Oklahoma City Thunder: A season of discovery

Apr 23, 2017; Oklahoma City, OK, USA; Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook (0) and Houston Rockets guard Lou Williams (12) react after a play during the second quarter in game four of the first round of the 2017 NBA Playoffs at Chesapeake Energy Arena. Mandatory Credit: Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports

The Oklahoma City Thunder got some interesting results in the 2016-17 season.

The Oklahoma City Thunder had some scrambling to do after the departure of Kevin Durant to the Golden State Warriors. However, the Thunder didn’t dwell too long on the loss of Durant with Russell Westbrook running the show.

The ninth-year guard broke Oscar Robertson‘s triple-double record set back in the 1961-62 season. Westbrook set a new single-season record with 42 triple-double and went on to average a triple-double this season. He averaged a career-high 31.7 points, 10.7 rebounds and 10.4 assists per game.

Critics can call Westbrook a ball-hog, but he won his team ball games. The Thunder went 33-9 when he had a triple-double in the regular season. However, in the playoffs, Oklahoma City went 0-4 when Westbrook had a triple-double.

The Thunder weren’t the third-best team in the Western Conference like in the 2015-16 season, nor did they make the Western Conference Finals, but they still have plenty of talent left to work with on the roster.

A season of discovery

The 2016-17 season wasn’t a total disaster. The Oklahoma City Thunder finished the regular season with a 47-35 record, sixth-best in the Western Conference. After falling to the Houston Rockets in the first round of the NBA playoffs 4-1, the Thunder have some work to do but they also have a good young core of players in place.

General manager Sam Presti has called the past two seasons for the Oklahoma City Thunder “a season of discovery.” — with good reason, as the Thunder are a very young team. The average age of their roster is 25.7 years old.

Now, it’s not bad considering this roster was originally built for two superstars to thrive. It’s evident with Westbrook off the floor that this team is in desperate need of another go-to guy.

Newcomer Victor Oladipo is in his fourth NBA season. The 2016-17 season was his first with the Thunder. At 24 years old, Oladipo is still learning to master different nuances of the game. He averaged 15.0 points, 4.3 rebounds, 2.6 assists and 1.2 steals through 67 games last season. He shot 36.1 percent from three and 44.2 percent from the floor, both career-high numbers.

Forward Andre Roberson still developing on the offensive end as well. He’s been the Thunder’s primary defensive stopper but offensively, he’s still a project. Roberson averaged 6.6 points, 5.1 rebounds, 1.2 steals and an assist in his fourth pro season.

Roberson is a restricted free agent this offseason. As a restricted free agent, the team could match any offer Roberson receives. There’s mutual interest in both teams coming to an agreement some time in July.

What’s On The Agenda Next Season?

The Oklahoma City Thunder made a last-minute trade for forwards Doug McDermott and Taj Gibson, allowing backup point guard Cameron Payne and forwards Joffrey Lauvergne and Anthony Morrow to go to the Chicago Bulls. Both players were late acquisitions that the Thunder front office hoped could provide a much-needed lift toward the season’s end.

The most glaring need for the Oklahoma City Thunder still lies at the wing position, something they hoped to solve by trading for forward Doug McDermott. McDermott couldn’t quite find his footing in the regular season but he shot 7-for-13 from three in the playoffs.

Forward Taj Gibson made 16 starts in 23 games during the regular season as well. He averaged 9.0 points and 4.5 rebounds per game, but the truth is Oklahoma City has too many big men already. They’ve got rookie 20-year-old forward Domantas Sabonis, who they acquired in the 2016 NBA Draft. He started 66 games and is set to play summer league this offseason for development purposes.

Then there’s Enes Kanter, who the front office could look to trade this offseason. Not because Kanter has been bad, but because he has potential value on other NBA rosters. He averaged 14.3 points and 6.7 rebounds in 21.3 minutes per game off the bench during the regular season.

The Thunder don’t have a lot of cap space unless they move Kanter and with all the talk focused on signing Russell Westbrook to an extension, Gibson may not be in the cards either. He wants to remain with the team but it has invested heavily in center Steven Adams, Westbrook and Oladipo already.

Finding Another Asset

The Oklahoma City Thunder are slated to have the 21st pick in the first round of the 2017 NBA Draft. They don’t have any second round picks which could take their hunt for wing help to free agency or the trade market.

There are some unrestricted free agents that the Thunder could pursue but with limited cap space, the Thunders’ options are slim. They’ll need to find a bargain that works for them but with assets on the roster, they shouldn’t have to worry too much.

Kanter is set to make $17.8 million next year. In the NBA Playoffs, he played just 9.0 minutes per game averaging 4.8 points and 1.8 rebounds per contest. He simply couldn’t keep up with the pace in the first round.

As small ball continues to take over the league, the Thunder would be wise to find another three-point specialist on the wing. While there isn’t an immediate trade partner that comes to mind, somebody could still use Kanter’s presence in the low post on both ends. It’s also rumored that he’s developing a three-point shot.

After the way Russell Westbrook played last season, more is sure to come in the 2017-18 season. As he waits for the Oklahoma City Thunder front office to make their moves, he’s made it clear his play will do the talking for him. With an extension pending, it will be interesting to see what moves the Thunder make to adjust the roster.