- Defense will be the Thunder’s biggest strengths this season, according to Basketball Insiders’ season preview of the team. The return of Andre Roberson from his knee injury and the subtraction of Carmelo Anthony give the Thunder five above-average-to-elite defenders in their lineup. Oklahoma City’s biggest issue is closing out games but without the chemistry issues caused by trying to fit Anthony in with Russell Westbrook and Paul George, its performances in the clutch should also improve this season.
Thunder guard and former NBA MVP Russell Westbrook underwent arthroscopic surgery on his right knee earlier this week. The procedure was described as “maintenance” and he will be re-evaluated in four weeks. Westbrook is expected to miss the preseason but his status for Oklahoma City’s season opener on October 17 is to be determined.
Westbrook is coming off another outstanding season for the Thunder as he averaged a triple-double for the second consecutive season. As The Oklahoman details, Westbrook’s injury already has had ripple effects on the Thunder roster and will continue to do so until his impending return.
Check out more Northwest Division notes below:
- Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell had an outstanding rookie season for Utah, a season that would’ve earned him Rookie of the Year honors in nearly any other season. Frank Urbina of HoopsHype examines Mitchell skillset and projects how and when Mitchell could make the jump into superstar status.
- Nuggets‘ big man Mason Plumlee needed offseason surgery after playing another season of at least 70 games. NBA.com previewed Plumlee’s upcoming 2018/19 campaign as he prepares to be Denver’s primary backup at center.
- Jerry Zgoda of The Star Tribune looks at the Timberwolves‘ strategy for trying out players for the G League team. “Everybody’s just looking for the diamond in the rough,” Iowa Wolves coach and former Timberwolves player Scott Roth said. “Everybody wants the next Jonathan Simmons to walk into their building.
- Alex Abrines is just entering his prime at 25 years old and the Thunder swingman could be in line for an expanded role, Nick Gallo of the team’s website writes. Abrines averaged 15.1 MPG in 75 regular-season appearances last season could see some crunch-time minutes this season, Gallo adds. “You can focus on certain points of your game. (I’ll) especially keep improving on defense and then just develop my offensive game,” Abrines said. “Not just being a shooter, trying to put the ball on the floor, playing some big roles and being able to create for my teammates.”
Russell Westbrook had arthroscopic surgery today on his right knee, according to Royce Young of ESPN. The procedure was done for “maintenance” and the Thunder guard will be re-evaluated in four weeks. He is expected to miss the preseason, and his status for the October 17 opener will be determined at that time.
The operation was successful, the team posted on its website, and the decision to have surgery was prompted by inflammation in the knee over the weekend. The procedure was performed by Dr. Neal ElAttrache in Los Angeles with medical personnel from the team in attendance.
Westbrook has been remarkably durable since having three surgeries on the knee in a nine-month span in 2013 and has played in 80, 81 and 80 games over the past three seasons. Still, any physical problem is a concern as Westbrook will turn 30 in November and is entering the first season of a five-year, $205MM extension.
Westbrook made his seventh All-Star appearance last season and averaged a triple-double for the second straight year with a 25.4/10.1/10.3 line, leading the NBA in assists.
Gibson, 30, also appeared in 17 games for the Mavericks during the 2016/17 season but has otherwise spent his professional career playing for a variety of international teams since going undrafted in 2010. His resume includes stops in Turkey, Israel, Italy and Iran as well as China.
News of Johnson’s decision to play in China broke on Monday and the latest Sportando report confirms he’s officially heading overseas.
The 7-foot center was traded twice this summer before the Grizzlies waived him at the end of August. Oklahoma City shipped him to Orlando in exchange for Rodney Purvis on July 20. Three days later, the Magic sent Johnson and the rights to 2015 second-rounder Tyler Harvey to Memphis for Jarell Martin and cash.
The 48th pick in the 2015 draft, Johnson spent the first two years of his career in the G League with Oklahoma City Blue. He saw his first action for the Thunder last season, appearing in 31 games.
Longtime NBA shooting guard Sasha Vujacic worked out for the Pelicans on Monday, Andrew Lopez of the New Orleans Times Picayune tweets. The Thunder are hosting Vujacic today as he attempts to return to the league, according to RealGM.
