Oklahoma City Thunder: 3 X-Factors For This Upcoming Season

Nerlens Noel, Oklahoma City Thunder
Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

X-Factor #1: Hoping for a joyous Noel

Noel is coming off a 2017-18 season where he only appeared in 30 games for the Dallas Mavericks, and it was essentially a lost year. There was plenty of question marks surrounding a thumb injury, a mysterious mid-game hot dog incident (detailed by Mike Fisher of 247 Sports) and then Noel was suspended by the NBA for the last five games of Dallas’ season. It was his third positive test for marijuana, per ESPN’s Tim MacMahon.

So what Noel are the Thunder going to be getting this season? The jury is out on that, but with him being on what should be a very good team for the first time in his career, I would think he’s due to play well. The Mavericks thought they were getting a potential defensive Swiss Army knife at the 2017 Trade Deadline, but things just weren’t meant to be with Noel.

It’s hard for me to believe that George, Westbrook and Steven Adams can’t get Noel’s head on straight this year, though. The guy is talented, and he’s still only 24 years-old. For his career, he’s averaged 9.3 points, 7.2 rebounds, 1.6 steals and 1.4 blocks in 26.0 minutes per game. He could really be a nice backup big to spell Adams, who is an elite rebounder, but does not have the same defensive switching ability of Noel on opposing perimeter players.

Noel has enough lateral quickness to switch on to guards from time to time, and he would provide a very good shot-blocking presence inside even if he was beat after switch-outs just by reputation. In addition, Noel is more of a leaper than Adams as a roller, and he has developed a decent floater the last two seasons from inside 10 feet.

Noel should provide Schröder, Westbrook, George and Felton with a nice option to look to when they are operating in the pick-and-roll.

The Schroder-Westbrook dynamic is the second x-factor.

Next Up: No. 2

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