Beyond the Toronto Raptors: Previewing a strong Northwest division

Toronto Raptors - Norman Powell (Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)
Toronto Raptors - Norman Powell (Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images) /
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Toronto Raptors
Toronto Raptors – Marc Gasol (Rick Madonik/Toronto Star via Getty Images) /

Oklahoma City Thunder

Key arrivals: Chris Paul, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander

Key departures: Russell Westbrook, Paul George

No team in the NBA has undergone more of a dramatic change this offseason than the Oklahoma City Thunder. A team that once fielded three future MVP’s at once now has none, following the departure of Russell Westbrook this offseason.

The Westbrook departure was closely aligned with Paul George’s decision to demand a trade following the Thunder’s first-round exit in the playoffs – a decision that saw him end up with Kawhi Leonard and the LA Clippers.

The two big trades saw the Thunder acquire Chris Paul, Danilo Gallinari, and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, as well as a litany of draft picks. The future is definitely on the front office’s mind.

Offensive outlook

Gone are the days of Russell Westbrook forcing 25 shots a game, hunting for rebounds, and generally hurting the team. Now, the backcourt of Chris Paul and Gilgeous-Alexander takes the team in a different direction. The Thunder were a middling offense last season, even with Westbrook taking more work off the ball to allow Paul George to flourish.

That isn’t a concern this season, though expect a high-dosage of Chris Paul and Steven Adams pick-and-rolls. That could be the money play.

Defensive outlook

Don’t expect this defense to be nearly as good as its predecessor, which ranked as the fourth-best defense in the NBA in the regular season. A lot of that was down to the collective talent that Billy Donovan was able to court at one time – the Thunder were able to field five good-to-great defenders at one time. Steven Adams will still lead the charge in the interior – but overall, this defense could fall off a cliff.

Overall projection: 36-46

The big question about this time is whether or not it can stay healthy. If Chris Paul can stay on the court for 82 games, this team could make waves. They just don’t have the overall talent of last season, though. Gilgeous-Alexander can hopefully develop nicely alongside one of the greatest point guards of all-time, but expectations are low for a reason.