‘Melo: “Anything you can do, I can do better.”

Check out this finish from the Nuggets/Thunder game last night. Pay special attention to the pair of shots that start at the 1:45 mark.

The big difference in Kevin Durant this season is his shooting percentages. Last season, he shot 43% from the field and 29% from long range. This year, he he’s hitting 46% of his shots and is deadly (44.4%) from three-point range.

The big problem with the Thunder is their defense. Carmelo Anthony caught the ball too easily in the corner, and once he had it, I have no idea why Desmond Mason had his hands down at his waist. He should have extended his arms up to contest the shot — who cares if Anthony tries to dribble around him? There was barely any time left on the clock. That shot reminded me of Raja Bell’s game-winner over Daniel Ewing in the Suns/Clippers playoff series a few years ago.

As for the Nuggets, the Chauncey Billups addition has been huge, but Nene is also playing great basketball. Over the last four seasons, he has missed 59% of his team’s games due to injury. This year, he’s finally healthy, is averaging 15/8 and is shooting 62% from the field. I’m still not sure that it makes sense to trade Marcus Camby away last summer, but Nene is doing his best to make up for that loss. He posted 27 points and 14 rebounds in last night’s win against the Thunder.

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2008 NBA Preview: #30 Oklahoma City Thunder

Offseason Movement: The team acquired forwards Desmond Mason and Joe Smith as part of the three-way trade that sent Luke Ridnour to the Bucks. Basically, it was a salary dump, as Mason and Smith are both in the final years of their contracts. They’ll back up Jeff Green and Chris Wilcox, respectively.
Keep Your Eye On: Russell Westbrook, G
Westbrook is a terrific athlete who saw his stock rise before the draft. He’s lightning quick and is a decent scorer, but he didn’t play much point in college, so the idea is for him to play behind Earl Watson for a while until he gets the hang of it.
The Big Question: How long will this rebuilding job take?
It will probably take a while. Kevin Durant is the franchise centerpiece, and while he won Rookie of the Year last season, he still has a ways to go before he’s ready to carry the team. The franchise has done a nice job of acquiring draft picks and cutting salary, and they project to have a ton of cap space next summer with just six players currently under contract for the 2009-10 season. It’s going to be interesting to see if the team will be able to land a dominant big man in the next two years. If so, that will certainly accelerate the turnaround.
Outlook: For this season? Dire. For the future? Reasonably bright. Durant looks like a future franchise player, and while Jeff Green struggled in his rookie season, the team has all the ingredients for a turnaround in the next 2-3 years. They have a young core, a ton of draft picks, and oodles of cap space to work with. The upside is that they’ll be playing in front of the patient Oklahoma City fans who will be grateful to have a NBA team in town, even if the horribly-named Thunder don’t win very many games.

Check out our NBA Preview page for a look at every team. We’ll be posting three previews per business day, which will take us up to the start of the season on Tuesday, October 28th.

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