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Grading the Oklahoma City Thunder's season

While the Oklahoma City Thunder may have fallen short of their ultimate goal of an NBA Championship, season 2013-14 saw a number of very positive signs for the exciting young franchise. The second best record in the league. The franchise star collecting his first (of hopefully many) Most Valuable Player awards, the successful return of Russell Westbrook, the development of Reggie Jackson, the immediate impact of rookie Steven Adams and plenty more.

So let’s have a look back at the season that was and reminisce on what was achieved.

The Dynamic Duo: A+

Kevin Durant took his game to another level this season, largely because he had to. When the Thunder lost Russell Westbrook early on in the season, many wondered how this would effect the season OKC would have. Durant ensured that while it was not an ideal situation to find themselves in, he wouldn’t let it derail the Thunder’s campaign. Showcasing an all around game that few possess, Durant carried the team for the entire season. He was ably supported by the rest of the crew, but there was no doubt who the leader and best player was – KD.

Russell Westbrook would come back and although it took a few weeks to really get himself back in game shape and form, it was back to Russ as usual when he did. In fact, the post season showcased a much improved style of play. Coupled with physical and athletic brilliance, Westbrook poured in some tremendously mature performances. These are now starting to become the norm as opposed to the exception which bodes very well for the Thunder moving forward.

Just how good this duo can end up being is scary – like dynasty scary.

The Supporting Cast: A

While it is Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook that get the majority of coverage, the two superstars received plenty of assistance in 2013-14. Serge Ibaka and Reggie Jackson were brilliant over the course of the season and played their roles to perfection. Ibaka as the third option on offense and defensive anchor and Jackson as the Westbrook fill-in, bench spark and key player of difference. Jackson continued his development from the previous post-season where he was thrown into the thick of things. Starting in place of Westbrook for the first half of the season, Jackson displayed efficiency and poise while also proving he can make an impact on both sides of the basketball. He was a very big part of the Thunder’s red-hot pre All Star record.

Serge Ibaka’s growth, development and importance was largely realized in the Western Conference Finals, but he had been playing this important role for the Thunder all season long. He continued to build his game, adding range to his jump shot and also timing and positioning to his incredibly athletic game. The result was evident – he was better, the Thunder were better and they were looking dangerous all season long. He came back to play in the Western Conference Finals and had an immediate impact, but was never 100% and it unfortunately limited the Thunder.

Another season of development like the last and these two players are going to be even more incredible and important to the success of the Thunder.

Youthful Bench and Fringe players: B

While it is clear to see that Jeremy Lamb and Perry Jones III have immense talent and athletic ability, it only translated to terrific performances sporadically. Whether it be through fatigue, youthful naivety, limited exposure and opportunity or something else, these guys get a middle of the road grading.

Prior to the All Star break (and before the signing of Caron Butler) Jeremy Lamb was looking like a really important piece to the Thunder puzzle. He was coming off a rookie season that saw him play just garbage minutes in the NBA but he had developed his game in the Development League and really shone in the Summer League. The talented youngster had manged to crack the rotation in Westbrook’s absence and he was repaying coach Scott Brooks with great energy and effort. His shooting and offensive game was a highlight but it all went south in the second half of the year. Mixed minutes saw the shooting percentages drop and with Butler in the mix, Lamb’s role wasn’t as easy to identify. There is no doubting the young guards talent, but 2013-14 only showed us some glimpses. He needs more time and opportunity to show us what he can do.

Perry Jones III was earmarked as a lottery talent but fell to the Oklahoma City Thunder late in the first round. Another player with exceptional athleticism, he has yet to really carve out a defined role on this team. Again, he is buried on the bench behind players like Serge Ibaka and Kevin Durant, but he has the talent if he is willing to work. Some really impressive performances have shown that he can play at this level and really play a solid role for this team, but he needs more time. He needs to really work hard to force Scott Brooks’ hand and make the most of every minute he is out there.

Look for these two youngsters to hone their skills, study the game films and work extremely hard to crack the rotation for some more meaningful minutes next season.

The Rookies: B

Why so low? Because the Thunder had rookies – plural – on the roster. If this was solely about Steven Adams, we might have bumped that rating up, but the fact remains while Adams put together a very solid if unspectacular rookie campaign, Andre Roberson wasn’t as fortunate.

Steven Adams is going to be a very handy professional basketball player. He has NBA size, incredible strength and surprisingly solid footwork and basketball IQ for such a young man who is still relatively new to the game. Seen as a project after being drafted, Summer League gave us some glimpses as to just how quickly this kid could become a starter. Not as raw as first thought and with a passion to learn and improve, Adams had many eating their words by the All Star break. He forced Scott Brooks to play him because he was just so effective and provided such energy. Kendrick Perkins‘ injury also played to Adams’ advantage and showed the rest of the basketball world that OKC have yet again uncovered a gem.

Andre Roberson was drafted to fill a specific need and while he hasn’t quite yet developed to the point where he can play that role, he is improving. He doesn’t look out of place at all, and has the physical attributes to be a very handy player for the Oklahoma City Thunder. With Thabo Sefolosha aging and not looking as effective after injury, Roberson might be able to take that next step if he works hard during the off-season. He had an average rookie campaign but with limited opportunity it is really hard to gauge where he is at.

Coaching Staff: B

While many will be quick to roast Scott Brooks, those people mightn’t quite have a full comprehension of what Brooks brings to this team. While he is not the most astute basketball mind, and often appears outclassed by more seasoned coaches, we have to give some credit to the coach for the successes of the team. Yes KD and Russ are talented, but Brooks makes it work. The Thunder love playing for their head coach and stand behind him at all costs. This season, Brooks started to show some improvement and development himself.

Chastised for his lack of offensive structure, unwillingness to play rookies and inability to make adjustments – Brooks has been a contentious topic when discussing the Thunder. In season 2013-14 though, he has made some inroads. Partly due to injury, but partly due to development, this year’s version of the Thunder looked more dangerous at times throughout the year. Brooks played Steven Adams, he made lineup changes and he made in game adjustments. While this won’t be enough to please the haters, it does show a marked improvement from the coaching staff. There is still plenty of room for improvement however and it remains to be seen in that will come with Brooks at the helm.

In the fickle world of head coaching in the NBA, just because Brooks is contracted for another year doesn’t mean he gets to see it through. Having your MVP stand behind you is a very positive sign and reaching the Western Conference Finals is no small feat, so it is highly likely we see Scott Brooks return – and continue his development.

Overall: A

How can it be anything less? The Thunder played half the season without their starting point guard and still ended up with the league’s second best record. They made the Western Conference Finals and came within a Serge Ibaka calf and a game plus 5 minutes from a return to the NBA Finals. They have blooded a talented young rookie, developed a few budding young stars and even secured a decent free agent signing. Things are only looking up for the young Thunder. Armed with two more first round picks in a decent and deep NBA Draft and with one of the youngest lists in the league, the Thunder look to be rolling – now and for the future.

The window for the Thunder isn’t closing, in fact it is far from it. This Thunder team might actually just be getting started. If the players are willing to stay the course, the rewards could be incredible. From a lottery team to the NBA Finals in such a short period time has almost spoiled the Thunder fans, but it can’t be overlooked. This was another very successful season for the Oklahoma City Thunder, and it looks like we can expect more of the same in the not too distant future.

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