Though a young franchise in a small market, the Oklahoma City Thunder boast one of the most interesting stories in recent sports history. From the controversial decision to move from Seattle, to the formation of an elite young core comprised of Durant/Westbrook/Harden/Ibaka, to the eventual collapse of this core, the Thunder have experienced a lot of turmoil in such a short time. This summer was no different, as big name players such as Paul George and Carmelo Anthony were brought in to help Russell Westbrook and the team work toward the ultimate goal of every team, winning a Chip.
Unfortunately, things didn’t go as planned initially, as OKC was a meager 8-12 through their first 20 games. Being sub par early on is not always a big deal, but being four games below .500 with three bona-fide All-Stars and the reigning MVP on your team is a problem. So when people started casting off the Thunder as a failing experiment or began looking for a scapegoat to blame, I wasn’t surprised, but I knew they were wrong. It takes time for teams to sucessfully acclimate players, especially when these players are such high-profile guys trying to fit into a new role amongst an entirely new group of teammates. But as the great teams always do, I believe the Thunder have figured it out and finally turned a corner on this year.
The Team: In their last 15 games, OKC has gone an impressive 12-3, winning seven of their last eight and riding a six game win-streak into their matchup with the Bucks tomorrow night. As a team, the Thunder are playing great basketball of late; offensively, OKC is the number one team in the league when it comes to offensive rebounds per game at 12.2 a night, a testament to the work of Steven Adams and Westbrook. On the defensive end, the Thunder allow the third fewest points in the paint in the NBA at 40.2, while holding opponents to an average FG% of 51.7%, good enough for 12th best in the Association. OKC is begining to make the changes necessary as a team to thrive in the competitive West, and come Spring, I’m confident the Thunder will be doing more than just competing.
The Players: Individually, the OKC players have also been playing better as of late. Westbrook seems to be returning to his MVP form of last year after a week averaging 30 points, nine rebounds, and nearly ten assists. Oh yes, “Danger-Russ” is in rare form, playing with his signature speed combined with his dastardly aggression and athleticicsm, the reigning MVP has been vicious in the past month. Paul George has been solid throughout OKC’s recent surge, averaging a healthy 20 points, five rebounds, two assists, and a league leading 2.5 steals per game. Carmelo Anthony has also been a key in the Thunder’s newfound success, as the veteran has finally begun to embrace a new role as a complementary player on this team. In his last ten games, Melo is averaging 16 points, five rebounds, and nearly two assists.
The OKC X-Factors: Finally, getting to the two X-Factors on this team, Steven Adams and Andre Roberson, have also continuiously displayed their value for the Thunder in recent weeks. In the month of December, Adams is averaging 16 points, ten rebounds, a block, a steal, and an assist all while shooting an efficient 68% from the field. Adams has also continued to develop into one of the NBA’s best rim-protectors and rebounders, boasting the best offensive rebound percentage in the NBA (17.4). Roberson’s stats, while less glamorous, have been just as important in the recent rise of Oklahoma City. Over the last ten games, Roberson is averaging five points, five rebounds, an assist, a block, and nearly two steals a night; while Roberson may be a liability on offense due to his poor shooting, his defensive ability is matched only by PG13 on the Thunder. Roberson held James Harden to 29 points on Christmas day, and while this might not seem like a good defensive day, Roberson also forced the “Beard” into many poor shots resulting in a mediocre 7-18 shooting night.
The Verdict: OKC is finally heading in the right direction, Western Conference, beware because the Thunder are coming…
Stats Via BasketballRefrence.com/ESPN.com/TeamRankings.com
Images Via Google.com