The Oklahoma City Thunder have had their best start to the season this year since the Kevin Durant-era began. Oklahoma City has the best record in the West and tied for best in the league with Miami at 27-7 this year.
But the Thunder are far from perfect. There are many questions that need to be asked and answered about this team.
The staff at Thunderous Intentions is here to answer these questions for you. Below are the 10 most pressing questions about the Thunder this season and our responses:
What is Oklahoma City’s biggest weakness?
Andrew Kennedy: Post offense. I don’t see it as much of a weakness but rather that they just don’t do it enough. Durant is great in the post but just doesn’t go down their enough. Posting Durant and Westbrook needs to be a staple of the Thunder’s crunch time offense if they’re going to win a title.
Cody Brees: Turnovers. Offensive rebounding isn’t a good area either, mostly because the Thunder like to get out and run and Ibaka tries to flatten every ball that is shot in the paint. If the Thunder can at least limit their live ball turnovers that should give them a better chance to set up the defense being the playoffs become a much more half court game.
Blake Potash: The offensive post play is by far the Thunder’s weakest point. They can’t score in the paint against teams with two above-average big men. Kendrick Perkins is not the player he once was, and Serge Ibaka is still young, and developing post moves.
Are the Thunder going to have the same problems in the playoffs this year as they did last year?
AK: I don’t think so. I’m not as worried about the turnovers this year and definitely not as worried about Westbrook. I think the criticism he got for not getting the ball to Durant was too harsh and untrue. The OKC offense was very stagnant last postseason and has since improved. Durant and Westbrook are great friends too so I don’t think they will have any issues sharing the ball even in crunch time.
CB: Depends on the match up. If the Thunder play the Lakers and Westbrook has to watch Durant try to get Metta World Peace off him for 15 seconds before blowing by Derek Fisher, then yes. Durant has been a lot better at getting to his spots inside the arc which should help him get more shots. But I could see a stronger physical defender still giving Durant a lot of problems come playoff time.
BP: It looks like the ball movement has improved a bit this year, but the offense still seems rather one-dimensional. Still, that one dimension is very good, and can get the Thunder to the NBA Finals, depending on matchups. Westbrook needs to be more of a point guard than a scorer to be more successful when the playoffs come around.
How much does Oklahoma City miss Eric Maynor?
AK: They miss him a lot. If Maynor never got injured than this Oklahoma City team may have won a few more games already and definitely more this season. There are a lot of games now where Westbrook has to come back very quickly after coming out of the game because Reggie Jackson isn’t Eric Maynor. Maynor was one of the best backup points in the league and the only actual point guard on the Thunder roster. If not for James Harden’s emergence as the second unit playmaker this injury could have been drastic for OKC.
CB: About as much as LeBron misses his hairline. I wrote an article earlier about the struggles of rookie point guard Reggie Jackson and how the Thunder miss Maynor, and unfortunately Jackson hasn’t improved too much. The one diamond in the rough is that this might prevent a team from throwing Mike Conley money at Maynor next year when he’s a restricted free agent.
BP: Eric Maynor was a key part of the bench unit with James Harden, giving the Thunder two options off the bench. Since his injury, the non-Harden bench has been failing to make impacts on games, and Harden has had to dominate the ball when Durant and Westbrook aren’t on the floor. Maynor’s absence may not be the reason the Thunder don’t win the Finals, but he sure is missed.
What would be the best addition the Thunder could make?
AK: The Thunder need to figure out their fifth guy for crunch time. Durant-Westbrook-Harden-Ibaka is great but between Perkins, Cook and Sefolosha it may not be enough to win a title. A better spot-up shooter than Cook or athletic slasher of some sort would be great for this team.
CB: Probably Eric Maynor. Once the playoffs start teams won’t be forces to go to their bench so much with actual days off between games. I still wouldn’t mind a 1-2 combo guard off the bench that can shoot. Mostly because Jackson and Ivey have been terrible.
BP: If the Thunder could make a move to get Pau Gasol, their Finals hopes would become a lot more realistic. I doubt they would want to move Ibaka and/or Harden, so all the Thunder can do is try and get a power forward or center that can give them some depth and scoring in the paint. I can’t see the Thunder making any trades though.
Are Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook the most lethal one-two punch in the NBA?
AK: Yes because they complement each other better than LeBron and Wade. LeBron and Wade basically do the same thing as each other. Durant and Westbrook are a little different. Are they as talented overall as LeBron and Wade? Maybe not yet. But I wouldn’t take any other duo in the league right now moving forward.
