A new season means new expectations. It doesn’t matter if it’s basketball, weather, or just life in general—a new season means a fresh start, and in Oklahoma City, the 2019-20 season is about as fresh of a start as the Thunder has seen in many moons.
Following what many could label a rocky offseason, a new era of basketball is being ushered in by a number of new faces in Oklahoma City, and while it’s not what many fans had planned for the future of the franchise just a few months ago, it’s time that we embrace it and move forward…especially since we don’t really have an option otherwise.
Russell Westbrook was my favorite player, and I thought keeping Paul George in free agency meant the tides were turning in my beloved hometown, but all that has changed, and as much as it pains me to say goodbye to those guys, I’m extremely excited for the start of a new season and new generation of Thunder basketball.
Looking ahead to this season, here are a few of my bold predictions.
6 players will average double-digit points
Last season, the Thunder had 5 different players average double digits in scoring: Paul George, Russell Westbrook, Dennis Schröder, Steven Adams, and Jerami Grant.
3 of those players are no longer with the Thunder, and expectations for Oklahoma City are literally at the lowest they have been since the inaugural season kicked off 11 years ago. Still, this team has a lot of potential, and I with an expected updated look for the offense, I anticipate that more players will be involved than ever.
Taking a look at stats from last season, 5 of the guys on the Thunder’s current roster should have no issue making it to 10+ points per game. Chris Paul averaged a career-low 15.6 points per game last season in Houston, and he will probably be somewhere closer to 20 this season.
Danilo Gallinari put up a career-high 19.8 points per game for the Cippers last season, and he’s not averaged fewer than 10 points per game since his rookie season.
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, who also comes by way of the Clippers, averaged 10.8 points per game as a rookie last season, and his role with the Thunder will be an important one, so expect that to increase.
As far as returning players for the Thunder, Steven Adams has averaged double digits for Oklahoma City 3 consecutive seasons, and now that he has a more traditional pick-and-roll point guard in Chris Paul, his average of 13.9 points per game the last two seasons could easily increase.
Dennis Schröder’s role as backup point guard may look a little different this season, but his ability to score isn’t going anywhere. In his first year with the Thunder last season, he averaged 15.5 points per game, and while that may dip a bit, don’t expect him to fall below double digits.
There are a few candidates that could potentially put up a double-digit scoring average. Perhaps the most likely to do so is Terrance Ferguson, who averaged 6.9 points per game a season ago as a starters in all 74 games that he played. He wants to be more involved in the offense this season, so I wouldn’t be surprised if he managed to get his average into double digits.
The Thunder will finish Top 10 in 3-point % and free throw %
For the last 3 years now, the Oklahoma City Thunder has struggled mightily in both three-point shooting and free throw shooting. They have consistently lived in the bottom half of the league in both areas, ranking dead last at times.
As a matter a fact, the Thunder has not been in the top half in 3-point shooting since the 2013-14 season when they finished 14th in the NBA while shooting 36.1% from beyond the arc. In that same season, Oklahoma City was 2nd in the league in free throw shooting, knocking down 80.6% of attempts from the charity stripe. In the last 3 years, the Thunder has ranked in the bottom 5 of the league.
That will change this year.
Russell Westbrook is known as the worst high-volume three-point shooter in the modern NBA, and his free throw percentage has dipped significantly the last few years. Good three-point shooters are often great free throw shooters.
With Westbrook’s departure and the additions of Chris Paul, Danilo Gallinari, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, and even Mike Muscala, Oklahoma City will have a much better chance of shooting a high percentage from three as well as from the free throw line.
Last year, the Thunder managed to shoot 34.8% from three, which put them at 22nd in the NBA, but they hung around the bottom of the league for the first half of the season. Paul, Gallinari, Gilgeous-Alexander, and Muscala all shot at least that from three last season, so they should help OKC raise the bar. From the free throw line, all four shot at least 80% from the line. Last season, only Paul George and Dennis Schröder shot that well for the Thunder while averaging more than at least one attempt per game.
Needless to say, I expect Oklahoma City to be among the league’s best when it comes to both three-point and free throw shooting.
The Thunder will win at least 20 games at home
The Oklahoma City Thunder has earned a name for being one of the league’s winningest teams over the last decade. A big part of that success has come at home in front of what many consider to be one of the NBA’s best fanbases.
In the last 10 seasons, the Thunder has won at least 27 games each year. 4 times the Thunder has won at least 30 at home, and twice they have won 34.
Oklahoma City projected win total is somewhere in the lower 30’s, and a lot of people think they won’t even hit 30. Regardless of the talent lost and lowered expectations for the season, I think Loud City is going to play a key role in cheering this team on to at least 20 wins at home.
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