Vujacic revealed last month that he was seeking another NBA contract. He spent the 2017/18 season with Fiat Torino of the Lega Basket Serie A in Italy, helping the team win its first even Italian Cup by scoring the deciding layup in the final seconds.
The workouts for Vujacic can be chalked up as teams exercising due diligence with training camp around the corner. The Pelicans have eight wing players on their roster already, though they continue to look for another option at shooting guard. Their offer sheet to restricted free agent Tyrone Wallace was matched by the Clippers a week ago.
The Thunder have a number of options at shooting guard, including Andre Roberson, Alex Abrines, Terrance Ferguson and Hamidou Diallo, though Roberson is still recovering from a knee injury and could remain sidelined until December.
A 10-year NBA veteran, the 34-year-old Vujacic last played in the NBA during the 2016/17 season, appearing in 42 games for the Knicks and averaging 3.0 PPG and 1.2 APG in 9.7 MPG. The highlight of Vujacic’s NBA career was winning two championships with the Lakers.
Vujacic, 34, also had brief stints with the Clippers and Nets.
Dakari Johnson, who has been with the Thunder for the past three years, will play in China this season, relays Orazio Cauchi of Sportando. The 22-year-old center has agreed to sign with the Qingdao Eagles, according to a report in the Jinan Times.
Johnson was traded twice this summer before the Grizzlies waived him at the end of August. Oklahoma City shipped him to Orlando in exchange for Rodney Purvis on July 20. Three days later, the Magic sent Johnson and the rights to 2015 second-rounder Tyler Harvey to Memphis for Jarell Martin and cash.
The Grizzlies used the stretch provision to get rid of the final year of Johnson’s contract, creating a cap hit of about $450K for each of the next three seasons.
The 48th pick in the 2015 draft, Johnson spent the first two years of his career in the G League with Oklahoma City Blue. He saw his first action for the Thunder last season, appearing in 31 games and playing about 5 minutes per night.
The Timberwolves have hosted a handful of free agents for a workout this week, with Marcus Georges-Hunt, Rashad Vaughn, and John Jenkins among the latest players to earn a look from Minnesota, per Jon Krawczynski of The Athletic (Twitter link). Darren Wolfson of ESPN 1500 (Twitter link) also adds Eric Moreland to the list of players auditioned by the Wolves.
Nick Young, Arron Afflalo and Corey Brewer worked out for the Timberwolves too, but according to Jerry Zgoda of the Star Tribune, a number of agents believe the Wolves simply plan to sign Luol Deng, making them reluctant to send their players for a workout with the team. Minnesota reportedly launched its pursuit of Deng this week.
There’s more from the Northwest Division:
- Following his trade from the Celtics this summer, Thunder forward Abdel Nader is looking forward to his new opportunity with the team, relays Nick Gallo of OKCThunder.com. “It’s great,” Nader said. “I met a lot of the younger guys mostly, and even Russ, PG, Raymond (Felton). Everybody has been great. It’s a great group of guys. High character guys. I’m just really excited to be able to start playing with this team and build chemistry on the court as well as off the court.”
- Dennis Schroder, who was also traded to the Thunder this summer, discussed his upcoming season, the difficulties he faced growing up in Germany and the advice he received from Dirk Nowitzki in a separate piece written by Nick Gallo. Schroder will provide depth off the bench behind All-Star point guard Russell Westbrook this season.
- Nuggets forward Paul Millsap is set to start the season injury-free after wrist surgery forced him to miss 44 games last year, as detailed by Chris Dempsey of Nuggets.com. Millsap will be relied upon to anchor Denver’s defense and stretch the club’s offense.
There’s been little news regarding Huestis since he entered unrestricted free agency this summer. The Thunder didn’t pick up his fourth-year option prior to last season.
Huestis wasn’t able to establish a steady rotation role with Oklahoma City until his third and last season with that organization. He saw action in 69 games and averaged 2.3 PPG and 2.3 RPG in 14.2 MPG but shot just 28.7% from long range. He also saw spot duty in four postseason games.
The Spurs currently have 14 players with contract guarantees, so there is a roster opening if Huestis shines in training camp. The Spurs have Rudy Gay, Lonnie Walker and Dante Cunningham as small forward options but the retirement of Manu Ginobili could open the door for Huestis.
The 6’7” Huestis was a late first-round pick in 2014 out of Stanford and spent the bulk of his time in the G League prior to last season.