August 21, 2017, 10:58 am
Hoop-Ball’s Post-Mortem series takes a look at the 2016-17 season and what went right and wrong for every team. From coaching analysis to fantasy impact, we dive in to the year that was and make sense of it all. If you’ve missed any, you can find them here.
The Thunder came in to the season quite dazed after surviving a nightmare of a summer. The face of the franchise bolted in free agency to join a rival, a long-time starter left via trade and the direction of the franchise was questioned. Rather than close up shop and start a rebuild like many small market teams have in their same position, the team galvanized around their remaining superstar, Russell Westbrook, and reached the playoffs while showing great resolve and determination. Even though the team took a step back in the wins column, the season can be considered an overall success after all the roster turnover. Hoop-Ball’s Post-Mortem series takes an in-depth look at what went down in OKC last season A.D. (After Durant).
The Thunder took quite the gut punch last summer when Kevin Durant decided to join the Warriors in an unprecedented move that shook the NBA landscape, not to mention NBA Twitter, to its core. We have seen a small market team lose its superstar via free agency before but never has one left to join up with a dominant team who bounced him (and his team) from the playoffs months earlier. Durant made his choice and the Thunder were forced to adjust on the fly and temper their expectations for a season where they had hoped to compete for a championship.
Even before the Durant exodus, the team was in for some changes as Sam Presti (Thunder GM) moved Serge Ibaka to the Magic on draft night in exchange for Victor Oladipo, Ersan Ilyasova and incoming rookie Domantas Sabonis. Ibaka was a mainstay in the starting lineup for the last six years but there was a slight dip in his numbers over his last three seasons. Presti decided to cash in on the impending free agent PF in order to inject some youth and depth to the roster which did end up coming in handy for the Thunder.
Though the Thunder dipped to 47 wins compared to 55 wins the year prior, they still made the playoffs as the sixth seed and provided basketball fans a season to remember as Russell Westbrook produced an MVP campaign as the first player to average a triple double since Oscar Robertson accomplished the feat over fifty years ago. The rest of the squad found themselves deferring to The Brodie which in a sense prevented young vets like Victor Oladipo, Steven Adams and Enes Kanter from taking a big next step in their development.
The team bowed out in five games vs. the Rockets in the first round of the playoffs but overall the season can be considered a success after all the roster turnover. With the Thunder up against the cap, team improvement will have to come through trades or individual player improvement for next season but let’s take a deeper look into how coaching and individual performance helped shape last season.
This is not what Billy Donovan signed up for. When he left the head coach position at the University of Florida after 19 years at the helm, he landed in OKC to lead a roster with two top-10 NBA talents in Durant and Westbrook. The path to an NBA championship, to add to his two NCAA championships, was clear and the team was ready for a new voice after seven years of Scott Brooks. In the NBA things sure do change quickly and after one only season in which Donovan took the team to the brink of the Finals, Durant moved on to the Warriors leaving Donovan to drastically adjust his team outlook for the upcoming season on the fly.
The Thunder forged on and Donovan accepted the fact that the team will have to rely on Westbrook to both initiate the offense while also carrying the scoring load. The roster was already constructed to support two superstars who could score at will in isolation while creating easy shots for role players so the coaching staff just adjusted their offensive game plan to heavily feature the one superstar left in town. Unsurprisingly, Westbrook proved to be up to the challenge but the teams’ offensive rating ranked 17th in the league compared to 2nd overall the prior season despite his otherworldly production. The Thunder’s defensive rating also decreased to 105.1 compared to 103.0 the year prior, which contributed to the Thunder’s net rating decrease from +7.3 in ’15-’16 to +0.8 this past season. That’s the difference between a championship caliber team and a team content to sneak in to the playoffs.
