One of the more amazing stats out there in the NBA has to do with the Oklahoma City Thunder and their year-by-year winning percentage. Since the team came to Oklahoma City, they have increased their winning percentage in every season.
Here’s a look at every year:
2008-09 — .280
2009-10 — .610
2010-11 — .671
2011-12 — .712
2012-13 — .732
2013-14 — .818
Now, it’s still early this season and the Thunder have gotten off to a hot start. They could still have a very successful season and win less than the 60 games they did a year ago.
But the trend begs this question: Is this Thunder team the best one yet?
At first glance, many will disagree with this possibility. The two main reasons to disagree is the departures of James Harden and Kevin Martin. But this question isn’t whether or not the Thunder would be better now had they kept Harden or Martin.
The improvements of Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka are possibly the most important variables in determining an answer to this. Also, what exactly will determine the answer by the end of the season? Do the Thunder need to at least get to the NBA Finals to be considered as good as the team from 2011-12? Do they need to win more than 60 games?
I think there are other things we should consider, too. For one, there is the competition from the rest of the league that needs to come into the equation. Losing to the Heat in the Finals two years ago would be a much different thing than if the Thunder lose to them in the Finals this season. The same goes for what it’s going to take to get out of the Western Conference. And then of course we’re not entirely sure how good last year’s team was since Westbrook got hurt in the playoffs.
I think this team has the potential to be the best Thunder team yet. The progression of Durant, Westbrook and Ibaka is a big reason why. If you remember even just two seasons back, these three guys were noticeably not on the level they are now. KD and Russ were much more turnover prone, they didn’t have the chemistry with each other and the rest of the team that they do now, and Serge was not the 15 and 10 guy he is this year.
Beyond that Big 3, the rest of the Thunder roster is capable of being the best supporting cast OKC has had as well. What Reggie Jackson is doing this season is very comparable to what Harden produced two years ago. I don’t think Jackson will end up having as big of a season, but I think he can get close in terms of efficiency, and it’s not like he’s being asked to be Harden from two years ago either.
The Thunder are looking to become more balanced this season than they ever have been. That team two years ago will always feel like such a juggernaut, but the amount that they relied on just three players to do all of the scoring is not exactly what you would want from a championship team. When Miami was in that situation their first season after LeBron and Bosh came, they ran into similar issues in the Finals. The balance that OKC is beginning to see this year is a valuable thing that this team has over the last few seasons.
The offensive rating for the Thunder may drop a bit this season from last year and possibly the year before. The Thunder still aren’t at their best offensively with their starting five, but they’re also taking more pride on the defensive end it seems. The defensive rating for this Thunder team is the best in franchise history. And what the Thunder do on that end may ultimately decide how far they will go in the playoffs more than anything else. They’ve always been able to score with anyone, but making big stops has not always been the case. If that’s what they become this season, and I think they’re headed that way, this team may be the one with the best chance to win it all.
Heading into this season, expectations were headed down for this Thunder team. Making no moves, losing Martin and inevitably having to rely on some really young players had people thinking this team was in for a step backward.
So far, this has not been the case at all. As someone who has watched every second of every game the last three seasons, I’m starting to believe that this is the most complete Thunder team yet. Completeness is what I believe the front office and Scott Brooks are striving for above all else. They aren’t listening to the critics of the Harden trade or critics of their lack of activity this summer. They’re sticking to their philosophy in working toward building a championship caliber team.
Looking at their record and play on the floor has to have you believing in what the Thunder are doing. The Beard may be gone and some of the contributors this season are new to a lot of people, but this Thunder team may very well the best one we have seen yet.