Oct 20, 2013; Oklahoma City, OK, USA; Oklahoma City Thunder point guard Russell Westbrook (0) and Thunder small forward Kevin Durant (35) watch action late in the game against the Utah Jazz at Chesapeake Energy Arena. Mandatory Credit: Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports

Oklahoma City Thunder: A 2013-14 NBA Preview

Throughout September and October, we’ll be examining all 30 teams in the NBA and previewing the 2013-14 season through the lens of each particular organization. I’ll be going through each team’s roster and expected outcome for the upcoming campaign in reverse order of predicted finish, starting with the worst team in the NBA. At the bottom of each preview there will be a table with each division that will link to already-completed previews.

The Thunder are certainly somewhere between number one and number eight when ranking the NBA’s top teams for the upcoming season. But where exactly do you rank a team missing it’s second best player, who also happens to be one of the top five or six players in all of today’s game?

Westbrook may only miss a few weeks at the start of the season, but for a team that has two of the top, let’s call it six, best players in the game, there isn’t a whole lot else on the roster. Gone is James Harden, and his replacement, Kevin Martin. Kendrick Perkins is seemingly getting worse by the year, and the depth behind Westbrook is aging, ineffective Derek Fisher and third-year man Reggie Jackson.

Starting shooting guard Thabo Sefolosha easily had the best season of his career last year, but he’s little more than your sterotypical “three-and-D” wing. A nice piece and vital to the team’s success to be sure, but not an answer to Westbrook’s absence.

Starting power forward Serge Ibaka is the only certified, sure-thing, above-average NBA player on this roster besides Durant and the injured Westbrook. And herein lies the key to Oklahoma City managing to win another division title and secure home court advantage for the first round of the playoffs.

Durant will be Durant. There’s no doubt about that. Ibaka, whose offensive game was noticeably improved in 2012-13, needs to take another step forward on that end of the court. His defense seemed to slip just a little last year, although his presence and shot blocking abilities were enough that they still held the Thunder’s interior defense together.

If Ibaka can keep being the difference-maker that he already is on the defensive end of the floor and take another step forward on offense, the Thunder can weather the Westbrook-less storm just fine. Of course, they likely won’t be the force that they have been in recent years, as a bench of Fisher, Jeremy Lamb, Hasheem Thabeet, Nick Collison, and Ryan Gomes simply isn’t enough in the loaded Western Conference.

Best Case Scenario

Kevin Durant is still far and away the second best player in the NBA, and it’s impossible to overlook that. Assuming that Westbrook is back to full strength in relatively short order, the Thunder are still a viable contender. After going 60-22 a year ago, it’s reasonable to expect some slippage, especially on offense. With no Kevin Martin coming off the bench and little to no offensive firepower outside of the Big Two, 55-58 wins seems like a best case for KD’s crew.

Worst Case Scenario

If Westbrook’s injury issues linger, this squad simply doesn’t have the depth in the back court to do much more than hold serve for a short stretch. It’s still hard to envision too dramatic of a drop-off, because of the whole Durant thing. A team consisting of Durant, Ibaka, Sefolosha, Collison, and mostly scrubs should still manage 45-48 wins.

Most Likely Outcome

The Thunder will absolutely take a step back in 2013-14, there really isn’t any two ways about it. The roster simply isn’t as good as it has been in the past couple of years. The bench is thin, Westbrook is still recovering from knee surgery, and they still insist on running out players like Kendrick Perkins and Derek Fisher to the tune of 15-25 minutes per game for each player.

The championship window is closing rapidly, to be sure. But we can’t count against Mr. Durant, and Westbrook will likely be back and to full strength well in time for the stretch run. They’ll still land a top-four seed in the stacked West, and win 53-56 games when it’s all said and done come mid-April.

Atlantic

Central

Southeast

 New York Knicks (12) Chicago Bulls (9)  Atlanta Hawks (13)
 Toronto Raptors (22) Cleveland Cavaliers (17) Washington Wizards (19)
 Boston Celtics (24)  Detroit Pistons (18)  Charlotte Bobcats (26)

Philadelphia 76ers (30)

 Milwaukee Bucks (20)  Orlando Magic (27)

Northwest

Pacific

Southwest

 Oklahoma City Thunder (7)
 Minnesota Timberwolves (11)  Golden State Warriors (10)
 Denver Nuggets (15)  Los Angeles Lakers (23)  Memphis Grizzlies (8)
 Portland Trail Blazers (16)  Sacramento Kings (25)  New Orleans Pelicans (14)

Utah Jazz (29)

Phoenix Suns (28)

 Dallas Mavericks (21)

Tags: Kendrick Perkins Kevin Durant NBA Oklahoma City Thunder Russell Westbrook Serge Ibaka Thabo Sefolosha

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