The Oklahoma City Thunder are down 0-2 in their series against the Houston Rockets. Throughout the 2016-2017 campaign, Russell Westbrook, the likely MVP of the league, has carried the team to where they are now. The question now is this, now that he’s gotten them to round one of the playoffs, how far can he take them?
Unfortunately for Thunder fans, including myself, the answer is: not very far. Throughout the regular season, Westbrook averaged 31.6 points, 15.7 more than the teams next second best scorer, Victor Oladipo. He finished the regular season with a line of 31.6/10.7/10.4 and had a PER of 30.7.
Despite Westbrook’s ability to succeed as a one-man wrecking crew, Oklahoma City is not a team built for a postseason run. Since KD’s cowardly departure, they have yet to find a legitimate outside scorer with the ability to shoot. Oladipo is a solid piece on the wing, but he isn’t the knock-down shooter they need.
There are a few players OKC could pursue this offseason, between the draft, trades, and free agency, the possibilities are endless. There are a few scenarios I could see coming to fruition.
The first possible scenario the Thunder could pursue is signing free agent to be Gordon Hayward to a max contract. Their lineup could project as Westbrook, Oladipo, Hayward, Gibson/Kanter, and Adams. This lineup still isn’t formidable, but it’s a step in the right direction.
Other possible free agent targets include Paul Millsap, Danilo Galinari, and Otto Porter. The Thunder obviously aren’t locks to sign, or even pursue all of these guys, but they are possible targets.
Here’s where I think Oklahoma City can really improve their shooting. Luke Kennard out of Duke is projected to be drafted in the mid-to-late first-round of the draft, and OKC’s pick is right there at number 21. If he’s available when they’re on the clock, I’d be livid if he weren’t selected. Kennard is exactly what the Thunder need, a tremendous scorer with the ability to knock down jumpers from anywhere. He is probably the top three-point shooter in the draft as well, another skill-set that’ll improve Oklahoma City’s offense. If he were to be drafted, a projected lineup would look something like: Westbrook, Kennard, Oladipo/possible FA, Gibson/Kanter, and Adams.
Other possible draft targets include Tyler Lydon (Syracuse), Terrance Ferguson (International), Justin Jackson (UNC), and Dwayne Bacon (FSU).
There are a million different ways OKC can improve their offense this offseason, these are just a few. Everyone will have their eyes on how Sam Presti will help take the load off of Russ’s back, whether it be through the draft, free agency, or by trade.
The Thunder play the Rockets tonight at 9:30. The series is 2-0 in Houston’s favor, and the odds of OKC coming back are minimal. However, if there’s one guy in the league I wouldn’t bet against in this scenario, it’s Westbrook. He’ll need help from his teammates, especially Andre Roberson and Oladipo, but a comeback isn’t impossible. Westbrook will have to dominate the rest of the series, but that’s nothing new to him. After all, he’s the triple-double king and the likely MVP of the league, the only question is: “Why not?”