Oklahoma City Thunder 2018-19 Team Preview

  • How’d We Get Here?

    The Thunder got rocked by a well-oiled Jazz unit in the first round last season, a year in which the Westbrook-George-Melo triumvirate was supposed to give them a puncher’s chance against the Warriors.

    After the disappointment they pulled off one of the great moves of the offseason, re-upping Paul George on a deal with more term than anyone would’ve expected. Carmelo Anthony was flipped for Dennis Schroder, which will at least help the starting lineup even if the jury’s still out on Schroder’s net impact. Nerlens Noel was plucked off the scrap heap and they added another lengthy wing in Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot.

    OKC didn’t quite have the depth or defensive presence to really hang with the best of the West last season but they’ve addressed both concerns this offseason in meaningful ways. Hard to argue with that if you’re a fan.

    Offseason Moves

    Arrivals: Dennis Schroder, Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot, Nerlens Noel, Abdel Nader
    Rookie Arrivals: Hamidou Diallo (No. 45), Devon Hall (No. 53; since signed in Australia), Kevin Hervey (No. 57)
    Departures: Carmelo Anthony, Corey Brewer, Josh Huestis, Dakari Johnson, Kyle Singler
    Retained: Paul George, Jerami Grant, Raymond Felton

    Depth Chart and Minutes Per Game

    PG: Russell Westbrook (34-35.5) / Dennis Schroder (26-28) / Raymond Felton (0, 10-16) / Devon Hall
    SG: Paul George (35-36) / Alex Abrines (17-25) / Terrance Ferguson (0, 12-18) / Hamidou Diallo / Abdel Nader
    SF: Andre Roberson (DEC?, 23-27) / Timothe Luwawu (19-25) / Kyle Singler
    PF: Jerami Grant (20-26) / Patrick Patterson (18-24)
    C: Steven Adams (30-32.5) / Nerlens Noel (15-25)

    Position Battles

    Point Guard: Russell Westbrook might finally shed a minute or two. Dennis Schroder is his backup and we’re expecting him to give OKC decent enough play that they might be able to cut Westbrook’s playing time ever so slightly, but he’s still going to have to adjust to a bench role after running around Atlanta unchecked these last few seasons.

    Hopefully he doesn’t try to do too much in his court time knowing that he’ll have more limited chances this year. There’s also the potential to run Westbrook and Schroder side by side in two-PG lineups but that could end up being chaotic and really mess with the team defensively. Raymond Felton will get whatever is left over.

    Shooting Guard: Assuming he’s healed from that torn patellar tendon, Andre Roberson should move back into the starting five. His defense is a big part of OKC’s success even if he’s a major liability offensively, and the rest of the team’s wing options aren’t all that inspiring.

    Behind him will be Alex Abrines, Terrance Ferguson and rookie Hamidou Diallo. Abrines can help space the floor but was injured on and off for most of last season while Ferguson remains more of a long-term prospect after he only saw limited time in year one.

    Small Forward: Paul George returns to log a ton of time between the two and the three. Ferguson and Abrines can work in here but are a little slighter than Billy Donovan might prefer, so Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot could end up getting the first crack at the backup job.

    Power Forward: The departure of Carmelo Anthony opens things up considerably here with OKC looking pretty thin in the frontcourt. Right now the two power forwards on the roster are Jerami Grant and Patrick Patterson, either of whom can make a viable case to start.

    Game flow will dictate some of their usage but we’ll give Grant the temporary nod because of his athleticism and defense. Patterson’s shooting may end up tilting the scales in his favor, however. If the Thunder wanted to get really weird they could even use Nerlens Noel at the four for small stretches.

    Center: With just Steven Adams and Nerlens Noel on the roster it’s clear how this one will stack up. Patterson and Grant can move down to give OKC some really small lineups but Adams will get the lion’s share and Noel will have most of whatever is left behind.

    Outlook

    The Thunder’s big win was keeping George in the fold, and they did a nice job shoring up some of the weaker spots on the roster. It wasn’t a perfect job but given their salary commitments they could’ve done a lot worse.

    They should be better equipped to face top competition than they were last season but it’s fair to question whether they can really call themselves a threat to Golden State and Houston, if not the teams in the tier below. Expectations of “Conference Finals or bust” were hopefully tempered after last season’s rude awakening but OKC is locked into its core for now and has to be demanding some level of playoff success.

    Russell Westbrook

    Total Value: 7/14 (8/9-cat)

    Per-Game Value: 12/23 (8/9-cat)

    Games Played: 80

    2017-18 Review: Westbrook managed to average a triple-double again but nobody really seemed to care this time. He predictably saw his usage fall which led to a decrease in points despite an increase in field goal percentage.

