It is time to stop judging this year’s OKC Thunder team on previous versions

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander #2 of the Oklahoma City Thunder is congratulated by Chris Paul #3 following an NBA game . (Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander #2 of the Oklahoma City Thunder is congratulated by Chris Paul #3 following an NBA game . (Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images) /

This year’s OKC Thunder team is different, and they should be graded as such.

The OKC Thunder currently sits at 37-23 and was in fifth place but fall back to sixth following Friday action in the wild Western Conference.

A year ago, when the team was playing their best basketball, the OKC Thunder turned in a 38-23 record. That mark was good enough for third in a much weaker Western Conference. We all know how that season ended. The team slipped to sixth in the west and was bounced in the first round for the third straight year.

However, at this time last year, with the same record, we all had high hopes for the OKC Thunder. Dreams of a sustained playoff run danced through our dreams like Cam Payne and Russell Westbrook at the scorers’ table. Then, for the second straight year, the core of Russell Westbrook and Paul George failed to show up in the postseason, and a Damian Lillard jumper from the logo left heads spinning.

That shot did more to benefit the OKC Thunder than the Portland Trailblazers both short term and long term. Sure, the Blazers have bragging rights and a rather forgetful run to the Western Conference finals, but their team now stands in disarray on the outside of the playoff picture with no real hope in sight. Not only is this current OKC Thunder squad within earshot of hosting a playoff series, but they have so much future NBA Draft assets that even make Danny Ainge jealous.

This team currently has a higher offensive rating, relative offensive rating, and are far superior in the clutch. This current rendition of the OKC Thunder has slowed the pace down (from 102.8 to 98.5) and has run Billy Donovan‘s offense to perfection.

I get it though, I understand the skepticism from fans and media. This organization made a lot of us look stupid, foolish, and left us feeling embarrassed.  No one wants to be heartbroken again. Especially when it has happened each of the last two seasons.

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However, this year is different. It truly is. A totally different core, and a totally different head coach in terms of his system and what he is able to do. While it is the same guy on the sidelines, Billy Donovan went from the hot seat to a potential coach of the year. That is not luck, that is finally having a team to buy into his season.

I find myself feeling like Michael Scott from the office sitting at my desk typing this “I am ready to get hurt again.” But this team is different. If you bought into the OKC Thunder being contenders last year, you should be a huge advocate for this current version of the team.

What is the knock-on this team?

Their ability to create mismatches and play in the clutch will help them in the postseason. Granted I am not predicting an NBA Finals run, or even a Western Conference finals run, but a first-round series win and an absolute knock out drag-out fight in the second round, that could end up going their way.

A lot of the concerns about this team are based on stigmas from players who are wearing different uniforms this season.  So it is time to put the past heartbreaks behind us, and allow this team to define themselves. I can promise you this, the season will not end in embarrassing fashion as the previous two have. This team matches up well with just about every Western Conference Playoff team.

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What are your predictions for this year’s OKC Thunder team?