Two teams that are going to force a lot of people to buy league passes this season are the Thunder and the Grizzlies. I can’t say for sure whether either will be playoff teams (most likely neither), but I can promise that they will both be exciting to watch. Even though Memphis and OKC stole franchises from the beautiful northwest (my former stomping grounds), you better believe I’ll be strapped to the tube watching those teams all season long.
Both squads have talented young cores that have improved themselves over the offseason. Last season they both had almost identical records. Oklahoma City went 23-59, while Memphis finished at 24-58. My question is: which team will have a better record this time around?
With the second pick in the draft, Memphis snagged Hasheem Thabeet out of UConn. The 7-3 center will definitely help on the defensive end, but the jury is still out whether he is the next Hakeem Olajuwan or the next Shawn Bradley. One thing is certain though: Thabeet won’t make a major impact this season. At least one not one significant enough to add 10 wins to last year’s mark.
What might help them though, are the acquisitions of two talented veterans: Allen Iverson and Zach Randolph. Iverson was kind of overlooked in free agency and you can bet he’s holding a grudge coming into the season. It’s going to be exciting to watch A.I. running the break with O.J. Mayo and Rudy Gay on the wings. Even though he’s a P.R. nightmare, Z-Bo has always been able to put up numbers in the paint. I could really see his game meshing well with the Grizzlies’ young group.
The Thunder on the other hand, did not load up as far as free agency is concerned but their core guys (Kevin Durant, Jeff Green, Russell Westbrook) continue get better by the day. Last season, we saw Durant’s game really blossom – 20.3 ppg and 4.4 rpg in ’07-08 to 25.3 ppg and 6.5 rpg in ’08-09. Expect to see the 21-year-old forward take his game to that all-star level this season. Second-year point guard, Westbrook surprised a lot of people with his awe-inspiring athleticism and solid numbers (15.3 points and 5.3 assists). Between him, Green and the addition of sharp-shooting rookie James Harden, the Thunder have a real chance to make some noise.
Who will finish the year with a better record is hard to say. You know the Thunder are definitely going to improve their record by at least 10 games. The question is, how well will the Grizzlies gel? Because on paper, they could be a playoff team. If O.J. steps up his game and Iverson and Randolph fit in well with coach Lionel Hollins’ system than they could very well step ahead of OKC in the power rankings. Since Memphis ranked last in the West for points per game (93.9), getting two proven scorers will help. I also think the Grizz are a better defensive team, so if I were a betting man, I’d have to give the slight nod to Memphis having more wins come April.
What do you think? Who’s going to be better this season: the Thunder or the Grizzlies?
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