    If there were two things that really hurt him it was a huge drop in free throws from .845 to a career-worst .737 and his 3-pointers falling by more than half, from 2.5 down to 1.2 per game. Westbrook has long been an elite fantasy player despite the drag on field goal percentage but losing so much ground in two other categories really did him in.

    This Year: The free throws should be coming back up, as he had never been below 78 percent in his career before. We can’t say the same for his triples, as 1.2 seems far more in line with his career norms considering he hadn’t topped 1.5 per game before last year’s explosion. Moving Melo and his ball-stopping tendencies might help Westbrook out as well, and if the Thunder can stick an extra catch-and-shoot threat around him it would probably open things up for everybody.

    Injury History: Westbrook has remained incredibly healthy despite monstrous workloads over the past three years, missing only five games combined. He suffered a lateral meniscus tear in 2013, dealt with a fractured hand in 2014 and a cheek fracture in 2015 but we’re not treating him as an injury risk.

    Outlook: Westbrook should get back into first-round value in 8-cat on free throw regression alone. The Melo fit was always a weird one and his departure might help things a little bit as well, though the blame there definitely cuts more than one way. He’s going to be an elite producer in points, rebounds, assists and steals, but he’s definitely closer to back-end value in the first round than front-end and 9-cat owners have to watch for real slippage.

    Andre Roberson

    Total Value: 279/272 (8/9-cat)

    Per-Game Value: 208/180 (8/9-cat)

    Games Played: 39

    2017-18 Review: Roberson is a big part of the real-life Thunder, but not so much in fantasy. He remained a quality source of defensive stats when he was active but lost a lot of his already-quiet 3-point production. The defensive stopper went down with a torn patellar tendon on January 27.

    This Year: If Roberson is ready for camp he’s going to end up starting somewhere on the wing, with shooting guard the most likely spot. It’s going to be an odd group with at least three guys whose jumpers will be welcomed by opposing defenses but his defense is just too important. We also wouldn’t rule out some limited action early as OKC will want to make sure he’s 100 percent before removing any restrictions.

    Injury History: Roberson started running on a treadmill (or at least started broadcasting it) on August 11 as he recovers from a ruptured left patellar tendon. He underwent a knee scope at the end of March and is expected to be ready from camp but you can bet the team will take things slow with him.

    Before that devastating injury he missed eight games with a case of left knee tendinitis and two with a left ankle sprain. He also dislocated a finger during a game but didn’t miss time. Before all that, Roberson had minor left knee soreness and missed a few games with an ankle sprain. All that stuff accumulating with his left knee makes him a definite injury risk.

    Outlook: Even as his playing time dropped from 30.1 to 26.6 mpg, he kept his steals level at 1.2 a night and managed 0.9 blocks, down only slightly from 1.0 per game the year prior. Those are nice contributions to have in deeper formats even if he’s a horrendous free throw shooter.

    The low volume there helps considerably but under 45 percent is under 45 percent any way you cut it. Roberson’s got the defensive prowess to post top-200 numbers but whether he’s worth your time might depend on your roster build since he’s not really helping anywhere else.

    Paul George

    Total Value: 11/10 (8/9-cat)

    Per-Game Value: 16/16 (8/9-cat)

    Games Played: 79

    2017-18 Review: PG’s elite 3-and-D reputation carried over to fantasy where he averaged 3.1 triples and 2.0 steals per contest. His field goal percentage dipped back to career-average territory despite some initial excitement about his prospects in a system where he’d be whipping around screens and into jumpers, and his free throws took an unfortunate dip as well.

    Still, George was a strong scorer, had his elite categories and was solid in terms of rebounds, assists and blocks. Yet another top-20 season in the books.

    This Year: George decided to re-up with the Thunder, and while it might not be the easiest path to title contention he is aligned with a superstar which makes him one of the best “1A’s” in the game. A year of continuity and a supporting cast slightly more conducive to the modern game should do some good as well. He was reportedly dealing with right arm/elbow discomfort all year so, if dealt with, he could see a bump from being more healthy, as well.

    Injury History: While George made it through the season mostly unscathed in terms of absences, he did undergo arthroscopic surgery on his left knee in May and also had a procedure to clear up a blood sac in his elbow. He missed three games back in December, one with a sore left knee and two with a right calf injury.

