Thunder Look to Bounce Back

Dylan Snyder

The early NBA season has been marked by several stories. From Lebron and the Cavalier’s slow start in Cleveland to the historically efficient Dallas offense, there is plenty to talk about. One team likely to contend for the title this summer has been all but forgotten due to injuries, but after their two stars get healthy, the Oklahoma City Thunder are ready to take their place near the top of the Western Conference.

It is becoming increasingly common for teams in the NBA to assemble a core of expensive superstars, surround them with a group of highly specialized role players and try to win a title. The Celtics started the “Big 3” strategy in the modern game when they acquired Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen to partner with Paul Pierce. The Heat then followed suit with Lebron James, Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh.

What these teams did wasn’t stable though. These players are expensive and had the tendency to be established, veteran players, meaning that they aged quickly. The Thunder have been able to acquire two of the top-15 players of the league through the draft. Kevin Durant appears to be heir to LeBron’s crown as the face of the league, while Russell Westbrook is one of the most explosive offensive point guards in the league.

The Thunder haven’t been able to get over the hump in the past, being stymied by different Big 3s over the last few years. This season appeared to be in doubt early as Durant went down with injury. It was considered by many to be Westbrook’s time to show the league that he was an elite player without needing Durant to support it. The only problem was that Westbrook only lasted a few games before he went down with an injury himself.

The Thunder struggled mightily, limping out to a 5-12 record before Durant and Westbrook came back. Already being behind the 8-ball in terms of making the playoffs it will be tough for the Thunder to get a good matchup early in the postseason. They can’t be counted out, though, as both Durant and Westbrook carry with them the ability to completely take over a game.

What the Thunder have really been lacking is any sort of offense. Without their two superstars the team is 29th in points per game and dead last in assists per game. Both of these aspects should change drastically over the course of the next few games as they find a rhythm with their superstars back.

The Thunder are already six games out of the last playoff spot, and eleven behind the Golden State Warriors for the top spot in the Western Conference. The good news is that the season is so early that they have plenty of time to try and make up the difference between themselves and the rest of the pack.

The road is made harder by strength of the Western conference as a whole. For the last several seasons the West has been viewed as a much deeper and more difficult conference to compete in. They are helped by competing in the Northwest Division, one of the weaker for the conference, but unless they can take over the top spot it won’t matter much.

Westbrook is one of the strongest competitors in the league and will not take the chance of missing the playoffs lightly. Durant will have to continue to carry a lot of the offensive load offensively, averaging 27 points a game already. When this summer rolls around the Thunder are a team to watch out for, playing with a chip on their shoulders and ready to take the next step with the help of their leaders.+