to seeing from Harden. Harden may also be feeling some side-effects from contract negotiations. Harden is a concern heading into this season, especially if a deal does not get done.
Serge Ibaka vastly improved offensively
Ibaka looked maybe better than any Thunder player in the preseason. He led the team in points and rebounding and his offense looked better than ever. He never hesitated on his jump shot and even started taking (and making!) 3-point shots. Ibaka went into the post more too and looked patient on those plays, scoring often. The Thunder did reach a deal on a contract extension with Ibaka this summer and if his play in the preseason is any indication, that was a great move by OKC.
Perry Jones III exciting
The rookie immediately stood out in the preseason. He has been called the best athlete on the team by Westbrook and at times looked the part in the preseason. At 6-foot-11, he has a little Durant in him athletically but is built like a young Kevin Garnett. He showed nice ball handling skills on the perimeter and decent defensive IQ. It looks as if Jones may be a part of the rotation from the start of the season, possibly replacing Daequan Cook as Durant’s primary backup. He brings something the Thunder didn’t have on the team last season and watching his development this season will be very exciting for Thunder fans.
Eric Maynor is back
People forget how valuable Maynor was to the Thunder two seasons ago and just how much they could have used him in the playoffs and Finals last year. Maynor looks completely recovered from his injury now and reminded us just how good he can be. He is really the best point guard from a distributor perspective on the Thunder and already has shown some nice chemistry with Jones. He shot the ball well from deep too and has his floater working in the paint. There was some thought that Reggie Jackson would take some backup point guard minutes away from Maynor. While Jackson has improved, the role is Maynor’s and his to lose.
Cole Aldrich ready to contribute
Aldrich will be the new backup center for the Thunder this season. He hasn’t been amazing but had some games where he was very solid. He posted double-doubles in the first two preseason games and showed a nice touch around the rim. He isn’t the greatest post defender but can still make an impact on defense contesting shots with his long reach. Aldrich has talked about the emphasis of his development being defense in the pick-and-roll, something that is very important for a backup center.
Thunder fans should feel as good as ever about OKC this season. They had an amazing year last season that unfortunately ended in a 5-game Finals loss to the Miami Heat. The Thunder simply weren’t ready for that moment while the Heat were waiting for it all season long. Now with that experience under their belt, the Thunder are better off than ever now. We should expect them to have a the best regular season ever since coming to OKC. The only worry is the contract situation for Harden but even that shouldn’t stand in the way of another great season for this team.