The Oklahoma City Thunder has not made it back to the NBA Finals since trading away James Harden. They have been great in the regular season; aside from the lockout shorten season the Thunder have won 50 games every year since the 2009-10 season. Their issues have shown up during the playoffs. Last year Westbrook went down with an injury and this past season Ibaka went down with a calf injury missing the first two games against the Spurs in the Conference Finals. Kevin Durant led them to 59 wins and he won his first MVP award but it wasn’t enough to get them back to the NBA Finals.
Russell Westbrook missed the first two games at the start of last season. He came back with no minutes restrictions and looked decent. He then had another knee surgery and missed a lot of time. Westbrook has been a durable guy for his career playing in every game possible before he got hurt. Last year he was limited to only 42 games in the regular season. In the playoffs he was fantastic, playing in all 19 games while increasing his scoring, rebounds and assists.
Playing without Westbrook for the majority of the season Kevin Durant had to step his game up. He became a better playmaker, increasing his assists, and having a career high in double-doubles and triple-doubles. He was already a big time scorer but he got even better, he took a few more shots without Westbrook and averaged a career high 32 ppg. It wasn’t a 50-40-90 season for Durant but he did finally edge out LeBron James for his first MVP award.
The third best player for the Thunder was Serge Ibaka. He’s become a better mid-range shooter and still a terrific shot blocker. He still has not become a playmaker so his numbers did not jump when Westbrook missed time. His rebounding has slowly improved throughout the years and he’s becoming a better team defender.
The Thunder were challenged early in the playoffs as the Grizzlies beat them up and forced a game seven. Durant’s shooting was down but he would still put up big scoring numbers. The Grizzlies are always a tough matchup for the Thunder. They figured it out and moved on to face the Clippers. The Clippers series had a much better pace and high scoring games. Durant and Westbrook were great playing off each other. Durant had three double-doubles in the series while Westbrook had a triple-double and two double-doubles. Ibaka started the series on a good note but slowly faded and was held to single digits in the last three games of the series.
The rematch with the Spurs was supposed to be highly competitive. The Thunder beat the Spurs two years ago to make it to the NBA Finals. The Spurs just blew the Thunder out in games 1 & 2. Serge Ibaka returned for game 3 and led the Thunder to a big win. He went 6-7 from the field scoring 15 points. His defense changed the game as the Thunder won game 4 as well.
The Spurs bounced back in game five beating the Thunder 117-89. These games were not competitive and we thought the Thunder would handle the Spurs in game six. It turns out game 6 would be the most competitive game and the best game of the series. The Thunder were favorites at home but the Spurs answered the call. It was an overtime game in which the “bad” Westbrook showed up during overtime. He just kept shooting the ball as Durant stood there. The Spurs pulled away in an overtime thriller to return to the Finals.
Heading into the draft the Thunder had two first round picks. They could use some help at shooting guard but decided to draft center Mitch McGary from Michigan. With the next pick they drafted Josh Huestis and promised him a spot on their summer league roster.
In the off-season the Thunder lost their starting two guard and best perimeter defender Thabo Sefolosha. He was in the dog house during the playoffs because he could not hit a shot. His defense will be sorely missed. Some people question the additions the Thunder have made this off-season.
They added Sebastian Telfair, Anthony Morrow and some undrafted rookies. Andre Roberson is now the starting shooting guard and it remains to be seen if that is a good move. Steven Adams is a good tough defensive minded center next to Ibaka.
Kevin Durant has a fractured foot and will require surgery. He is expected to miss 6-8 weeks. It’s a good thing the Thunder caught this early. The roles are now reversed and Westbrook will need to carry this team in Durant’s absence.
We all get to see Westbrook as the number one option. I expect him to thrive in this role and he will put up big numbers. This team has no real backup for Kevin Durant. Jeremy Lamb was in and out of the lineup last year and Perry Jones can’t stay in the lineup either. Those two guys will probably split time in that role. The Thunder should keep Reggie Jackson on the bench so he can be the spark plug for the second unit. They will still battle for a top record in the league. This season they will win 57-60 games.