With the Thunder’s over-reliance on The Brodie, the team devolved in to the antithesis of Durant’s new team, ranking 28th in assist ratio while the Warriors were far and away the league’s leader in that stat. The team had no choice other than to place all their eggs in the Westbrook basket but it was disappointing to see Donovan unable to produce any semblance of a functional NBA offense when Westbrook was on the bench. With Westbrook on the floor, the team was +3.3 points per 100 possessions and -8.9 points without him during the regular season and it became routine to expect the Thunder to nosedive their way out of the game while Russ rested, especially in the postseason. Donovan routinely relied on Cameron Payne, Semaj Christon and at times went to Victor Oladipo to handle the ball in these moments throughout the year and it was an unmitigated disaster that was only magnified in the playoffs where the Thunder were outscored by a staggering 51.3 points per 100 possessions when Westbrook got a breather.
It is clear the that Presti realized that they could only go so far with their one man band and he went all-in to acquire the Pacers’ Paul George in the offseason in exchange for Oladipo and Sabonis. Donovan gets another crack at leading a team that features two superstars and will likely attempt to stagger some of George’s minutes so that the team stays afloat when Westbrook exits the game. The Thunder are heading into year three with Donovan at the helm but he finds himself in a tough position yet again with both George and Westbrook staring down free agency next summer. Donovan has a good relationship with the front office thus far but this could be a make a break year for the team, who need to show improvement in order to have a chance to continue building around their new superstar duo.
ADP: 1/3 (ESPN/Yahoo), Total Value: 2/6 (8/9 cat), Per-Game Value: 2/8 (8/9 cat), Games Played: 81
A season for the ages in both real life and in fantasy. We finally got to see Westbrook unleashed to do as he pleases without anyone calling for him to pass to his superstar teammate. The results were a staggering stat-line of 31.6 points (league-leader), 10.4 assists, 10.7 rebounds, 2.5 threes and 1.6 steals which helped him take home the league MVP award. His efficiency left a bit to be desired as he shot .425 from the field to go along with 5.4 turnovers per game but when you’re stuffing the stat sheet like he did, it’s hard for fantasy owners to quibble.
If you were lucky enough to grab Westbrook in your fantasy league, you received a top flight point guard who ranked 3rd in assists, 12th in steals and 15th in threes per game while leading the league in scoring and finishing right behind Kevin Love and DeMarcus Cousins in rebounds per game. He basically became LeBron in a point guard’s body and has solidified himself as a consensus top-5 in fantasy drafts for years to come with several more years of incredible production as he enters his age-28 season.
With the Thunder making the move to acquire Paul George, it is tough to imagine Westbrook duplicating his 40.8 usage rate as he tries to incorporate PG-13 into the offense who arrives with his own 29.0 usage rate. Westbrook has shown the ability to be a top-end fantasy asset alongside Durant in the past so the addition of George shouldn’t ding his fantasy outlook too much. Both superstars must be ready to share the ball now that they find themselves on the same roster but it shouldn’t change the fact that The Brodie will be taken in the top half of the first-round in next season’s fantasy drafts.
ADP: 31/26 (ESPN/Yahoo), Total Value: 87/95 (8/9 cat), Per-Game Value: 75/86 (8/9 cat), Games Played: 67
Oladipo has long been a fantasy favorite for his seemingly unlimited potential to take over games with his sheer athleticism and Thunder fans were salivating at the thought of him running alongside Westbrook on the break this past season. Though his numbers fell closely in line to his career numbers, it’s hard not to view his season as a disappointment for both the Thunder and fantasy owners with all the shots and opportunities that were vacated with Durant and Ibaka moving on. Oladipo was drafted in the top-30 in last season’s drafts and has to be considered one of year’s biggest busts after ranking an average of 85th for total and per-game rankings across all formats due to a regression in his steals and assist production.
