Sports

2011 NBA Fantasy Basketball Preview: Oklahoma City Thunder

| by Give Me The Rock

The Oklahoma City Thunder is the picture of stability as far the game of fantasy hoops is concerned. I don’t foresee them making any major moves this year. Their core, which is basically their Durant-Westbrook duo complemented by solid role-players, is intact and they should jut be looking to make slight improvements at best.

What you got last season is what you can expect this season. Well with a few players here and there who are expected to improve as far as their production is concerned.

Depth Chart

Point Guard: Russell Westbrook, Eric Maynor, Royal Ivey

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Shooting Guard: Thabo Sefolosha/James Harden, Daequan Cook, Nate Robinson

Small Forward: Kevin Durant, Thabo Sefolosha, Robert Varden

Power Forward: Serge Ibaka, Nick Collison

Center: Kendrick Perkins, Nazr Mohammed, Cole Aldrich, Byron Mullens

Guards

I’ll man up and admit that Russell Westbrook flew under my fantasy radar last pre-season. I didn’t think he’d finish as a Top 24 player. Well his 21 PPG, 8.2 APG and 1.9 SPG kind of help make his 3.9 TOs a tad more palatable for our player rater. But it was his improvements in shooting (+3% FG & +6% FT) from the year before were what catapulted him among fantasy hoops’ elite point guards. He was entering into his “magical” third year and I should have seen it coming. As they say “fool me once…” This kid’s definitely on my radar now. Westbrook has a lot to prove coming into this season, having choked in a key game in last season’s playoffs. He’s also cemented himself as Durant’s number two. Look for Russell to try to expunge last year’s playoff nightmares from memory with yet another explosive regular season.

The shooting guard situation over at OKC is going to something to watch. Last season’s playoff run allowed us to see what happens when James Harden gets a lot more usage by his coach. His impressive post-season performance has marked him as a potential starter in the Thunder’s future. I wouldn’t be surprised to see coach Scott Brooks utilize Harden as a starter against certain match-ups. Harden, a scoring guard whose court sense and unselfishness allows him to distribute the ball quite well, will see increased minutes this season both at the two and the one position. He’s more than an intriguing last-round flier pick now. If this kid gets more consistent starts and corresponding minutes, expect him to pay off with some solid fantasy dividends.

While Thabo Sefolosha is listed as the team’s starting SG, he’s more there for the intangible defensive impact on the floor. It’s so intangible in fact, that he completely disappeared from fantasy radars. Everywhere. As Harden’s stock rises, expect what’s left of Sefolosha’s to fall even further into the quagmire of obscurity.

Forwards

There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that Kevin Durant deserves to be this season’s number ONE fantasy draft pick. No, not a “you can’t go wrong picking him or LeBron James first overall”. None of that. He was the man last season and expect him to deliver more of the same reliable, across-the-board production this year as well. Durant brings the percentages game to the table, something that overshadows James’ impressive, PG-like assists contributions. He’s missed only 10 games over the last three seasons and appears to be in training camp shape at the very least. At the end of the day, considering how many touches Kevin gets, it’s amazing that he can take care of the ball very well  (2.8 TO). That’s a stat that few players of his caliber and go-to status can brag about. He left the playoffs brokenhearted, but vowed to learn from it and work hard on his all-around game. Durant will on occasion be relieved by Thabo and Robert Varden, but neither guy will get enough floor time at the three to gain any real fantasy significance this year.

Moving on, down in the post, in the four spot, Serge Ibaka really came into his own last season. He started in 44 of the 82 games he played for the Thunder. He’s proven to be an ultra-efficient, shot-blocking machine. He along with JaVale McGee and Dwight Howard had the second best shot-blocking per game averages in the NBA last season (2.4 BPG). As long as you don’t expect him to score much (which he doesn’t) his shot blocking and low turnover rate will be a welcome addition to many roto and head-to-head teams alike. If he can improve his scoring and round out his game a bit more, Ibaka looks to improve on last season’s production and be more involved in the team’s offensive sets. If there was a “Draft Serge Ibaka in Fantasy” page on Facebook, it would get a like and a share  from me!

Centers

Kendrick Perkins pretty much has the monopoly at this spot. While he was largely underwhelming in his debut as a Thunder player last season, let’s not forget that he was recovering from a repaired knee. Temper your expectations from Perk and you can be satisfied to draft a reasonable third-string fantasy big man, a.k.a. back-up in case your starting centers go down.

Outside of Ibaka and Perkins, OKC doesn’t have any fantasy-relevant big men to speak of. This is not a team that posts the ball in the paint, and the big men are there for their D and cleaning up on the glass.

Fantasy Draft Recommendations (Updated 11/30)

Kevin Durant – First overall. He shouldn’t fall passed the second pick.

Russell Westbrook – 2nd Round

Serge Ibaka – 5th Round

James Harden – 7th Round

Kendrick Perkins – Last Round / Waiver Wire Watch in 10-man leagues or less.

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