Prior to each and every season, plenty of teams get anointed as “the NBA Championship favorites”. This season, the buzz is all about the Cleveland Cavaliers with the return of LeBron James and the “far more likely than not” addition of Kevin Love. The Chicago Bulls have also been the talk of the town with a healthy Derrick Rose and a new face in Pau Gasol, while the San Antonio Spurs are the reigning champs, have brought everyone back and added a great first round rookie.
Each off-season, people dismiss the Oklahoma City Thunder due to lack of making moves. Make no mistake though, the Thunder can most certainly win it all this season – and here’s why.
They have the MVP.
Kevin Durant won his first NBA Most Valuable Player award last season. He scored 32ppg and more than that, he demonstrated a much improved all around game. Why is this important? Because Kevin Durant is just 25 years of age and only getting better and better. He will be better again next season and now that he has withdrawn from Team USA duties, he might be even fresher. If you thought Durant was brilliant last season as he carried the Thunder for most of the year, wait until next season. He will be better, stronger, smarter and could even become more efficient. That in itself is a scary thought and has to have the Thunder in Championship contention.
Westbrook is back.
People may forget (largely due to Durant’s brilliance) that the Thunder operated for a vast portion of last season without All Star point guard Russell Westbrook. And still won 59 games. Like Durant, Westbrook is still young and improving and will also sit out the FIBA campaign. This will allow him to get his body right and ready for a full blown assault on the new season. We saw glimpses of just how Russ is maturing during the playoffs – and it looked brilliant. Expect more of the same this season.
Development of talent.
Serge Ibaka has gotten better each and every season he has played in the NBA. He has improved his scoring, his shooting range, his defensive footwork and timing and his passing. The guy just keeps getting better and the Thunder do too because of it. Reggie Jackson showed he was more than ready and capable of running an NBA team as he filled in for Westbrook and even Jeremy Lamb showed glimpses of his potential early in the season. When you add this to the rookie campaign of Steven Adams that exceed any and all expectations and there is some great young talent already on the roster that will be better again in season 2014-15.
They addressed key needs in the off-season.
While the Thunder are generally mocked for their inability to land a big name free agent during the off-season and their unwillingness to spend any money, this time around it’s been different. OKC had a real go at securing Pau Gasol but fell short. They quickly recovered to sign Anthony Morrow, one of the games best marksmen who is not just a solid addition to the team, but he addresses a particular need – perimeter scoring. If there was any knock on the Thunder last season, it was their inability to score from deep or defend the three ball. Morrow will knock down open looks all season long and adds a very dangerous element to the Thunder, while the lineup change to potentially include Reggie Jackson alongside Russ in the backcourt, should allow for better perimeter coverage.
Superteams have never won straight off the bat. The Los Angeles Lakers floundered appallingly, the Miami Heat made the NBA Finals but were dispatched by the Dallas Mavericks. It takes time to learn to play together and to achieve team success. The Oklahoma City Thunder have been developing this for the past three or four seasons. Each year they come back more comfortable with each other as they go about winning 60 odd games, making the playoffs and challenging for a title. This season will be no different. The main group is back and more ready than ever. They know how each other plays, the strengths and weaknesses, the plays. The Thunder are a brotherhood and you just have to replay Kevin Durant’s MVP speech if you don’t believe me.
So while the internet is flooded with “championship favorites” like Cleveland, Chicago, San Antonio etc. Make sure you add the Thunder to that list. They could shock the world and achieve the ultimate success as early as this season.
Tags: Oklahoma City Thunder