How Would OKC’s All-Time Team Handle Today’s NBA?


This week, we listed the top players in Thunder history, spanning the nearly 50 years of the franchise’s existence, from their days in Seattle to the perennially contending team that now resides in Oklahoma City. And while those lists were based on an individual’s greatness, we ask now what would that team of all-time greats do if they were collected into a unit in today’s NBA?

Top 5 Point Guards#1: Gary Payton

Payton’s length and size would fit very well in any era of the NBA. He was able to harass other point guards from getting comfortable and could, if needed, even handle smaller forwards if needed. See how he impacts both Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen, two all-time greats, in this video:

However, while “The Glove” is remembered fondly for his defense, his aggressive style would need to be curtailed somewhat in today’s league. With a number of players relying heavily on drawing fouls (see further down this list), Payton could find himself in early foul trouble.

But Payton could still make an impact defensively other than by playing excellent man-to-man defense; his uncanny knack for disrupting passes led to steals and regularly ignited fast break opportunities. With the rest of the players on this list, he’d be the sparkplug on an electrifying offensive group.

Still, on offense, he’d be limited because of his below-average shooting from the perimeter. He shot just 31.7 percent from 3-point range for his career and hit over 35 percent just once, peaking at 37.5 during the 2000-01 season. But, despite his shooting, Payton would again rely on his length to get past guards, putting up circus shots and, especially today, drawing an inordinate number of fouls to be a very good scorer.

Top 5 Shooting Guards#1: James Harden

This is an easy one, considering that Harden’s game is almost tailor-made to fit today’s league. Harden would easily be the team’s biggest defensive liability but that would be masked by Payton’s overwhelming strength in this area. Still, there’s a question to exactly how much Harden would have grown – just as if he had remained with Oklahoma City – with a talented team like this theoretical one.

So it’s not a question of ability but rather would he have been willing to be a second or third option on offense? His days in OKC playing along KD and Russell Westbrook provide some insight but perhaps it’s best not to linger on that for too long. Let’s just assume, rather safely, that if Harden had kept his ego in check, he would have been a significant, if not primary, contributor to the team.

Top 5 Small Forwards#1: Kevin Durant

Like Harden, this one’s a no-brainer: Durant would have excelled in any era of the NBA. His superior length and shooting ability as well as his under-appreciated rebounding and defense, never go out of style. KD would be the top dog, at least in terms of production – you can’t imagine anyone but Payton being the team’s emotional (and rather vocal) leader.

It’s easy to picture Payton looking to get Durant going early and often during games, perhaps at the expense of Harden but it’s for a good reason: KD might be one of the most unique scorers in NBA history. With Payton’s ball-hawking skills in effect, Durant would be part of one of the most devastating fast-break teams ever. Who would the defense collapse on? Payton could score easily on his own or he could look to the cutting Harden trailing behind him but that would only leave KD wide open, a career 38 percent shooter from the perimeter that just keeps getting better with time.

And, of course, there’s always the next option…

Top 5 Power Forwards#1: Shawn Kemp

Perhaps no one in this all-time lineup would take as much of a fall as Kemp, an explosive leaper that dunked and rebounded with ease. However, at 6’10” and 230 lbs., Kemp is a stretch-four without the “stretch” – the era in which he played didn’t require him to be much of an outside shooter and he simply never developed that part of his game. He attempted just 119 3-point shots for his career, less than Durant took (159) in just 27 games of his last injury-shortened season.

But with Payton, Harden and Durant on the team, Kemp would never have to hoist up a single shot from outside. He’d be a one-man wrecking ball, cutting with abandon and using screen-and-rolls to get to the basket; any lob would likely result in an easy two points. Kemp was also a decent mid-range shooter so he wouldn’t have to just score via soul-sucking dunks. Still, it would be unbelievable to imagine this array as part of this team…

On defense, Kemp would keep up his manic intensity, providing help defense and swatting shots if opponents got past a primary defender. He peaked at 2.1 blocks per game during the 1993-94 season in an era of big men; his rim protection would be very reminiscent of Serge Ibaka. And he averaged 1.8 steals that same season, using his speed and quick hands to keep a player from scoring. Given the lethal scoring already on the team, you could imagine Kemp becoming a perennial Defensive Player of the Year candidate.

Top 5 Centers#1: Jack Sikma

If Kemp’s game didn’t age so well, then Sikma’s might have been ahead of its time. Averaging nearly 17 points per game during nine seasons in Seattle, Sikma was also one of the top rebounders in the league (at 10.8 boards per game). He wasn’t a primary scorer for the SuperSonics, a team that had an incredibly potent back court, but he still was still very productive because of his tenaciousness on the glass and solid low-post moves.

Still, his shooting is what would help him thrive in today’s game.

He was very good from mid-range early in his career, before the 3-point shot was implemented by the league. Slowly but surely he began to expand his range and by the time he retired as a member of the Milwaukee Bucks, Sikma had attempted 618 shots from long range, converting those at a solid 32.8 percent. During his best-shooting season (1998-99), he put up 216 3-pointers an made 38 percent of them.

Given Kemp’s woes from the perimeter, you can expect that Sikma would be counted on to stretch the floor, building that skill almost exclusively.

With this all-time team fully assembled and a wide range of skills represented, it’s likely that this team would be absolutely lethal in today’s NBA; a good mix of offensive potency, long-range shooting, versatility and defensive prowess.

The team would also have a wide array of personalities to blend together, with the loud Payton destroying an opponent’s confidence and Durant, silently and efficiently, killing them from along the perimeter. Kemp and Harden would provide some flash. And Sikma, perhaps out of place in an era of large, burly centers, would quietly go about his work, weaving in and out of pick-and-pops to shoot from the perimeter while fighting for every loose rebound.

It’s as good a team as any ever assembled and a reminder of how the Thunder franchise, from the Emerald City of Seattle to its current home in Oklahoma City, has always been represented by great players in any era.

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