Five things to watch as Oklahoma City tries to overcome Westbrook’s injury and return to the NBA Finals:
Durant, who had his string of three straight scoring titles snapped last season by New York’s Carmelo Anthony, turned 25 last month but is already entering his seventh NBA season. The forward focused heavily on efficiency last season, raising his shooting percentage to a career-best 51 percent from the field. Durant said to expect improvement in all categories this season. “I’ve been through every situation,” he said. “I’m ready to take it head on and embrace everything.”
Martin proved to be a valuable sixth man last season following the Harden trade, averaging 14 points in 77 games off the bench. However, much like Durant, Martin’s shooting percentage fell in the postseason — from 45 to 38 percent. Oklahoma City is counting on several familiar faces to replace Martin’s offense this season, including guards Reggie Jackson and Jeremy Lamb. Jackson, in particular, surged in the playoffs last season, averaging 13.9 points after scoring just 5.3 during the regular season.
Oklahoma City coach Scott Brooks enters his sixth season with the Thunder, compiling a 234-147 record during that time. Brooks hired assistant coaches Robert Pack and Mike Terpstra during the offseason after Maurice Cheeks left to become the coach in Detroit. Despite the changes, Brooks expects little to change with how Oklahoma City prepares — especially as it tries to regain its status among the NBA’s elite. “We’re not an excuse organization,” Brooks said. “We don’t make excuses.”
On the rise
Oklahoma City was considered a team on the rise entering last season following its loss to Miami in the NBA Finals. Durant, in particular, isn’t ready to let go of that moniker just yet — and he’s hardly ready to listen to those who might think the Thunder have plateaued. “We feel we’re in a good position,” Durant said. “That’s all that really matters. If we come in here thinking we lost momentum or anything like that, that will mess us up. So, we just try to focus on each and every day and we’ll be fine.”
After joining the Thunder late last season, point guard Derek Fisher decided to stick around, signing a one-year contract. The 39-year-old Fisher, who played in 24 games last season for Oklahoma City, could play a significant role early on this season with Westbrook’s absence.