Four questions for four writers, previewing the start of preseason camp in Thunderville:
1. Of the fringe rotation guys, who is your guess for surprise preseason performer?
Darnell Mayberry (beat writer) - Ryan Gomes. He might not be the most appealing acquisition, but let’s not forget this guy is a seven-year NBA veteran. The preseason is tailor-made for guys like Gomes to shine. It wouldn’t shock me if Gomes excelled in his opportunities and immediately gained fans who begin to clamor for him to get regular season playing time.
Anthony Slater (beat writer) - Andre Roberson already has a discernible and transferable NBA skill: He can rebound. Last season at Colorado, he averaged 11.2 per game, second in the nation. That’s a number and rank similar to the college careers of DuJuan Blair and Kenneth Faried. Lesson being: If you can rebound in college, you can usually rebound in the pros. Will his offensive game catch up to at least a capable level? That’s the big question. But if it does, he’ll be hard to keep off the floor.
Berry Tramel (columnist) - I’m going to go with Daniel Orton. He looked really improved in summer league. If his defense can get up to speed, he has a chance to contribute. Center is a crowded position, with four in camp, so I think we’ll see Orton go all-in in trying to make the Thunder brass believe that he’s a keeper.
Mike Sherman (sports editor) - Andre Roberson is a bigger, better De’Andre Liggins. I’m not saying he’s ready to start guarding LeBron, but he’ll be groomed for that duty. He knows how to go get the ball, a handy skill for a team that gives up too many offensive rebounds.
2. Besides Jeremy Lamb, what’s the biggest question mark entering camp?
Mayberry - It’s got to be Russell Westbrook. He’s said to be “healing properly” and “on pace.” Still, nothing matters more to this team than having a healthy Westbrook. How much can he do? Will he be ready for the season opener? How long will it take him to regain his rhythm? What about his confidence? These are all things that could have a significant impact on how the Thunder comes out of the gate.
Slater - The center position. Kendrick Perkins will remain the starter. There’s little question about that. But I’d expect his minutes to slowly dwindle (like they did in the playoffs). So which of the three backup contenders (Hasheem Thabeet, Daniel Orton, Steven Adams) will emerge? Or will the Thunder play more small ball (Ibaka/Collison at the five, Durant at the four)? It’ll be interesting to watch.
Tramel - I just think it’s bench scoring in general. The Thunder has gone from Harden to Circle K to now Lamb. Even if Lamb turns out to be a ballplayer, there’s no way he’s going to be as productive as Harden was. So where’s the extra scoring coming from? I think the Thunder is putting a lot on Reggie Jackson’s plate.
Sherman - I’m starting to think it’s Russell Westbrook’s health. Sam Presti seems to be doing all he can to tamp down expectations of a speedy return to the court. You’d think he’d be ready for opening night, but after listening to Presti it would be unwise to bet on it.
3. Give me a bold preseason prediction regarding this roster/team.
Mayberry - Reggie Jackson will win Sixth Man of the Year. He’s going into his third year, and the coaching staff now has little choice but to turn over the second unit to him. If Jackson gets between the 27 minutes Kevin Martin averaged last year and the 31 James Harden averaged the year before he will win it.
Slater - Russell Westbrook starts all 82 games this season. Sam Presti didn’t exactly alleviate health concerns with his careful comments this week, but there’s still more than a month until the regular season opener. That’s plenty of time, especially for a motivated guy who is already starting camp as a partial participator. Ease him back at the end of the preseason, limit his minutes early on and unleash him by mid-December. That’s my guess.
Tramel - I think the Thunder will increase their victory total again. I think the sheer talent of Durant and Westbrook will lift the Thunder past 60 victories. Stay tuned for how that translates to the playoffs, but I’ll say OKC gets to 62 wins.
Sherman - Daniel Orton beats out Hasheem Thabeet for the backup center job. He just turned 23, showed signs of figuring it out in the Orlando Summer League and lived in the gym this summer.
4. True or false: Kevin Durant is right, James Harden is currently better than Dwyane Wade.
Mayberry - False. For as good as Harden was last year in his first season as a franchise player, Dwyane Wade was equally good in most areas and even better in some. And I’m not even talking about defense, which puts Wade over the top.
Slater - False. That day may be coming soon, as Wade pushes further from his prime and Harden pushes closer, but not yet. Last season, Wade’s averages as a #2 option (21.2 ppg, 5.0 rpg, 5.1 apg, 52% FG) were comparable to Harden’s as a #1 option (25.9 ppg, 4.9 rpg, 5.8 apg, 44% FG). Plus, three rings and a career full of clutch moments puts Wade over the top.
Tramel - Frue. Tralse. I would say that Durant clearly is correct in that Wade isn’t one of the top 10 players. But does that mean Harden is? I wouldn’t put Harden there now. Not yet. Maybe soon.
Sherman - False. Harden is younger and healthier. Houston is better off with Harden than it would be with Wade. Would Miami be better off with Harden? Tough one. Too many intangibles to consider to say for sure. I’ll say this, if Durant is choosing up sides at Rucker Park I can see taking Harden ahead of Wade. If he’s trying to win an NBA Title I’ll go with Wade until the Beard leads his team to victory in a playoff series. (Of course, that’s something DWade has yet to do without Shaq or LeBron).