OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER – SLEEPER TO WIN IT ALL 0

OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER

OKC is one of the newest franchise in the NBA after their move to Oklahoma City in 2008. Although they were previously Supersonics of Seattle and still carry their championship banners, records and trophies, Thunder can be considered as new and fresh team because of their changed colours and logo. New Thunders have played 8 seasons, missing the playoffs only once in their inaugural season. They have been to conference finals 4 times and had one shot to win it all in the 2012 NBA finals against LeBron James and his Miami Heat. Unfortunately, they came up short going down 4-1.

The buildup for this team was really great for early part. They already had future superstars in Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. James Harden was added to this team as the young core really looked promising. Durant, Westbrook, Harden, Perkins, and Ibaka made it to the 2012 NBA all-star ballots as they capped of their most successful season in new look. But, the front office made their biggest mistake that offseason. James Harden was traded to Houston Rockets as the franchise was reluctant to pay luxury tax for James’ demanding contract. Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook took the ship ahead all by themselves as the franchise also failed to attract another superstar to play with these young guys. This led to the famous departure of Kevin Durant in 2016 to Golden State Warriors as his quest for 1st championship strengthen. He eventually won in 2017 as Oklahoma City fell in the 1st round of playoffs to Houston for the 1st time since 2010.

Thunder were relieved a bit after Russell Westbrook decided to stay in 2016 Free Agency for an extension of 3 years. He won the MVP averaging 31-10-11 and broke Oscar Robertson’s 42 triple-doubles record. He became only the second player to average a triple-double for the entire season after Oscar. This historic season didn’t mean much as they got knocked out in the 1st round by the Houston Rockets. Westbrook really felt the absence of a marquee player and desperately needed some help. Thunder did well in the offseason bringing in Carmelo Anthony and Paul George, as they looked as one of the best team in western conference on paper.

The start of regular season was not as good as they hoped, but after settling their chemistry down, they now stand 4th in the standings and are playing decent basketball. They currently have a record of 43-30, and are one of the best rebounding and defensive team. Russell Westbrook is averaging 25-10-10 this season leading from the front. He and Andre Roberson looked as one of the best defensive backcourt in the NBA. Roberson was not so much needed in scoring department but fits well in the team bringing that energy and hustle on defensive plays guarding the best guard of the opposing teams. Obviously, him going down after 39 games with left patellar tendon rupture ruled him out of the season which created a hole in the spot as weak bench didn’t have guys to fill up the starting spot. But addition of Corey Brewer after he was released by the Lakers was a great pickup as OKC is 6-1 after signing him, that one loss resulting due to narrowly going down to Celtics recently. Paul George and Carmelo Anthony are averaging 21-6-3 and 17-5-1 respectively. They are not up to their standards on production. Steven Adams, being a physical beast is a bright spot for them averaging 14-9 as OKC has been looking on him as another option on offense recently. He can be dominant center today as there are not much guys who can guard this big man and also get better of him while he is on defense. The bench production is still a worry as OKC is relying on the lights of Jerami Grant, Raymond Felton, Patrick Patterson and the athletic rookie Terrance Ferguson to step their game up come playoffs. Although the fans and media are worried after their underwhelming season so far, they still have a great chance to win it all and should not be ruled out of contention this early.

OKC are one of the best teams in defense and rebounding the ball. Their big center Steven Adams is really important for them. He protects the paint and gets those rebounds. He sets good screens and also plays good in those pick and rolls to create opportunities. Russell Westbrook is a beast on both sides too. He puts up those big numbers in rebounds and is active hustling on defense. Although most of his assists numbers are due to passing out of double teams and those kinds of stuffs and are not really like a playmaker, but he keeps his teammates going as well. His vision is like an all-star caliber playmaker, which is pretty good. They are great in pushing the pace too and run in transitions to grab easy opportunities. Paul George and Carmelo Anthony have been not up to the mark as far as production on their level of play is concerned, but expectations are high from them as they always step their game up in playoffs. Paul George is 3rd in the league with 2 steals per game. He can explode and put on a show any given night he decides. He is a superstar and with Westbrook he shares a good chemistry on and off the court. Carmelo as a veteran is also a player with playoffs experience and one of the greatest isolation scorer we know. He can come up clutch in big moments and get some bailout baskets as well. Addition of Corey Brewer gives them a really good starting 5. Brewer can score the basketball and also is a good defender. He cuts the passing lanes really good too.

The most unique thing about this OKC group, specially their starting 5 is, they are really well equipped to defend the other top of the table teams in both conference. Their weakest defender starting would be Carmelo, who is good enough to handle the weakest guy on offense. Westbrook and Brewer have the capability to lock the backcourt. Paul George is a certified 2-way superstar and it is very challenging against Adams in the paint. We can think about Golden State, who they blew out 2 times this season, Houston, Cavs, Celtics, Blazers and Raptors, they have better defensive matchups as a unit against every team which gives them a huge advantage.

Also, they can dominate in the paint easily, scoring and rebounding the ball because of Steven Adams. Among these teams, Adams can feast in the paint against Eastern conference matchups. He has a clear advantage over Cavs and Celtics. Toronto with Valanciunas, could be more difficult, but he recently dropped 25 and 8 on him which shows he can ball out against top teams in east. Considering the west if we look at Portland with Nurkic and Houston with Capela, they can be a problem, but he is certainly not going to back down as he is bigger and stronger than both of them. Golden State will also have difficulties keeping Adams out of paint which makes him the most important player in the squad.

Some weaknesses which they have to check going into the playoffs will be: –

  1. Less turnovers!
  2. Execution in the clutch. They take bad shots down the stretch and settle for those 3s without running sets which costs them.
  3. The bench needs to step up and give their starters some production to make their life easy as they go deep in the playoffs.

OKC certainly has a great potential in making some noise. Don’t be surprised if they win it all too. They have a great fan base which makes the away game difficult for the opposing team. They just need to settle and analyze some good plays for themselves. They do the basic things like rebounding and defending on a good elite level. This is what makes them a championship team and a sleeper to win it all!