Not a long time ago, the Oklahoma City Thunder had started their
first season in Oklahoma City with a 4-29 start and finished the season
2008-09 with the fourth worst record in the league! To think that, in
just one season, they would be able to put a bold scare into the Lakers
in the Playoffs is just formidable and quite surprising!
No, they didn’t add any superstar player in the free agency period
nor they trade for any good player, it was plain and simple the natural
development of their young guns.
Kevin Durant transformed into one of the most lethal offensive
players in the league, but more important than that, he showed an
irresistible leadership that contaminated every other player in the
team. Also Russell Westbrook and Jeff Green were able to put together
solid seasons and suddenly the Thunder have a core of young talented
players that know that the only way to improve is to work harder every
When we think about Kevin Durant automatically, we are misleading to
think in just his offensive skills, but actually it was his defense
and the team’s overall defense that permitted the team to jump from
being mediocre to a damn good team.
From 103.1ppg to 97.9 points per game and from 47.5% to 44.7% from
the field on the defensive end, these are the trademarks that made the
Thunder a 50-wins basketball team and head coach Scott Brooks has a lot
of merits in such achievement – for some reason he won the Coach of
the Year award last season.
However, I just can’t ignore that last season they had some problems
to beat the best teams in the league, while they simply dominated the
lowly teams in the league. When they were favored from the oddmakers to
win a ballgame they went 37-13 – 74% winning percentage however when
they were the underdogs their mark was 13-19 – 40% winning record.
Naturally that by being the underdogs in a game, it is supposed to play
against a top team mainly on the road, so it is way more difficult to
win, however if they want to be a elite team, they just can’t be happy
with a .400 record in those kind of games.
The best possible news for them is that they are still young and
their margin of progress is tremendous for what was already a
spectacular season last year.
2009/10 Advanced Stats:
Pace 12th 96.4
Offense 12th 105.1
Defense 8th 101.6
Rebounds 6th +2.84
Projected Depth Chart:
PG: Russell Westbrook, Eric Maynor, Royal Ivey
SG: Thabo Sefolosha, James Harden, Daequan Cook
SF: Kevin Durant, Morris Peterson
PF: Jeff Green, Nick Collison, D.J. White
C: Nenad Krstic, Serge Ibaka, Cole Aldrich, Byron Mullens
After watching his team succeeds, General Manager Sam Presti didn’t
move an inch in his initial plan for the team: build the team via the
draft and grab every nice opportunity that the market presents without
committing much money for the future.
Kevin Durant got his contract extension; in the draft they found a
way to draft big man from Kansas Cole Aldridch and they took advantage
of the Heat urgency in dumping salary and grabbed Daequan Cook to
improve the perimeter and that’s it folks!
Few may notice but the Thunder actually had one substantial loss
going for this season: the loss of assistant head coach Ron Adam who
joined Tim Thibodeau in the Bulls. Ron Adam was the defensive architect
of the spectacular bounce back season that the Thunder made last
season on the defensive end and his departure could be an important
There’s no doubt that Kevin Durant belongs to the elite of this game
and he made “the jump” probably sooner than anyone would expect. He
was the NBA leading scorer averaging 30.1 points per game, while
shooting 47.6% from the field. Only 3 players in the league were able
to average double digit trips to the charity stripe: Lebron James,
Kevin Durant and Dwight Howard. However, while Lebron hit 76.7% and
Howard 59.2% from the line, Durant was able to hit 90% in his 840 total
free throws attempts! This makes him a complete matchup nightmare to
guard and the biggest reason of why he will win multiple scoring awards
through this career. He also improved in others facets of the game
like rebounds (7.6), blocks (1.0) and steals per game (1.4) for the
ultimate proof that he is a complete player.
However there is an important factor that it is impossible to
measure and Durant made the biggest jump: leadership! In this summer we
watched Durant carrying the USA team in the FIBA World Championships
and it is really unbelievable how a 22-years young player achieved such
maturity and responsibility in such young age.
No player in the Thunder roster improved more than Russell Westbrook
did last season. Westbrook showed some nice flashes in his rookie
season, but his vision and decision making on the court was
questionable, as his 5.3 assists per game vs. 3.3 turnovers per game
was a big alarming sign, however he improved his assists number to 8.0 –
8th best mark in the league! He needs to redefine his shooting touch,
but when he attacks the rim he’s almost unstoppable. The culmination of
this spectacular development occurred when it really matters: in the
playoffs! Against the Lakers, Westbrook averaged 20.5 points, 6.0
assists and 6 rebounds per game, while shooting 47.3% from the field!
He can be a potential matchup advantage for the Thunder against the
older guards in the league and in his conference he will play against
Derek Fisher, Steve Nash, Chauncey Billups, Andre Miller or Jason Kidd
and even against the elite young generation, his veracious defense will
pay dividends for the team.
Jeff Green is the third guy that completes the Big 3 version of the
Thunder and he has put solid, but non spectacular numbers across the
board with 15.1ppg and 6.0rpg. He is seen as a dispensable piece for
the future, but his work ethic and personality are really underrated.
He is versatile and can run the floor pretty quickly. He doesn’t demand
shots and works hard in both ends of the floor – that’s the right
ingredients of a complete teammate of a superstar player and Durant has
in Green a terrific role player.
For the center position, GM Sam Presti is slowly preparing the
future. Nenad Krstic has been the starter since he is in Oklahoma City,
but his physic limitations are well documented and so Presti has in
Serge Ibaka and Cole Aldrich two interesting projects for the future.
Ibaka showed some interesting development during last season and his
7-blocks game performance against the Lakers in the playoffs was
The other position yet to be talked is the Shooting Guard position
and the Thunder has a defensive specialist taking the spot in Thabo
Sefolosha. He’s a utility player as he doesn’t take bad shots and he a
premium wing defender in the league – you can called him a poor man’s
Bruce Bowen, but it was with Bowen playing major minutes that the San
Antonio Spurs built a dynasty.
The Thunder bench is also a young unit with a tremendous upside.
Eric Maynor, James Harden, Serge Ibaka and Cole Aldrich are all young
players with a lot of years to come in the league, while Nick Collison
and Morris Peterson are veterans that can help the team in other ways.
The Thunder were a pleasant surprise last season, but now the
expectations are higher than even for such a young team. The growing
path will have to be combined with wins and with a player like Durant
leading the way, we can be sure that the Thunder will be in the playoff
conversation for years to come.