    It’s already been four years since George’s horrific leg injury and in 2016-17 he missed four games with ankle soreness and three with a sore back. We wouldn’t have believed it even three years ago, but he’s not really an injury risk.

    Outlook: George is locked in as a top-20 option and while individual stats may fluctuate, they pretty much always offset enough to keep PG a safe second-round choice. That shouldn’t change any time soon, and if the elbow procedure helps him shoot better he should land close to the turn after round one.

    Steven Adams

    Total Value: 49/48 (8/9-cat)

    Per-Game Value: 67/62 (8/9-cat)

    Games Played: 76

    2017-18 Review: Adams continued his steady upward trajectory, posting personal bests in scoring, field goal percentage, rebounds, assists and steals. The only real blemish is his .559 free throw shooting but Funaki has really become one of the NBA’s better centers, especially among those who can’t stretch the floor.

    This Year: Despite the roster changes around him, Adams won’t see much difference in his usage. The pick and roll with Russell Wesbtrook is a lethal weapon and Dennis Schroder may be able to better replicate that when he and Adams share the floor than Raymond Felton did last year. We’d like to see his free throws get back on the right track after a few years of improvement too but he’s as steady as they come otherwise.

    Injury History: It was another relatively clean season for Adams in the health department. He missed a March game against the Hawks with a hip problem, two in December because of a concussion and three in November because of a calf injury. Adams missed a month back in 2014-15 because of a broken hand, two games in 2015-16 with a sore elbow and two in 2016-17 with a concussion. He’s not a serious injury risk but the multiple concussions isn’t the best.

    Outlook: Adams might soon plateau as a scorer and rebounder but as long as he’s doing so on a strong mark from the field and delivering more than 2.0 defensive stats a night he’ll be a rock solid middle-round play. He’ll be in the top-75 again.

    Dennis Schroder

    Total Value: 69/103 (8/9-cat)

    Per-Game Value: 64/92 (8/9-cat)

    Games Played: 67

    2017-18 Review: The Hawks were clearly in need of a rebuild and were wise to use the year to examine the long-term prospects of their entire roster, Schroder included. His bugaboos from 2016-17 needed to be addressed and it was a bit of a mixed bag. He cut down on his turnovers (3.3 to 2.7 per game) and set new career-highs in scoring and steals, but his overall efficiency fell from .451 from the field on 15.4 attempts to .436 on 17.1 shots per night.

    The fact that he hit just 29 percent of his threes was also a killer, and while Schroder was prone to bouts of tunnel vision he also didn’t have a ton of complementary talent to work with. He remained a middle-round guard with the same predictable warts but wasn’t as much of a drag on 9-cat owners as expected.

    It would’ve been nice to see some moves in terms of rebound or assist rate but all in all it was a solid season considering his expanding role – he ranked 21st in the NBA with a 30.4 usage rate, and actually jumps up six spots when you cut out players who appeared in fewer than 10 games (though one was Kawhi Leonard).

    This Year: Unfortunately Schroder was dealt to Oklahoma City as part of the Carmelo Anthony trade. It was far from surprising with plenty of trade rumors popping up over the past year, and his fate was all but sealed when the Hawks decided to hitch their wagon to Trae Young.

    Schroder is a high-level handcuff and would be a nice play if Russell Westbrook ever went down, but OKC doesn’t typically roll with two-guard lineups and Schroder would need to either make huge strides in his off-ball game or have Westbrook cede a little bit of control if Billy Donovan wanted to even give it a shot.

    Injury History: Schroder had barely appeared on the injury report in his first four seasons (only minor ankle, foot and toe concerns) but missed 15 games this year, including the final nine with a medial bone bruise and left ankle sprain. He also missed three throughout the year due to left ankle soreness, one with a sprained left elbow and one more with a tight back. It’s tough to gauge this sort of stuff with an openly tanking team but Schroder isn’t a big injury risk, even with the season-ender.

    Outlook: There might be enough playing time headed Schroder’s way to keep him on standard league rosters, but expecting any more than that is asking for too much.

    Nerlens Noel

    Total Value: 311/298 (8/9-cat)

    Per-Game Value: 187/168 (8/9-cat)

    Games Played: 29

    2017-18 Review: Noel proved to be a major disappointment for his second and final season in Dallas. An opening night performance of 16 points, 11 rebounds and three blocks in 20 minutes had everyone feeling relieved but things would go downhill soon after, and he’d be routinely under 20 mpg by the end of November.

    A left thumb injury cost him three months and he barely sniffed the rotation even when he was cleared to play. He averaged 1.0 steals and 0.7 blocks in 16.2 minutes a night, but per-minute production doesn’t mean a lick if you’re not in the rotation.

