After a week overseas, the Oklahoma City Thunder has returned.
Two preseason games lessened some concerns about this ailing team but also heightened others. The good news is the Thunder has three weeks remaining before the games start to count.
There are still five more exhibition games to be played and about 14 more practices, seemingly plenty of time for the Thunder to prepare for life without Russell Westbrook in the early part of the regular season.
In the meantime, here are five things we learned about the Thunder after its European tour.
Kevin Durant's passing could be as critical as his scoring
Remember when the Thunder started putting the ball in Durant's hands and letting him make plays? Raise your hand if you took issue with that approach back when it wasn't always pretty. You know who you are. But seriously, now that Westbrook is out Durant figures to be asked to orchestrate the offense more than ever before. And while there are sure to be some head-scratching moments, Durant looks much more comfortable creating scoring opportunities for his teammates. He had 12 assists on Tuesday against Philadelphia and would have had even more had his teammates knocked down more of the open shots he spoon fed them. Rather than looking to offset Westbrook's production by pouring in more points, Durant clearly is choosing to involve teammates. In doing so, he's keeping defenses guessing and making himself more dangerous.
Reggie Jackson appears ready for the moment
Even after his stellar playoff performance, Jackson entered this season facing questions of whether he could be a consistent performer. Two preseason games haven't eliminated those questions, but there is considerably less angst about how Jackson will fill in. Or at least there should be. He was solid in the preseason opener and sensational in the second outing. In both games he was patient and under control, making smart decisions throughout. Jackson recorded 13 assists, had only two turnovers and looked confident and in command. He made just one of his seven 3-point attempts, which suggests he still hasn't refined his shooting stroke. But he did reveal a sneaky good mid-range game and, of course, his usual knack for knifing his way into the paint and finishing at the rim or creating for others once there.
Serge Ibaka will be aggressive with his shot
If you're looking for Ibaka to play with his back to the basket, forget about it. He's a spot-up shooter. And that might not necessarily be a bad thing, because he's clearly one of the best in the business at knocking down mid-range jumpers. He raised his percentage from mid-range for the third straight season last year, connecting on a career-high 50.8 percent. He could top that this year. Ibaka is no longer hesitating on those looks, which is a sign of how confident he's become in his shot. If given just a bit of breathing room Ibaka will let it fly. Although it's not as efficient as post scoring — and not where fans want Ibaka to make his impact — Ibaka's mid-range game will give the Thunder a reliable offensive weapon, something the sorely Thunder needs without Westbrook.
3-point shooting could be a problem
In two games the Thunder missed 33 of 41 3-pointers. There was perhaps no bigger aspect that illustrated how much the Thunder could miss Westbrook and Kevin Martin. They were two of OKC's best 3-point shooters last season, and with Durant now initiating plays that leaves few floor spacers. Jackson is inconsistent, and Thabo Sefolosha must still prove he's beyond his streaky days. Derek Fisher and Jeremy Lamb are the best bets. But Lamb did nothing to prove he's ready to replace Martin's sharpshooting, going 1-for-12 from 3-point land in the first two games.
Ball movement will be big
It's not just Durant's playmaking. It's the entire team's. Passing historically is one of the Thunder's most erratic areas. But without Westbrook around for the start of the season it likely will be the key to offensive harmony. OKC can't afford to pile up Durant's plate like it did in the postseason. Defenses will be expecting that and prepared to shut it down. Instead, the Thunder showed against Philadelphia how ball movement might be the blueprint for success while Westbrook is sidelined. OKC racked up 30 assists on 40 field goals against the Sixers. Nine players had at least one helper. Eight players had at least one assist in the opener against Fenerbahce, and the Thunder finished that game with 22. When the ball moves like that, everyone is a threat at all times and the Thunder becomes much harder to defend.