When Oladipo was with the Magic, he was given free reign on offense and handled the ball quite frequently with the absence of a true point guard on his team at the time other than second year PG Elfrid Payton. With the Thunder, Dipo’s time with the ball in his hands disappeared with Westbrook’s ball dominant ways and his assists dropped from 4.0 to 2.6 per game, rendering him as more of an average SG for fantasy purposes. One of his clear strengths in fantasy also eroded with his new squad as his steals went from 1.6 steals per game with the Magic down to just over a steal per game. To his credit, Oladipo did slightly improve his shooting from the field and increased his threes per game up to almost 2.0 per game compared to the 1.4 he averaged in the prior season. On the other hand he also missed 15 games in the regular season, dampening his value even further in roto leagues.
The Oladipo-Westbrook pairing in the backcourt flat out did not work as Presti had hoped as it became painfully obvious that Westbrook’s ideal backcourt pairing would include a knock-down shooter from distance. Dipo’s prospects with the Pacers seem promising as he is likely to lead the team in usage rate and scoring while the team takes its lumps in a rebuilding phase. Despite the down year, Oladipo has the talent and potential to rebound back into the top-50 for fantasy owners so don’t be afraid to go after him in the early-middle rounds in drafts.
ADP: 111/68 (ESPN/Yahoo), Total Value: 66/68 (8/9 cat), Per-Game Value: 91/98 (8/9 cat), Games Played: 80
Many expected Adams to explode this past season after an impressive showing during the Thunder’s playoff run to the Conference Finals but it was not to be. Adams did improve across the board while playing a career-high 30 minutes per game but they were more incremental increases rather than significant jumps in production as many hoped. He finished the year averaging 11.3 points, 7.7 rebounds, 1.0 block and 1.1 steals per game, which was good for top-100 value on a per game basis.
Adams seems destined to be the classic ‘better player in real-life than in fantasy’ guy despite what fantasy owners may wish for him. He makes his mark doing the little things that don’t show up on the stat line like playing tough defense, setting great screens for Westbrook and aggressively boxing his man out so Russ can sneak in for the rebound. Adams is a team-first guy who doesn’t care much about his final line which is tough to overcome for fantasy owners.
If he didn’t blow up this last season with all the opportunity in the world, it’s tough to see him becoming a top-50 fantasy asset with PG-13 now on board. Treat Adams as a top-100 value who won’t hurt you in any category and will fill up your center spot with some solid production every night.
ADP: 72/80 (ESPN/Yahoo), Total Value: 107/119 (8/9 cat), Per-Game Value: 116/128 (8/9 cat), Games Played: 72
Kanter’s play this past season fell right in line with his career averages yet it was a bit disappointing that he was not able to pick up some extra burn with Ibaka vacating a nice chunk of frontcourt minutes. The Turkish big man ended up averaging 14.3 points and 6.7 rebounds on 58 percent shooting to go along with 79 percent from the line with negligible counting stats as usual in a nearly identical 21 minutes per game compared to last season.
He also missed a stretch of games due to a self-inflicted hand injury when he slammed a chair during a timeout which was frustrating for all involved and zapped the Thunder of some much needed offensive punch off the bench. If Kanter ever pushed towards 30 minutes per game as some hoped this year, he would likely average 20 and 10 in his sleep just like he did for a 26 games with the Thunder after a mid-season trade. His woeful defense makes it seem like that is just a pipe dream unless he is traded. Kanter is a useful fantasy asset that will always hover around the top-100 but just don’t expect him to help out in any other categories other than points, rebounds and percentages.
ADP: NA/NA (ESPN/Yahoo), Total Value: 123/94 (8/9 cat), Per-Game Value: 159/132 (8/9 cat), Games Played: 79
Andre Roberson went undrafted in almost every fantasy draft for good reason but he parlayed a strong showing in the prior season’s playoff run into consistent playing time. That extra time on the court (30 minutes per game) allowed him to finish the season as an end-of-bench fantasy asset, averaging 6.6 points, 5.1 rebounds, 1.2 steals and 1.0 blocks with only 0.6 turnovers per game on 46 percent from the field. He became a poor man’s Shane Battier without the three-point production and was a huge help to those who got in early, especially in Roto leagues.
