The Oklahoma City Thunder will hold its media day today before lifting the curtain on the 2010-11 season with the start of training camp Tuesday.
By now, Thunder fans have read and heard all the high praise this year's team has garnered, perhaps so much so that the clippings have become a cause for concern. If you've found yourself in that category, don't worry. There is still plenty for the Thunder to prove, which should serve as more than sufficient motivation as OKC embarks on this season.
Here are five burning questions going into the 2010 preseason:
Can the team stay healthy?
No one ever likes to talk about injuries. But with this year's team the question has become the chief inconvenient issue. The Thunder saw four starters take the court together for all 82 games a year ago. The fifth, center Nenad Krstic, missed only six games with minor injuries. In fact, of the season-ending nine-man rotation, the Thunder missed only 20 games due to injury last season. That's an awfully rare occurrence that even the team's staff isn't certain can be duplicated. Whether it can be will go a long way in determining if the Thunder can live up to the lofty expectations placed upon the franchise this season. Step one is making it out of the preseason unscathed.
Is the team ready to handle success and play with pressure?
Players, coaches and front office staffers sound confident when asked that very question. They point to the team's resiliency through its 3-29 start two seasons ago as reason for optimism. But the truth is the Thunder didn't begin receiving opponents' best shots until midway through the season last year, after it had already built a head of steam, a 23-18 record and considerable confidence. Now, every team knows about the Thunder. While there is a tremendous amount of talent on the roster, the Thunder's projected nine-man rotation's average age will still be just 23.7 years old by the team's first preseason game. OKC has shown great maturity in several situations. But one thing we have yet to see is how this group responds throughout an entire season of being the hunted.
How much better will the offense be?
Too many facets of the team's offensive production last season could be pinpointed as problem areas. Perimeter shooting. Post scoring. Turnovers. Late-game situations. The primary focus for the Thunder always will be on the defensive end. But with the same nine-man rotation returning, in addition to a few added weapons as well as more experience for the younger players, it's not unreasonable to expect an improved offensive attack. With coach Scott Brooks entering his second full season at the helm, we should see signs of improvement throughout October.
How much of an impact can Cole Aldrich have?
In many ways, the rookie center from Kansas is a perfect fit for the Thunder. He's a defensive-minded player who will willingly do the dirty work down low while others get the attention for offensive feats and highlights. But for as versatile as the Thunder is, there are still matchups that don't bode well for OKC, particularly when the Thunder is undersized up front. Aldrich, while not a sky-scrapping and athletic 7-footer, might be able to provide more resistance through sheer desire and physical play. How soon he'll be able to contribute meaningful minutes will be a key development to watch. Aldrich has the potential to be the team's starting center, and his performance this preseason could accelerate that timeline.
Where are the second-year players in their development?
The Thunder has quickly built a track record for rapid development. Last year we saw Russell Westbrook exceed all expectations in his second season, and Kevin Durant silenced critics and blossomed into an All-Star in his third year. This go-round is the time for James Harden, Serge Ibaka, Eric Maynor and Byron Mullens to show how much they've grown. Not every player the Thunder adds is going to enjoy an accelerated rate of development. But Westbrook and Durant have set the standard. Can the second-year guys keep pace?