With all these posts and conversations speculating about what the team can be expected to produce this year in terms of wins and losses, but seeing as these team is built around an extremely young core I want to focus on player development more than the win/loss side of things. I have said before that the success of the Thunder next year is not in the win/loss record, while we would all love to see them win as many games as possible, rather it is in the development of this young core especially the big four in Kevin Durant (KD), Jeff Green (Uncle Jeff), Russell Westbrook (RW0), and James Harden. That development comes in the form of each individual, but also in learning the tendencies of the other players and trusting one another to get the job done so no one is forcing the issue and in the end hurting the team.
Coming at this from my background in politics and education I think of this like the achievement gap in our schools and studies prove that the gap is non-existent from day 1 of the school year to day 180. The place where the gap grows is over the summer depending on the resources and effort put in between different individuals and groups. I think of basketball in much the same way not in that a player or a team cannot grow and improve over the course of the year but the foundational growth in a players game is done in those times when no one is watching. This was expressed perfectly by Russell himself back in March when he said, "I know what I’m doing wrong and I know what I need to improve on, but with 82 games and playing every night, it’s not easy to change and learn on the fly." This is the other part of not just the time to put in the work but also the fact that with the more experience in all of these different scenarios the game SLOWS down and makes decision making so much easier. For me the decision making aspect comes into play not only in knowing when to pass and when to shoot but also on which pass to make and finally on the ability to cut down the turnovers. This is a young team as we all know but if they can cut 2-3 turnovers out of the stat line per game that translates into an extra 3-4 points a night more than likely and wins in a lot of those close games.
In thinking that the real work of the season happens in the summer is great news for Thunder fans in that we have already witnessed that our original two in the core are willing to put in the work and do what it takes to improve from year to year as is shown in the vast improvements both Kevin and Jeff made in year 2. What we have also seen in the summer league action is that Russell has improved his court vision and willingness to trust the open man while Harden has shown a maturity to his overall game that should make him a perfect complement to the core we have been building already. What we did not see and largely to some extent it was because of his superiority to the competition in Orlando was how much, if at all, Russ had improved on the jumper.
Now lets get into some numbers.
80 GP 80GS 34.6 Min .43 FG% .288 3P% .873 FT% 1.0 ST .9BLK 2.9 TO 4.4 REB 2.4 ASST 20.3
80 GP 52GS 28.2
82 GP 64GS 32.5 Min .398 FG% .271 3P% .815 FT% 1.3 ST .2BLK 3.3 TO 4.9 REB 5.3 ASST 15.3
74 GP 73GS 39 Min .47
78 GP 77 GS 36.8
If I had to come up with comparables for these 3 I would use a player like George Gervin for Kevin even though Kevin is a better shooter and hopefully rebounder but the smoothness of their respective games is what leads me there and the effortlessness they show in scoring the ball. For Jeff Green I will go more contemporary with a David West comparison and for Russ I think the most apt comparison even though Russ is a better rebounder is Tony Parker. When Tony came into the league he could blow by anyone and get in the lane at will, turned the ball over too much and was very inconsistent with the jumper. Tony has become more consistent with his jumper and is now one of the best point guards in the league, which I expect Russ to be in a few years.
Combine all of this with the hopeful development of Serge Ibaka and the likely ownership of two lottery picks in a potentially very strong draft next where hopefully we can get a more traditional post scorer and the continued improvement over the summers of all of these players and we are well on our way. The last fact that we do not talk about enough on here is that all 3 of our core from last year are going to be at the Team USA camp coming up and to me that is the best way for each of these players to grow and develop as I would argue that playing for the US team last season made all the superstars on it have much better years back in the league. It got Lebron and Melo much more committed on the defensive end watching Kobe in practice, and if something like that translates over to Kevin then he is an easy all-star this season and will finally get the league wide recognition he deserves. While the "superstars" aren't supposed to be there just the competiveness of competing against the best that this country has to offer that are there will drive these players to become even better and we as fans will be the ones who benefit because growth happens in the summer and the results play out during the winter and spring.