The Oklahoma City Thunder are currently the No. 3 seed in the Western Conference and are playing impressive team basketball. This has started the conversation of if this team has the potential to become the best team the city has seen since the move from Seattle in 2008.
Obviously, Kevin Durant and James Harden played alongside Russell Westbrook for the beginning of their careers in Oklahoma City. That team even made the NBA Finals in 2012. However, with Russell Westbrook embracing a more team-player style of play and Paul George playing at an MVP caliber level, Oklahoma City looks like a legitimate title threat THIS year.
The Golden State Warriors are still in a class of their own and the clear favorite to make the NBA Finals from the Western Conference. With LeBron and the Lakers fighting to even make the playoffs, the only true competition for the Warriors seems to be the Thunder.
Russell Westbrook is currently on pace to average, yes AVERAGE, a triple double for the third consecutive season, an accomplishment the league has never even heard of. Additionally, Westbrook is averaging a career high in rebounds and assists this season. Russ is playing less selfish basketball, and the whole team is benefiting because of this improvement.
I can’t help but wonder what the Thunder could have achieved had Russ adapted this team-first style of play when Kevin Durant was still on the roster. The closest we may get to finding out that answer is with the current team roster. I believe many people were shocked that Paul George re-signed with with Oklahoma City last summer, and maybe Westbrook’s selling point to PG was he could be the on-court leader of this team.
George is averaging career highs in points, rebounds AND assists this year. He has become a more well-rounded player, and I am sure part of that has to do with his playing proximity to Mr. Triple Double himself. But for a superstar like Paul George to improve to career highs in the three key statistical categories all in the same season, you start to wonder if there is truly lightning striking for the OKC Thunder.
Billy Donovan has found the perfect roster of role players to fit into the game alongside Westbrook and George. Donovan plays more than 10 players in almost every game, which allows his players to get enough rest and be efficient with their time on the court. This Thunder bench is deep. With Dennis Schroder, the team now has something they never had before: a reliable court general when Russ is out of the game.
Point guard depth was the biggest issue the Thunder faced in the playoffs, and now they have addressed that issue with Schroder. The acquisition of Markieff Morris, who most recently played for the Washington Wizards, continues to strengthen an already deep bench. Morris said the main reason he chose to sign with the Thunder was because of the fun they have as a team and the friendly locker room environment. Additionally, Morris noted that Paul George and Russell Westbrook are each other’s biggest fans and revel in each other’s success and accomplishments.
So do you think the Thunder have the potential to win the Western Conference this year? If they remain the No. 3 seed or even move up to the No. 2 seed, they would avoid the Warriors until the Western Conference Finals. This is the best case scenario, as OKC would have time to build playoff chemistry and continue to develop confidence in their play.
All the talk regarding the NBA playoffs is about the Eastern Conference, because of the logjam at the top of that conference. Because of that, the West talk has been limited to the Warriors and their incredible starting five. As the Thunder maintain the under the radar status, they are becoming more and more dangerous. Come April, the Oklahoma City Thunder will absolutely be the #1 threat to break the Warriors’ four year consecutive Western Conference title streak.