The Thunder wrapped up its preseason schedule Friday and, by finishing with a 1-6 record, showed little to induce optimism for the regular season, which begins Wednesday.
But the Thunder’s record could be better than anyone projects.
While many see a team coming off a 20-win season with an even younger core, several factors could produce significantly more victories.
The most glaring is more talent.
Oklahoma City took point guard Russell Westbrook with fourth pick in the NBA Draft and traded for veterans Desmond Mason and Joe Smith in August. Mason and Smith are expected to add toughness, defense and leadership, things that last year’s Sonics largely lacked.
Westbrook should experience the usual rookie struggles and figures to start the season backing up Earl Watson. But he’s a better defender than Luke Ridnour or Delonte West, the Sonics’ main point guards last year. Along with Mason, Westbrook should improve a perimeter defense that was poor for a team that gave up 106.3 points a game last year.
Perhaps the most crucial factor will be significant improvement from sophomores Kevin Durant and Jeff Green.
Durant, last year’s Rookie of the Year, averaged 20.3 points, 4.4. rebounds and 2.4 assists. Green averaged 10.5 points, 4.7 rebounds and 1.5 assists. Both have both returned with expanded games — Green improving his outside shooting and Durant improving his inside scoring and rebounding.