It was an up-and-down 2018-19 season for the Oklahoma City Thunder who were the best team in the NBA at times and the most disappointing at others. Unfortunately for Thunder fans, it was the latter that won out in the end. A season full of promise was over just as the playoffs had just started. The Portland Trail Blazers knocked the Thunder out of the postseason via a 4-1 first-round series defeat.
Now, they approach the offseason with plenty of uncertainty and questions about their standing as championship contenders.
OKC can’t afford to stand pat and expect to be a better team next season. If General Manager Sam Presti understands the predicament that his team is in, then he will have to make more than a few changes to the team.
Here are three bold offseason predictions for the Thunder:
3. The Thunder will add a key player
This may not seem like such a bold prediction because many teams make significant changes to their rosters regularly. However, the Thunder don’t have that much leverage since they are over the salary cap making it nearly impossible for them to add another key player on their roster.
But Presti knows how to work the salary cap and he’s creative enough to find a way to give superstars Russell Westbrook and Paul George another player who will help carry the offensive load. This past season, they were in the middle of the pack offensively ranking 16th in offensive rating at 109.8. More than likely, the Thunder will be looking for a 3-point shooter, someone who can free up the middle for Westbrook and George’s drives to the basket. They were a woeful 22nd in the league overall in 3-point shooting at only 34.8 percent.
They will have to give up a couple of their key reserves or starters to do it, unfortunately, but that’s the sacrifice they have to make to get better next season.
Which players should they be targeting? The Thunder should look into trading for the likes of Joe Harris, Danny Green, Seth Curry or Malcolm Brogdon in the offseason to bolster their outside shooting. Then again, there’s another solution to their shooting woes.
2. Thunder could trade for a starter at small forward
It’s not that George didn’t play well last season. In fact, prior to a shoulder injury he suffered in the middle of the season, the All-Star forward was an MVP candidate. For the longest time since Andre Roberson was injured, the Thunder were looking for someone who can be a defensive stopper and shoot threes efficiently.
If they can’t find another shooting guard, they will experiment with George at the two and instead trade for a small forward to take his place. This will free him up from the responsibility of having to guard elite swingmen such as LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Kawhi Leonard and Jimmy Butler.
Besides, George recently underwent surgery to repair a partially torn tendon in his right shoulder and he may be out until the start of the season.
Expect Presti to search for a small forward to try and rest George at the defensive end as soon as he returns. They’ll replace him in the starting lineup with another small forward in the meantime. If they can get someone like Kent Bazemore to take his place, the Thunder will be all the more dangerous with Westbrook and George in the backcourt.
1. Billy Donovan will experiment with Westbrook at shooting guard
Another tweak in the Thunder lineup that head coach Billy Donovan will likely experiment on is Westbrook at the shooting guard. Without George indefinitely at the beginning of next season, this is absolutely necessary. As soon as George returns, Donovan can try different lineup possibilities.
The 2017 MVP loves to shoot and he also loves dishing the ball. But in order for OKC to succeed, Westbrook has to give up some control of the ball on offense.
Either the Thunder acquire a big point guard to compensate for the lack of height in the backcourt or they move Dennis Schroeder up as a starter. Westbrook had two procedures to address nagging injuries during the season but is expected to recover in a few weeks. That gives him more than enough time to work on his game prior to training camp.
Expect the All-Star guard to focus on his shooting this summer. If he gets those shooting percentages (3-points and field goals) higher by more than a few points, we could see a whole new Westbrook for the 2019-20 season.