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Oklahoma City 2014-15 Season Preview

Welcome to Loud City manager Zebulun Benbrook joins Blazer's Edge to discuss the 2014-15 Oklahoma City Thunder, capping off a month-long, 30-team NBA season preview feature.

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Over the past month, Blazer's Edge rolled out season previews for all 30 NBA teams. Capping off this feature, we discuss the Oklahoma City Thunder with Welcome to Loud City manager Zebulun Benbrook. (Last preview: San Antonio Spurs).

Oklahoma City Thunder 2014-15 Season Preview

2013-14 Record: 59-23, No. 1 in Northwest Division, No. 2 in Western Conference

Roster additions: Grant Jerrett, Mitch McGary (rookie, No. 21), Anthony Morrow, Sebastian Telfair, Lance Thomas

Roster subtractions: Caron Butler, Derek Fisher, Thabo Sefolosha, Hasheem Thabeet

SB Nation affiliate: Welcome to Loud City


Blazer's Edge: How much will the injury to Kevin Durant set back the Thunder in the early season? Who gets his minutes in the frontcourt?

Zebulun Benbrook: We had an article breaking down the exact minute totals over at WTLC. But the short answer is that Jeremy Lamb, Perry Jones III, and Andre Roberson all probably stand to benefit the most. It wasn't exactly clear which of them would have gotten time had KD been healthy. But KD's injury should certainly help the team to determine whom out of the three is ready for the NBA right now. How well the Thunder do without KD depends on how well they can make up for him in different areas. The replacements might be an upgrade defensively, as there will be fresher legs at the position at almost all times. But the downgrade offensively might be too much to bear. Of the three, Lamb is the only one who's shown any ability to score off the dribble. All three have struggled at different times during the pre-season, and none of them look to be able to average more than 10 points a game.

Of course, you're expecting a lot of the offensive load to fall back on the stars, as well. Westbrook and Ibaka will probably only see minute increases, but Reggie Jackson will see much more usage than last year. All three should be able to handle their duties well. Anthony Morrow probably stood to see more possessions as well, but he's going to be out just as long as Durant. So the responsibility to fill in the score will rely on the three I mentioned earlier: Lamb, Jones, and Roberson. Lamb is probably the most dynamic scorer of the three, but he can't carry an offense. As long as Lamb is working out of the weak side, he can grab easy points on pump-fake drives and open threes. But when you ask him to work out of the pick and roll or isolate a defender in the post, he generally struggles. Jones and Roberson each have their own niches. Jones will nail very difficult mid-range floaters, while Roberson loves magnetizing himself to the rim. All can be worked to their own advantage, but struggled from bad percentages in the pre-season. At the end of the day, due to the nature of the players, the team is going to peak and valley. There will be insane nights where they all find ways to produce, and there will be nights that you just watch the clanks fall from the perimeter. My best guess is .500.

BE: What do you expect from Russell Westbrook this season? Is he fully healthy?

ZB: There's no reason to believe Westbrook isn't at 100%. Career highs in assists and rebounds during last year's playoffs should have more than proven that point. But this season will be his biggest challenge yet. Westbrook did a great job of filling in when KD's been injured in the past, but he's never been gone for more than a couple of games. Because of that, Russ will have to prove whether he can provide a positive impact from night to night. We all know that there are going to be games where Russ hurts the team with a low shooting percentage, high turnover rate, or defensive inattentiveness. Russ will need to outweigh these negatives with the countless positive intangible impacts that he has on the game. Things like creating space, moving the ball, and pushing the pace.

In any case, Westbrook's Thunder without Durant will be much different than Durant's Thunder without Westbrook. Russ is more like OKC's engine, while Durant is like OKC's rock. Durant provides a seriously positive impact on each night, but Westbrook's game affects the other players on the team more greatly. In other words, Durant's Thunder could focus on outscoring their opponents, because they had a solid point guard to set up one of the greatest scorers of all time. Westbrook's Thunder will have to rely on defensive tenacity. Both of OKC's primary scorers are point guards who don't work well off-ball, and the large stature of the team is going to slow the pace down a bit. Furthermore, the recent injury to Morrow has raised serious questions about the Thunder's ability to consistently hit the three.

BE: Are the Thunder a legit top-3 seed in the West again?

ZB: When healthy, of course. The losses from last season were mostly dead weight, and I have no doubt that the Thunder's stable of young talent will produce at least a couple of viable rotation players. Still, the injuries at the start of the season are very worrisome, and OKC is probably going to have to dig themselves out of a hole. The only thing I could see knocking the Thunder off their throne is a continued rash of injuries or locker-room drama. There's just too much already in place.

BE: Andre Roberson is penciled in to start at shooting guard...what should Oklahoma City outsiders know about the second-year player?

ZB: He was probably the NBA's worst offensive player last season. But I still think he can make an impact. I was really skeptical as I watched him literally airball threes last season, but his game is really coming along. During the pre-season, you could just see the difference in confidence that an off-season of work made. He used to pass the ball almost instantly after touching it, and would be ignored while standing on the perimeter. Now he's more willing to take open shots, or hold the ball for a bit and read the defense. Speaking of the other side of the ball, that's where Roberson makes his biggest impact. Like Sefolosha, he's big and probably best for stopping that old era of shooting guard that loves to take mid-range twos (Kobe, Wade). But his size and length really help contribute to the Thunder's generally long-armed defensive scheme and are extremely helpful in grabbing heaps of rebounds. Roberson's slowness on the perimeter will definitely hurt on the weak side, but it's not as if the Thunder have ever defended the three anyway.

What separates him from Sefolosha? Athleticism.

BE: The Thunder held opponents to an effective field goal percentage of 48.7 last year, good for No. 5 in the NBA. Will their defense be that good again this season?

ZB: Why not? Two of the players whom the Thunder lost last season were defensive albatrosses. Derek Fisher turnstiled opposing point guards constantly. Caron Butler would let his man take open threes. Of course, Anthony Morrow is one of their replacements, and he's not much better, but I'll call it a wash. Meanwhile, Kendrick Perkins will hopefully (hopefully) get less minutes this season, making room for the more athletic Steven Adams.

If the Thunder were to see a downstep in defensive efficiency, I'd probably chalk it up to the bigger size of the roster. There are only three players under 6'7" in the projected active rotation, and the Thunder have had serious problems dealing with speedier players in the past. As a result, I'm thinking OKC is going to struggle against teams that move the ball from side to side and get out of traps really well. Teams like Toronto and Charlotte.

Special thanks to Welcome to Loud City manager Zebulun Benbrook for taking the time to discuss the Oklahoma City Thunder's upcoming season with Blazer's Edge. Zebulun can be found on twitter @ZebulunBenbrookWelcome to Loud City has you covered for Thunder news and analysis.

Check out a preview of the Blazers' first game matchup with the Thunder here.

-- Chris Lucia | | Twitter