Before the season began many people saw the Thunder as one of several teams on the upswing, but most experts had the Thunder pegged as an organization caught in that zone between playoff contender and slightly-above-mediocre. In the span of a few months, the results and projections have obviously changed. Now talk revolves around the Thunder as somewhat of a dark horse candidate in the playoffs, the team that nobody really wants to pair up against in the first round. Looking at the growth and development of the team this season, it's easy to see why people get caught up in the optimism. The last two weeks haven't done much to push that feeling aside, highlighted with wins against the Lakers, Rockets, and Celtics.
While we should be rightfully optimistic, it's important to take some of our success in context. The Celtics weren't at full strength, the Lakers played their worst game on the year, and while the Rockets have our number, they aren't the type of team we should be gunning for in our pursuit of getting to the top. Our success against top tier teams isn't terrible, but our overall record against upper echelon playoff-bound teams doesn't bolster confidence in thoughts of a deep playoff run. During this same period of time we've lost to the Spurs and Trail Blazers -- hardly the crème de la crème of NBA playoff-bound teams. Case to point.
On the flip side to being crazily optimistic, we can go about looking at the team and dissecting each position and player -- a process that would no doubt highlight quite a number of the deficiencies with the Thunder. We know that we're still lacking in players that can sufficiently spread the defense, a flaw that was even more obvious when Harden was out. We know that the team fails to capitalize on many interior penetration and driving opportunities, as Thunder fans everywhere cringe each time Westbrook misses a shot from less than 10 feet out -- or worse, fails to bank a layup. Then there's the settling for way too many outside shots, which the team generally makes at an even worse clip. It's twice as bad when there are open lanes to drive into, but Thabo (or anyone else) pulls up and fires a blank. It's nothing we aren't aware of -- this is an exciting roster, but one with obvious, critical flaws.
Despite the flaws, it's pretty clear to even the most pessimistic observer that this team is good. Good enough to be competitive on a nightly basis against the best. Good enough to win against the Celtics, Rockets, and Lakers in the span of roughly one week. Is that good enough to make it past the first round in the playoffs? I don't know the answer, but I do know that the team is competitive and playoff bound for the first time ever (and first time in a while if you're going to go back to Sonics history) -- and that counts for something.