    This Year: Noel made a surprise move and chose to join the Thunder where he’ll back up Steven Adams. It’s much-needed depth for OKC at the center spot but he’s clearly No. 2 on the depth chart with minimal avenues to extra playing time. If his legs are healthy his athleticism will be a nice fit but this year will be about rehabbing his value before hitting the open market again.

    Injury History: Back in 2013-14 Noel tore his ACL and in 2014-15 he dealt with ankle, hip and knee problems. Two seasons ago he had a “minor” procedure on his left knee and sprained his ankle twice after returning from that. This year there was the thumb injury that shelved him for three months (plus the weird hot dog comments while he was sidelined). There’s plenty of injury risk here, as he’s been hurt even in limited minutes.

    Outlook: It figures to be more of the same story for Noel next season. He’ll put up solid per-minute defensive numbers and struggle for playing time – the only difference is that he probably won’t fall out of the rotation entirely in OKC.

    It would only take 20 mpg for him to push 2.0 combined defensive stats but there are plenty of owners who have him on the do-not-draft list after his career has fallen off the rails these past two seasons. He’s a late-round flier with great upside if everything clicks.

    Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot

    Total Value: 344/351 (8/9-cat)

    Per-Game Value: 404/416 (8/9-cat)

    Games Played: 52

    2017-18 Review: Luwawu-Cabarrot was supposed to keep improving and give the Sixers some added depth on the wing, but he ended up losing playing time and suffering declines in all the fantasy categories besides 3-pointers.

    This Year: Now a member of the Thunder, Luwawu-Cabarrot has a chance to play his way into the rotation. OKC’s current wing group doesn’t have many standouts beyond the starters, so it could very well be an open competition to see who can separate themselves from the pack.

    Injury History: TLC missed the final month of the season with right knee tendinitis but was in and out of the rotation even before that. He also sustained a knee injury last offseason, so we can’t assign him the highest durability rating.

    Outlook: Luwawu-Cabarrot’s stat set isn’t much to write home about but the opportunity will be there for him to get 18 mpg. He’s someone to mull over in the 20-25-team range.

    Raymond Felton

    Total Value: 213/215 (8/9-cat)

    Per-Game Value: 288/290 (8/9-cat)

    Games Played: 82

    2017-18 Review: Felton did his thing in the brief stints when Russell Westbrook was on the bench, offering some low-end guard numbers in limited playing time.

    This Year: Felton re-upped with the Thunder but will now be third on the point guard depth chart. He might still get minutes depending on how OKC staggers the minutes of Westbrook and Dennis Schroder but we’re not expecting much.

    Injury History: Felton’s been healthy for most of his career, with a 29-game campaign in 2014-15 as the only one that sticks out. He battled ankle injuries that year but has played in 80-plus games in three years straight so he’s not a health risk given his workload.

    Outlook: Felton can be left undrafted in all but the deepest of leagues, as he’s only a handcuff to a handcuff this season.

    Patrick Patterson

    Total Value: 246/225 (8/9-cat)

    Per-Game Value: 340/308 (8/9-cat)

    Games Played: 82

    2017-18 Review: Patterson signed a below-market deal with the Thunder last offseason but didn’t hit his stride last season, averaging only 15.5 mpg. It was a little surprising to see him play so sparingly after he had developed as a solid team defender and versatile piece with the Raptors but the Thunder often opted to roll with Jerami Grant’s athleticism at the expense of 2Pat’s shooting.

    This Year: With Carmelo Anthony gone it looks like Grant and Patterson will be the lone power forward options outside of small ball lineups. It’s a real toss up and could change by matchup but for now we’ll lean towards Grant since he was the preferred option a year ago. Patterson should be getting more minutes either way, at least.

    Injury History: Patterson had been mostly healthy until left knee problems dogged him in 2016-17. He’d end up missing 16 games with soreness, strains and contusions and underwent arthroscopic surgery last August. It didn’t keep him from missing any action but he’ll be a moderate injury risk in a larger workload.

    Outlook: Patterson could make for a nice deep league target as the power forward rotation clears up. Even if he doesn’t start he should be looking at 20-plus mpg and can chip in enough triples and boards to get into the top-200 neighborhood. Consider him in the late rounds of 16-team formats, though he’s pretty low-upside unless he wins the starting gig in camp.

