Is OKC Being Overlooked A Good Thing?

A few days ago, the attention centered on the Spurs chances to (possibly) dethrone the Warriors. Last week, it was the power and intentions of LeBron James, and the ouster of David Blatt. The week before that, it was the Warriors dominance and Steph Curry’s historic season. And the week before that…..

By default, (there are only so many slices in the NBA pie), the OKC Thunder, a title contender, have gotten very little coverage and attention and you have to wonder if it’s because there is nothing overwhelmingly dramatic and soap opera-ish about the Thunder or their roster. They have seamlessly integrated a new coach and quieted the talk of the possibility of this being Kevin Durant’s last season.  Although they have had their little speed bumps along the way, there has been nothing dramatic to wrestle the media’s attention upon the state of Oklahoma, to say look at me, besides their consistency. Whatever they get in terms of coverage amounts to crumbs.

If Kevin Durant isn’t lecturing the media, the media then totally ignores him and Russell Westbrook, even as they are the most dynamic twosome in the NBA, (not Steph Curry and Klay Thompson). But if you looked at the national coverage, the Thunder NBA title storyline falls beneath the Kevin Durant is leaving headline and all those jaw-dropping Russell Westbrook dunking vines.

The game of the century, according to media outlets, was the Spurs-Warriors game on Monday night. But that particular narrative, glossy as it may have been, was ultimately reductive. Supposedly, only two teams in the West can win the title, the Spurs and Warriors. After the Spurs were thrashed by 30, everyone had to throw that script out the window.

This is the new script: there are three teams in the west capable of winning the title. Suddenly the Thunder are brought into the mix.

Western Conference Elite W-L Offensive Rating Defensive Rating Points Scored Points Allowed
Warriors 41-4 114.5 (1st) 102.0 (4th) 114.8 (1st) 102.3 (18th)
Spurs 38-7 110.4 (3rd) 96.0 (1st) 103.9 (7th) 90.4 (1st)
Thunder 34-13 112.3 (2nd) 104.0 (11th) 109.0 (2nd) 100.9 (13th)

Being ignored, being under the radar isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The Thunder can grow without scrutiny. The local media is very player friendly, the national media not so much. This way, Donovan can go through his growing pains without his every success and mistake slashed across the front pages across the country. The Thunder can build week after week, month after month. Having Durant and Westbrook as their anchor means the Thunder will win 50+ games and they can do it without the burden of resentment one week, euphoria the next week.

The Thunder are the best offense that is not the Golden State Warriors. They are 2nd in points scored. They are 3rd in field goal percentage. They are a good shot-contesting teams, allowing 43.2%. They are 2nd in rebounding, trailing the Bulls, and 4th in blocks.

FG% Offense FG% Defense Rebounding Blocks
Warriors 48.7% (1st) 42.8% (2nd) 46.8 (4th) 6.4 (3rd)
Thunder 47.4% (3rd) 43.2% (5th) 47.5 (2nd) 6.3 (4th)

And yet, the Thunder turn the ball over too much. They are an average 3-point shooting team. But away from the glare of the media, with a rookie coach, they have the 4th best record in the NBA, and are on pace to win 59 games.

Durant and Westbrook are the best combo duo since Kobe-Shaq. They impact every part of the game, scoring, assists, defense, explosion, blow-bys, clutch shooting, iso’s. Of course, Kobe-Shaq repeated as champions three times and Durant-Westbrook have only been to the Finals once.

Points FG% Assists Rebounds PER
Kobe-Shaq, 2002-03 57.5 49.8% 9.0 18.0 55.7
Steph-Klay, 2014-15 45.5 47.5% 10.6 7.5 48.8
Durant-Westbrook, 2012-13 51.3 47.3% 12.0 13.1 52.2

If Durant stays in Oklahoma, the odds are that Westbrook stays too. Then the pressure really begins. Durant-Westbrook simply has to deliver on their talent and promise.

In his contract year, Kevin Durant’s assists have increased while his overall offensive numbers are pretty much the same. His rebounding is at a three year high.

Russell Westbrook is having a career year in assists though his 3-point shooting is in the tank at 28%. He leads the NBA in steals which is responsible for the Thunder being the 4th best fast break team.

The Warriors-Thunder matchup in ten days, in Oakland, is a game to circle on the schedule.

Both offenses are dynamic. Both have explosive players. The Warriors are a better passing team and have a better defense. The Thunder have two unguardable players. The Warriors have one. Even though it will only be February, not May, Warriors-Thunder will be a barometer as to what the Western Conference Finals may look like sometime down the road.

Expect to hear it called the Game of the Century.

photo via llananba