How did the Blue do last season?
The move to Oklahoma City was a successful one for the Blue, who finished 28-22 and made the playoffs. Throughout the year, they had quite a few players with NBA experience making stops on their roster with Mitch McGary, Dwight Buycks, Marquis Teague and Reggie Williams all making appearances. They were led by first-round pick Josh Huestis, former Miami Heat draft pick Semaj Christon and Talib Zanna. With a 104.8 Defensive Rating, they were one of the stingier defenses in the entire league.
How good can they be?
The playoff team from last year will look much different this year, with Zanna, Teague and Dane Miller as the only returning players. In addition to those three, Kentucky big man Dakari Johnson and North Carolina wing JP Tokoto have also been added, as well as former Maryland standout Dez Wells. The pure talent is certainly there, but it seems to be concentrated mostly within the front court. Miller, Wells and Tokoto should be able to carry some of the load, but but things behind them are a bit bleak. They may be able to reach the level that they were at last season, but it's going to take someone emerging on the wing or in the backcourt for that to happen.
Most likely call-up?
The Thunder didn't utilize the Blue at all last season and given the current construction of their roster this year, I would expect more of the same. The Thunder are probably the most shallow at the small forward position, a trait that they share with their D-League affiliate. If an injury in the backcourt occurs, however, Dez Wells could be an interesting fit on the roster. He was a terrific player throughout his college career and if he can further develop his jump shot, he may be able to sneak onto an NBA roster. At 23 years old his upside has been questioned, but if he can develop just one standout skill his value would increase tremendously.
Most intriguing potential assignee?
With an Oklahoma City roster that is relatively experienced, only one name stands out as a potential assignee: Cameron Payne. Payne, the team's first round pick out of Murray State, has had a tough time finding a place in the rotation behind Russell Westbrook, DJ Augustin and the plethora of other guards that the Thunder employ. At 6'3, 185 pounds, Payne has great size for the position and is a great creator both for himself and for his teammates. He was forced to shoulder most of the offensive load for the Racers last season and he remained relatively efficient while doing so, but he needs to improve as a finisher and consistently knock down jump shots to be able to make an impact at the NBA level. With the Thunder having their eyes on an NBA Championship this season, they're not going to be able to let Payne figure things out on a consistent basis. A D-League assignment for Payne would immediately make him one of the more exciting players in the league.
Will Dakari Johnson take the next step?
After joining Kentucky as one of the more heralded prospects in his class, Dakari Johnson spent two years stuck behind high-ceiling players like Karl-Anthony Towns, Julius Randle and Willie Cauley-Stein. With all of the talent that was ahead of him, Johnson was never really able to make his mark on the college game aside from being a valuable weapon off of the bench for John Calipari.
In the time that he was able to play, we saw Johnson with an unexpectedly limited game on both sides of the ball. He didn't show much of an offensive game aside from put-backs and his defense was limited due to him being in foul trouble relatively consistently. His work on the offensive glass was very valuable to the Kentucky team as a whole, but his inconsistency on boxing out on the defensive end somewhat negated the advantage that he brought on the offensive side. With all of this being said, Johnson just recently turned 20 years old and there is a bit of raw talent to work with. If he could make some strides on both end of the court, the Thunder may have a gem.