    Alex Abrines

    Total Value: 277/268 (8/9-cat)

    Per-Game Value: 369/340 (8/9-cat)

    Games Played: 75

    2017-18 Review: Abrines was chosen to start in the few instances where Paul George was sidelined and was moderately effective, but the increases in his numbers were pretty much right in line with expectation considering his playing time doubled. He was able to stretch the floor (38 percent) but it’s telling that the Thunder quickly snapped up Corey Brewer to start down the stretch.

    This Year: While Abrines isn’t the strongest defender among OKC’s reserve wings, he is the most bankable 3-point shooter. If he keeps clicking at career averages in that department he’ll be in line for a steady role.

    Injury History: Abrines dealt with ankle problems while playing for Spain last summer and they leaked into the regular season a bit. There was also a stint on the sidelines with a groin problem. He received PRP injections in both knees in May of 2017 and has also missed a little time with back soreness. He’s not a real injury risk given his moderate role.

    Outlook: There’s 3-point specialist potential here but Abrines will have top-275 potential in a best-case scenario.

    Jerami Grant

    Total Value: 181/164 (8/9-cat)

    Per-Game Value: 243/222 (8/9-cat)

    Games Played: 81

    2017-18 Review: Grant’s athleticism made him an important part of OKC’s rotation, even if the only things he could do for fantasy owners was block shots (0.9 per game) and score efficiently on low volume (.535 on 5.6 attempts).

    This Year: With Grant a top candidate to start at small forward, expect him to spend a lot of time working on his 3-point shot this summer. He’s a decent on-ball defender and will be in the lineup when the Thunder need to counter quicker groups, and the team liked his game enough to sign him to a three-year deal this summer.

    Injury History: Grant missed 22 games across his first two seasons due to various ankle, back and calf issues but has been healthy since joining the Thunder.

    Outlook: At the very least, Grant provides a low-cost fantasy option who can pick up 1.0 blocks a night. If he starts and pushes up towards the 25-28 mpg range, he should start pushing double digit points and 1.0 steals as well. If the 3-point shot comes along things will look even better. There’s a lot of “ifs” in there but Grant could be well worth a flier in 12-team leagues if he ends up starting at power forward.

    Terrance Ferguson

    Total Value: 343/325 (8/9-cat)

    Per-Game Value: 421/399 (8/9-cat)

    Games Played: 61

    2017-18 Review: Ferguson was in and out of the rotation until Andre Roberson went down, as the Thunder always planned to bring him along slowly after he didn’t get a ton of run in Australia before he was drafted.

    His first career start was a feather in his cap, as he dropped 24 points with six 3-pointers and three steals in 32 minutes against the Lakers, but the rest of his games thereafter were mostly inconsequential. He ended up starting 12 games but only averaged 3.9 points in them. There were seven starts where he took three shots or fewer.

    This Year: It’s certainly possible that Ferguson emerges from muddled wing group to become the first guy off the bench. He still needs to add strength and work on his offensive game but the Thunder won’t be using him as more than a catch-and-shoot or backdoor cut type of player for the foreseeable future.

    Injury History: Ferguson missed one game with an injury but was otherwise hit with healthy DNPs, though he did injure his wrist from dunking so hard in the aforementioned Lakers game.

    Outlook: Ferguson is still a long-term 3-and-D project so even if he came into something like 18 minutes he doesn’t have the juice to sustain fantasy value. There would be a few occasional flashes of value but you’d have to be in a league with at least 20 teams to consider signing up for all the ups and downs.

    Hamidou Diallo (R)

    2017-18 Review: Diallo spent just one year at Kentucky, where the team’s depth limited him to just 24.8 mpg. His lean frame comes with incredible length and athleticism, and while he’ll be a long-term project the Thunder felt strongly enough to trade for him in a deal with the Nets.

    This Year: Don’t expect to see much of Diallo, who needs to add strength in order to stand up to NBA competition.

    Injury History: Diallo dealt with a minor ankle injury in college.

    Outlook: No need to pay attention this year.

    Kevin Hervey (R)

    2017-18 Review: Hervey, the Sun Belt POY as a junior, set career-highs in scoring and 3-pointers in his senior season at UT-Arlington. He used his long length to overcompensate for average athleticism and offers a little positional versatility. His shot could use a little work but Hervey has experience working both inside and out.

    This Year: Hervey will be spending some time ironing out the jumper but will do most of his work in practice even if OKC’s depth isn’t the most imposing. He’s pretty skilled for a guy of his size and will be a worthwhile project for the Thunder development staff.

    Injury History: Hervey has torn both ACLs – one in high school and the other as a sophomore in college.

    Outlook: Hervey won’t be on the fantasy radar this season.

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