Yesterday Stephen A. Smith, Skip Bayless and Tim Legler talked about the Oklahoma City Thunder and their chances at winning the NBA title this season.
The Thunder have the second-best record in the league right now behind only the Chicago Bulls. The current title favorite, Miami, would have to win road playoff games in Chicago and in Oklahoma City if the playoffs started today.
The Thunder are playing the best basketball they have all season right now. Kevin Durant has been his usual efficient self and Russell Westbrook has also elevated his game to another level, especially shooting the ball.
Then there’s James Harden who is turning into the guy everyone is starting to point at as the difference maker for the Thunder this season.
But there are still of course some pretty big concerns regarding the Thunder’s title chances.
Russell Westbrook shooting more than Kevin Durant
There are games and stretches of games where Westbrook is shooting more than Durant. In the Thunder’s last game, Westbrook had a stretch where he shot six straight times. Bayless and many others point to this as a problem for the Thunder.
Everyone loves Durant so much and doesn’t quite feel the same way about Westbrook. It’s clear that Durant is the best player and people always want him shooting more than Westbrook. One thing that can’t be ignored is just how good Westbrook is becoming.
There are moments especially during this regular season where he has such a mismatch that he comes right up the court and goes one-on-one to get his own shot. This wouldn’t be ideal is he wasn’t shooting 47 percent from the field this season.
Westbrook has elevated his game this season and isn’t just the starting point guard for the Thunder. He is also their second-leading scorer and needs to play that role from time to time. The concern shouldn’t be if Westbrook shoots more than Durant. There will be times when he needs to. The question is if Westbrook and Durant are going to know exactly when to take turns in the playoffs. Will Westbrook know to defer to Durant at the right moment or get lost in himself going one-on-one?
No interior scoring
Every championship team has some reliable form of interior scoring. The Thunder essentially do not. Serge Ibaka and Kendrick Perkins aren’t bigs that you can throw the ball into and let them go to work. Durant and Westbrook are still in the early stages of developing post games and it is safe to say that they won’t be going to that too much in the playoffs.
While the lack of interior scoring is something we’ve never seen before from a championship team, so is the weapons that the Thunder have. They might be one of the best isolation scoring teams of all-time with Durant, Westbrook and Harden. How many teams before them had three players that could score like them?
Will that be enough to make up for their lack of scoring from the post though? Part of what makes scoring from the post so valuable is that it usually leads to more free throw shooting as well. The Thunder don’t exactly have an issue getting to the line and they are one of the best free throw shooting teams in the league as well.
The current Thunder makeup doesn’t fit exactly into the formula of previous champions but that doesn’t mean it isn’t going to work. Of the other contenders this season, how many really have reliable post-scoring options? The Lakers and the Mavericks are the best at this but Oklahoma City definitely has the potential to get by either.
The San Antonio Spurs
The Spurs may be the sneakiest of things in the way of a Thunder trip to the NBA Finals this season. The last two times the Thunder played the Spurs they lost by 11 and 9 points. The Thunder have been completely unable to contain Tony Parker in the pick-and-roll and the Spurs have also quietly made some recent moves that will make them a better team with the additions of Stephen Jackson and Boris Diaw.
The Spurs also have depth which is a great asset in this regular season but will be diminished somewhat in the playoffs. It’s all about your best eight guys in the playoffs and the Thunder should have an edge there over San Antonio. And in the battle of the future versus the past, the future always wins out eventually.
The Thunder competing for a title this season really should be looked at as gravy for their fans. Durant and Westbrook are 23, Harden and Ibaka are 22. They have time. They just got to the top so quick the expectations will follow no matter how old they are.
If the Thunder do win a title they will do it in a fashion that hasn’t been seen exactly before. That’s not saying there’s no way they will do it but maybe they have some more work ahead of them than appears.