With today being the eve of the start to the NBA preseason, we take a look at five things to keep an eye on when watching the Oklahoma City Thunder the next few weeks. The games may not count and the starters won't see a whole lot of time but that doesn't mean there aren't a few story lines to peak the interest of OKC fans.
1) OKC's center depth – Kendrick Perkins is going to miss the entire preseason with a wrist injury so there will be no shortage of opportunities to see how Cole Aldrich and Hasheem Thabeet fit into a more prominent role. With Nazr Mohammed now in Chicago, one of these two needs to become a reliable second option behind Perk. Aldrich has gotten the nod as the starter in Wednesday's preseason opener. Aldrich certainly has the early advantage in this position battle but he still has much to prove after an uninspiring performance in the Orlando Summer League. Former Bishop McGuiness star and Kentucky product Daniel Orton can't be counted out of the mix either at this point.
2) Reggie Jackson vs. Eric Maynor – When Maynor recovered from his torn ACL in the offseason and Oklahoma City decided against re-signing veteran Derek Fisher it was just assumed Maynor would resume his role as one of the league's premier backup point guards. Apparently things aren't so clear. Jackson broke out in the Orlando summer league and has made tremendous strides from the erratic rookie fans watched early last season. In all likelihood, this is still Maynor's job to lose but the Thunder has established enviable depth at this position behind All-Star Russell Westbrook.
3) The James Harden contract saga – Harden said at the Thunder media day that he is confident his contract will be settled by the Oct. 31 deadline. The final game of the preseason is Oct. 24 so there might be plenty of optimism or skepticism building in the fan base by that time. Obviously, preseason wins and losses don't count but it will be interesting to see how this plays out.
4) Durant's post defense – This seems to be the most pointed-to area in which KD has shown marked improvement in the offseason. Durant's defense has improved at a steady rate every year since he entered the league, as has his strength. Reports said Durant was getting the best of Ibaka in the post during an early practice. If that's the case, this would go a long way toward fortifying the "small ball" set the Thunder goes to against select opponents when Durant plays the four spot. He's already a mismatch on the offensive end in those settings but if the defense takes a leap forward then watch out.
5) Rebounding – Preseason competition probably won't be the best way to judge the Thunder's improvement (or possible lack thereof) in this category but Oklahoma City fans should hope to see a better all-around team effort on the glass this season. An added boost from Durant on the glass coupled with the likely progression of Serge Ibaka would be great and seems probable. Also, there has been lot of talk about Westbrook's new physique as he has packed on a lot of muscle. Russ was already one of the better rebounding guards in the NBA but he appears to be ready to improve on that. OKC's struggles on the glass have been a consistent issue and early improvement would be a nice sign, which leads us back to point No. 1. None of the trio of Cole Aldrich, Hasheem Thabeet and Daniel Orton will be asked to score but the one who plays the best defense and has the biggest presence on the glass will likely be the one to make the team. With rebounding, preseason is as good a place to start as any. You know what they say, practice makes perfect.