AOL.com's Preseason NBA Power Rankings: 7. Oklahoma City Thunder
We're up to No. 7 in our preseason NBA team previews and power rankings, which means the regular season is finally almost upon us. AOL Sports has been rolling out our previews and rankings over the last month, concluding on the eve of the regular season and building up to our undisputed No. 1.
Yesterday, the Memphis Grizzlies clocked in at No. 8. Next up: The one NBA team that most desperately wants a re-do on last season.
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If there was a basketball equivalent of a mulligan, the Oklahoma City Thunder would be begging for one.
After making it to at least the Western Conference Finals in each of the previous four seasons, Oklahoma City ran into a season-long stretch of bad luck -- particularly pertaining to their two stars, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook.
Durant entered the season with foot troubles, and after briefly attempting a comeback, his season was ended after just 27 games, leaving the heavy lifting to Russell Westbrook full-time for the first time in his career. And despite playing in just 67 games himself, Westbrook was able to thrust himself into the MVP conversation with a ridiculous stretch unlike anything the NBA had ever seen.
From Feb. 19 through March 24 -- a 17-game stretch -- Westbrook averaged 31.4 points, 11.3 assists and 9.2 rebounds during a 12-5 Oklahoma City run. During that time, the team also added Enes Kanter, Kyle Singler and Dion Waiters. The team missed out on the postseason, though, losing a tiebreaker with the New Orleans Pelicans for the eighth seed in the West.
With Durant presumably healthy for the first time since his MVP 2013-14 season, Westbrook shouldn't need to resort to the heroic style of play he put on display throughout the second half of last season. But knowing that his team has that in its back pocket is a luxury that new coach Billy Donovan has to be thrilled about.
As they shape up going into this year -- with a healthy Durant -- there's every reason to believe that they can contend with the West's heavyweights, and would probably be ranked higher here if Durant wasn't coming off injury. Aside from their two stars, Kanter -- despite a bloated price tag -- is a gifted scorer and Serge Ibaka remains one of the best all-around big men in the league. Steven Adams, Mitch McGary and Nick Collison provide great frontcourt depth.
The issue lies at the 2-guard spot, with Dion Waiter, Andre Roberson and Anthony Morrow vying all vying for minutes and none an overwhelming favorite for the job. But if Durant and Westbrook perform up to their standards, weakness at one position simply won't matter.
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