Remember the first time you were in a thunderstorm and how terrified you heard the thunder crashing? Remember how your parents told you how it was just a noise and you shouldn't be scared? If you are playing the Oklahoma City Thunder, what your parents said was a lie. Thunder can, and will, hurt you.
A few years ago I told everyone how I was scared of two teams, Portland and Atlanta. Not because how good they were at the time, but because I saw an abundant amount of talent. Now, both of those teams are solid playoff contenders (Portland would be better than its 23-16 record if not for suffering about a million injuries). I look at the Thunder this season and think the same thing.
To say that they have a star in the making with Kevin Durant doesn’t do him justice. At the age of 21, Durant is one of the greatest pure-scorers of the game. Yea, a guy like LeBron is better overall, but Durant is an artist when it comes to putting up points. He is shooting .484 from the field this year, which is second amongst guards scoring at least 20 points per game. He might have an absolutely awful taste in shoes, but the NBA needs to get him in front of a national audience more often. As someone who doesn’t live in Oklahoma (which is a great thing 99.9 percent of the time), I don’t have the ability to see him much.
Durant isn’t the only reason I see great potential for the Thunder. Guys like Russell Westbrook and Jeff Green have developed into very good compliments to Durant, and rookie James Harden is doing a great job contributing off of the bench. The scary thing about the guys that I just named is that they are all 23 years old or younger.
Think about this, the Thunder only won 23 games all of last year; they have won 21 in just 37 games so far this season. They will surpass that total in a week or so and will finish the NBA season with the league’s most improved record. Going from 23 wins to a team that will probably make the playoffs is an achievement that shouldn’t be under-sold.
Another critical factor is the improvements they have made on the defensive end. They are currently 7th in the NBA in defense, giving up 96.1 points per contest. Last season, opponents had no trouble putting up big numbers, and averaged over 103 points. For those of you who can’t do math, that is a seven point difference right there.
If am the GM of the Thunder, my job is almost done. I have a young core of excellent guards that are progressing quicker than most thought. However, the Thunder still need somewhat of a low post presence if they want to be anything other then an annual playoff one-and-done. Right now, Oklahoma City is relying on guys like Nenad Kristic and Nick Collison, who aren’t averaging ten rebounds a game COMBINED.
The current GM seems to share this thought with me because he traded for Tyson Chandler last season, which was a great move. Unfortunately, Chandler failed the physical because of his toe. Considering the physical is usually just a formality, this was a surprise for us all. It’s a shame though, because Chandler could be great working with that group of guards.
In addition to that, the team needs a veteran guard to come off the bench to provide leadership and experience. Atlanta became my perfect example because they traded for Mike Bibby and now are serious contenders in the east. While nobody will say he is as good as he was in the early 2000’s when his Sacramento Kings went head-to- head with the Lakers several years in a row, he provided leadership to a Hawk team that had tons of raw talent, but had trouble converting that into wins. The Thunder don’t need a starting point guard like Bibby because Russell Westbrook is playing great, but I still think that adding a vet will be a good idea.
With teams eager to shed big contracts, adding these pieces shouldn’t be that difficult. The Thunder are under the salary cap and have three players who have large contracts that expire at the end of the season. This is invaluable to teams trying to shed salaries because it means that all of the money on the contract comes off their cap number at the end of the year. The guys that could draw some interest because of this are Etan Thomas (7.9 million), Matt Harpring (6.5 million), and Earl Watson (3.4 million). None of these players are contributing much to the cause and should be traded if given anyone of value. Hell, Watson isn’t even on the team any more!
Even if these moves aren’t made, you still have to keep an eye on this team. They might not be able to make much noise in the playoffs this year, but in a year or two, the Lakers better be watching their back.