CB: I would say yes based on the variety of ways those two can score. They can both get to the rim, shoot a lot of free throws, have a good mid range game and can hit you from deep. The other key reason is LeBron and Wade are shooting 35 percent and 33 percent respectively from the field this year in clutch situations. Thunder in the clutch? Durant is shooting at 43 percent and Westbrook an even greater 50 percent.
BP: In a few years this may be the case, but LeBron and Wade are by far the best one-two punch in the NBA. Westbrook still needs to learn how to work well with Durant during clutch moments. The shot distribution is a little off of what it needs to be to make this a very efficient combo.
Do the Thunder have enough scoring options to win a title?
AK: Yes. I wrote earlier last week how the scrutiny about this was a little harsh. They definitely have enough scoring prowess the only issue is if they can score in as many different ways as may be necessary to win a title this year.
CB: Options? Yes. Balance is what I am not sure about. If you watched the finals last year in clutch time it was give the ball to Dirk and get out of the way. Same should be for Durant this year. The problem might be getting to clutch time without running Durant into the ground. The Thunder are going to need about 50 points a game from Ibaka, Cook, and the bench if they want to be an elite offensive team.
BP: Yes, and no. Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, and James Harden can all put up plenty of points, and take control of the game. That can work getting to the Finals, but if they want to win it, Ibaka will need to show a little more offensive prowess.
What needs to happen for Kevin Durant to win the MVP?
AK: If the Heat slip up some and the Thunder finish with the best record in the NBA then Durant has a chance. It’ll be just like Derrick Rose winning last year. Durant has been on the rise in terms of scoring of late too. If he finishes the year averaging 30 a game then he’ll have to average around 33 a night in the second half of the season. That will be impressive and won’t go unnoticed.
CB: LeBron gets hit by a bus.
BP: LeBron James needs to get hurt, or forget how to play basketball. Surprisingly under the radar, LeBron is having one of the best seasons the NBA has ever seen. It doesn’t look like he is going to slow down any, and unless voters penalize him for being on the same team as Dwyane Wade, LeBron is going to win this year’s MVP.
Who is the team to beat in the Western Conference?
AK: The Thunder are and only because Dallas isn’t the same team as last year. People forget how close this Thunder team was to making it to the Finals last year. They have the best record in the conference and deserved to be recognized as the best team in it.
CB: The Thunder, but not by much. If you made me bet I would still take the field, but the improvements that KD and Russ have made this year with scoring efficiency should really make the difference down the stretch.
BP: The Thunder. With the best current record in the West, the Thunder have control of the conference, and are the front-runners to make the Finals at the moment. Durant and Westbrook can both take over games, and are impossible matchups for the other contenders.
Which team in the Western Conference would be the worst playoff matchup for the Thunder?
AK: Portland. There would be nothing worse for Oklahoma City than having to play Portland in round one. They are such a physical team on defense and when healthy have a lot of tools that give the Thunder fits.
CB: Portland scares me the most. Perkins doesn’t do much since Camby won’t shoot much. Ibaka has problems guarding power forward’s with range. Gerald Wallace is the type of big, strong, athletic defender that could give Durant problems.
BP: The Los Angeles Lakers. Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol are tough matchups for Ibaka and Perkins, on both ends of the floor. The Thunder big men would struggle to score, and they would have to rely and Durant, Westbrook, and Harden to carry them through the series. Fortunately, the Lakers don’t have a very strong defensive backcourt, and Harden played a great defensive game against Kobe in their last meeting. The Thunder would still be the favorite, but you can never count out Kobe Bryant in the playoffs.
How far will the Thunder go in the playoffs this year?
AK: I think they make it to the NBA Finals. After that it depends who they play if they win or not. I think the Thunder can beat Chicago in a 7-game series but I’m not sure about Miami yet. If I had to pick one team to win the title right now I’d pick Oklahoma City based on the fact that I think they have the best chance of any team in the league simply to make it to the Finals.
CB: As far and Durant and Westbrook take them. Sorry for the cliché answer but it’s the truth. If they are both on their A game the Thunder are unbeatable. Miami appears to be the biggest hurdle right now, but a lot can change before the trade deadline.
BP: The Thunder will make the NBA Finals and lose to the Heat/Bulls. They are just one piece away from taking that next step, but for now, they don’t match up well with either team that will come out of the east. The Thunder won’t fare well against these elite defenses, and don’t have the defense themselves to slow down Rose or LeBron-Wade.
Topics: Daequan Cook, Dwyane Wade, Eric Maynor, James Harden, Kendrick Perkins, Kevin Durant, Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Nick Collison, Reggie Jackson, Russell Westbrook, Scott Brooks, Serge Ibaka, Thabo Sefolosha, Thunder Best Record, Thunder Vs Blazers, Thunder Vs Heat, Thunder Vs Lakers