The Thunder return less than half of the players who played 400 minutes or more on last season’s team. Fortunately, included in those remaining are their defensive stalwart, their rim-protecting anchor, and the NBA’s 2017 MVP. Even better for their championship prospects, they now have their own superstar core with the additions of Paul George and Carmelo Anthony. While owner Clay Bennett will have a serious luxury tax bill unless Sam Presti can offload some salary, he should at least be paying for a lot of wins. The biggest question for the Thunder now, as with all new superstar constellations, is whether or not they will be able to gel quickly, and how those stars will fit together and be supported by the remaining cast members. To that end, let’s take a look at some key storylines for the starting lineup.
The reigning MVP returns to the team, though he has not yet signed the designated veteran extension on his plate, an interesting decision for one with Westbrook’s injury history. After 35 minutes per game last year, he gets the assistance of two other All-Stars and will have to either bend them to his will or learn to share the load more effectively than he did with Kevin Durant.
George finally gets to occupy the role he is suited for, rather than one for which he is underqualified, by moving from a leading star to a sidekick. George also gives the Thunder another player who can lock in on defense alongside Andre Roberson. With his playmaking ability coming now as a secondary creator in most lineups, or the ability to feast on opposing bench squads, George should also see an uptick in his efficiency without suffering much loss in production.
Anthony gives the Thunder a premier scoring threat in the frontcourt. He’ll never replace Kevin Durant’s defense or athleticism at this point in his career, but he is still able to pour in buckets as much as ever. The question for him now is whether Billy Donovan’s offense will revolve around Melo spotting up for Westbrook and holding the ball, or whether it will involve more movement and interplay between the new triumvirate of All-Stars. Regardless, Anthony should at least be slightly more comfortable guarding fours nearly full-time this season.
Adams enters the season as the third highest paid player on the roster, with Anthony and Westbrook as the other two Thunder players above the $20 million mark. Now in his fifth season, we’ll see if he can build on his best season to date in spite of the two new stars on the squad. The rough-around-the-edges New Zealander will need to be a high minute anchor with almost no other NBA-level bigs on the roster. He may be facing demand for nearly 40 minutes a game if he can avoid foul trouble and OKC doesn’t get him some help. While the main story will be how the new stars gel, I’ll be watching to see how Adams handles the increased responsibility.
Roberson looks to return to basically the same role, with basically the same questions: can he be more of a spot-up threat, can he continue to lock down the best player on the opposing team each and every night, and will the rest of his offense be enough to keep units afloat if teams refuse to stick close to him? Only time will tell.