Thunder roundtable: As the Thunder prepares to open the regular season, Sellout Crowd’s coverage team is diving into some of the biggest questions swirling around this squad. Today, we start with expectations.
OKLAHOMA CITY — Preseason expectations have returned to Thunderville.
Oklahoma City’s rebuild has been in full effect at the start of the past three seasons, but after the Thunder made the NBA Play-In Tournament last season, expectations before the start of a season have returned.
How high could OKC go this season?
As the Thunder prepares to open the regular season Wednesday night in Chicago, Sellout Crowd’s coverage team is looking at some of the biggest questions swirling around this squad. Today, we start with expectations.
What are your expectations for the Thunder, and what could cause it to fall short of them?
Brett Dawson: A 44-38 record and a first-round loss in the NBA Playoffs. It’s ambitious, for sure. A team this young — the average age of its probable starters is 22.6 years — isn’t supposed to be contending for the playoffs yet. But Chet Holmgren feels like a perfect fit to round out the starting five, and the bench is (maybe) just good enough to get the Thunder past .500. Besides injuries — a threat to any team — the depth of the competitive West feels like the biggest obstacle here. It’s possible OKC is still a year away.
Jon Hamm: I’ve penciled them in for 46 wins. The Thunder squad is young, but it’s a more talented youth than they’ve had in recent seasons. That naïveté just might be an advantage for them as they encounter opponents that just want to coast through parts of the season. For the Thunder to make that kind of a move, they must become a better rebounding team. OKC opponents grabbed the most rebounds per game last season and the Thunder’s own team rebounding stats were not pretty. Holmgren will help in that regard. If the rest of the team chips in as well, that’s a big factor that could tilt the Thunder’s season.
Berry Tramel: Back to the play-in tournament. The Western Conference is a beast. Heck, 13 teams could make the eight-team playoff bracket. Every team but Portland and San Antonio. When it’s that compacted, anything can happen. So getting into the top 10 would be another solid step for the Thunder, with something in the 41-42 win range. Advance out of the play-in would be gravy. We all know this Thunder team has not ripened. Don’t take a step back. Just continue to improve and keep in step with the West until the young core gets closer to the maturation that we’ve seen out of Shai Gilgeous-Alexander .
Jenni Carlson: Getting over .500 would be a huge step. I’ll go glass-half-full and say 43-39. And in the Western Conference, I’m going to say that record gets the Thunder to the playoffs. It doesn’t seem like a big step — it’s only a three-game improvement for OKC over last season — but in the West where the sledding is so tough, winning that many more games and making the playoffs would be significant. Now, a million things could derail the Thunder from getting there, but a lack of consistency seems a likely culprit. Even though this team has done a masterful job navigating many of the pitfalls that hold back young squads, it will take time to learn how to consistently compete from tipoff to final buzzer, how to consistently win from Game 1 to Game 82, how to consistently contend. Those things will come, but this season, the peaks and valleys are more likely to strike, and that could keep the Thunder from a playoff spot.
Michael Martin: I expect around a 43-39 record for the Thunder which would have put them around the 6-7 seed spot in the standings last season. My expectation for this team is to be a home court team in the play-in and hopefully have a competitive first round series. Injuries are obvious as a factor that could cause OKC to fall short, but I also think there will be some growing pains that could cost them a few games. I am confident that the Thunder will figure it out this season, but just a lot of these guys learning to play together, off of each other and establishing a pecking order could cause a slight stumble during this season. In a West as deep as this year and with how young the Thunder still are, I think getting around that 42-45 win mark would be a great accomplishment.