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2015-16 NBA Preview: Is This The Thunder’s Last Chance?

We’re inaugurating our NBA player projection system, CARMELO, with 2015-16 season previews for every team in the league. Check out the teams we’ve already previewed here. Learn more about CARMELO here.

There are a lot of words you could attach to this Thunder season. The one I’ll go with is “super-duper-important,” because of all the implications it carries for the franchise, the most notable of which is Kevin Durant’s looming free agency. Will Durant stay in Oklahoma after this season or leave for greener pastures?

The good news for Thunder fans: Oklahoma City itself is likely to be a pretty green pasture this year.


The Thunder are coming off an agonizing season: Durant missed 55 games, and the team went 45-37. That has set up a transitional kind of season with a new coach, Billy Donovan, as well as a partially remade roster that has allowed the Thunder to get younger while their core has gotten older (and by older, we’re still talking 27 and younger). “Good health” has been the Thunder’s white whale over the past few years, but if they can finally avoid major injuries start to finish, they’re going to be really, really good. CARMELO,1 FiveThirtyEight’s new NBA projection system, forecasts the Thunder to go 56-26.

You can check out what CARMELO thinks of all the Thunder players (and everyone else in the NBA) here. But here’s what CARMELO expects from Oklahoma City’s key players:


Even coming off one of the more outrageous statistical seasons in league history, Russell Westbrook may still not be at his very best yet. He’ll have to readjust to playing with Durant again, but Westbrook is unmoved by those concerns. “It’s not rocket science,” he said.


Andre Roberson is a consistent 3-point shot away from ending the Thunder’s search for a two-way shooting guard. But that’s like saying Nate Robinson is just a foot away from being tall.


Coming off a season that featured three surgeries and only 27 games, Durant is a motivated man. Not only does he want to re-establish his rightful place among the game’s most elite, but also this could possibly, maybe, potentially be his last chance at a title in Oklahoma City.


Serge Ibaka isn’t quite “big” enough to help form a Thunder big three, but he’s without question integral to the team’s success. With the expansion of his game to include a consistent 3, is Ibaka the first 3-and-D shot-blocking power forward?


The only Steven Adams stat that really matters: How many players will he bait into punching him this season?


There are lots of league storylines to follow this season, but really, is there any better one than “Contract Year Dion Waiters“?


Enes Kanter’s defense is really bad. But he averaged 19 points and 11 rebounds for the Thunder in 26 games. But his defense is really bad. But he had 11 20-10 games for OKC, when no Thunder center ever had one before he arrived. But did I mention his defense is bad?


The final three months of last season, Anthony Morrow hit 50 percent from 3. Imagine what he might do with a full season of Durant and Westbrook distracting defenses.


Kyle Singler is going to be the equivalent of a well-paid bullpen catcher this season as Durant’s backup.


  1. Career-Arc Regression Model Estimator with Local Optimization.

Royce Young writes about the Oklahoma City Thunder for ESPN.