Look for him to remain a top-125 asset that should be a target to fill in your bench after the 12th round in next season’s fantasy drafts with George’s presence on the wing unlikely to affect his playing time.
ADP: 140/136 (ESPN/Yahoo), Total Value: 110/116 (8/9 cat), Per-Game Value: 143/146 (8/9 cat), Games Played: 78
Taj Gibson joined the team in a trade from the Bulls just before the deadline to provide some solid D and hit the occasional jumper throughout the Thunder’s playoff push. He played around 20 minutes per game in his 23 games with the Thunder which was a significant drop in playing time then he enjoyed on the Bulls but still produced his customary stat line on the season this year averaging 10 points and 6 rebounds with over 50% from the field.
The eight year vet was a free agent this summer and took his talents to the Wolves to team up with some old friends: his former Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau and former teammate Jimmy Butler. He will be joining a team full of young talent (Towns, Wiggins) that was bolstered with some top-flight veterans (Teague, Crawford, Butler) so it’s safe to assume he will stick to around 25 minutes per game this upcoming season and his days as a borderline top-125 asset in fantasy are likely over.
ADP: NA/NA (ESPN/Yahoo), Total Value: 225/208 (8/9 cat), Per-Game Value: 284/270 (8/9 cat), Games Played: 80
Jerami Grant has always been a fantasy fill-in type player usually plucked off the wire when he is on a counting stats hot streak. Those streaks disappeared this season with the Thunder after he arrived from the Sixers in an early season trade.
Fantasy owners are safe to monitor the 23-year-old from the wire this upcoming season as he will likely slot in for 15-20 minutes per game which won’t equate to any fantasy value.
ADP: 140/139 (ESPN/Yahoo), Total Value: 267/251 (8/9 cat), Per-Game Value: 282/271 (8/9 cat), Games Played: 66
Doug McDermott was acquired from the Bulls along with Gibson in a deal in exchange for Cameron Payne, Joffrey Lauvergne and Anthony Morrow to add some scoring punch to the bench but it didn’t quite work out. He ended the season averaging a lowly 8 points per game on the season and saw his three point shooting regress from 42.5 percent down to 36.8 percent.
It is possible we see McDermott return to form next season after a full training camp with the Thunder and provide top-150 value but he can be safely left on the wire in most leagues until we see it happen.
ADP: NA/NA (ESPN/Yahoo), Total Value: 240/258 (8/9 cat), Per-Game Value: 301/324 (8/9 cat), Games Played: 81
Sabonis was acquired via trade and was the 11th overall pick in the 2016 NBA Draft out of Gonzaga by the Magic. His supposed potential was fairly high but he failed to impress for the Thunder this season averaging a pitiful 6 points and 3 rebounds on 40 percent from the field.
He will try to ply his trade for the rebuilding Pacers next season as he was sent away in the PG-13 deal. Sabonis will likely see an increase on his 20 minutes of playing time next season as the team would like to see what they have in the young big but he is unlikely to provide fantasy owners with any fantasy production.
The Thunder seem to be back in business after the Paul George acquisition, but for how long? The NBA finds itself in an era of rampant player movement and the Thunder embody that reality like few other teams. They watched their resident superstar walk out the door last summer only to acquire another transcendent superstar the following summer. Fortunes can change quickly in the NBA and next season will be an important one for Sam Presti and the Thunder with both George and Russell Westbrook due to hit the open market next summer and the Lakers sure to come calling.
If things go well, the Thunder can find themselves back in the mix for a ring more quickly than anyone could have imagined. If not, it will be time for a massive rebuild but it is unlikely Presti can pull another rabbit out of his hat after hitting on every draft pick during the last rebuild (Durant, Westbrook, Harden and Ibaka). The Thunder will be one of the teams to watch this season as their future hinges on how successful this one season can be.