ESPN has released its Western Conference rankings, and Oklahoma City is sitting at #11. Their rankings have OKC moving up spots and improving their win total by nine games.
Realistically, Oklahoma City can challenge for the nine spot, but it is possible they could be in playoff talks near the end of the season.
Based purely on these rankings, ESPN has too much faith in the Los Angeles Blake Griffins. While Griffin will improve that team, a 14 game leap just seems unreasonable considering the rest of the roster.
This moves the Thunder up to the #10 spot.
Houston took some steps to improve their team this season by adding Trevor Ariza and a handful of draft picks, but the loss of Yao Ming still looms over this team. Outside of Ming , the Rockets now have no players over seven feet tall. They will still be a quality team next season, just not as good as they were last season. They stay in the #9 spot.
ESPN's #8 team is the Phoenix Suns, a team that will have an entirely different look from last season. The loss of Shaq and the return of a health Amare Stoudemire will let the Suns get back to their "Seven Seconds or Less" play style. Whether or not they can still thrive in this play style will be the determining factor for the Suns.
So, what does all this mean for Oklahoma City?
They will make themselves known to the NBA this season, but in a good way this time. After the infamous 1 - 16 start last year, the Thunder weren't thought to be competitive last season. Now teams have seen Kevin Durant go off, and they know Russell Westbrook's speed. With the addition of James Harden at Shooting Guard, and the continued development of the Thunder's core, they will, likely, be in playoff talks for the majority of the season.
(Photo from PicApp.com and Standings from NBA.com)
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