completely sick and disgusted frustrated with the general air of cynicism coming from Thunder fans as of late.
I really think that fans here have completely lost their perspective on just how special this Thunder team is, and the potential that they have to still win it all this year.
I also think that Billy Donovan was an excellent hire, and that he's managed the team extremely well over the course of this season.
Let's just take a second to put things into perspective. Over the course of the past eight seasons, the Thunder have amassed a record of 382-239. We've been a playoff team for six of those eight seasons. We've won a Western Conference Championship, and been to the conference finals two more times. By all measures, the Thunder have been instantly and remarkably competitive.
And we're remarkably lucky to have been so competitive, so early on. Generally, cities that get new NBA teams are forced to start from scratch, or they get moribund franchises that nobody cares about. Look at all of the cities that recently got NBA teams. Charlotte, founded in 2003, has struggled to make the playoffs every year in a terrible conference. The Raptors, founded in 1995, had four losing seasons before Vince Carter came along. And the Raps had many more losing seasons after that. The Grizzlies, also founded in 1995, were so bad that they left Vancouver entirely. Even the slate of four expansion teams in 88-89 (Hornets, Heat, Magic, Timberwolves) all had to endure four seasons of .500 records or less before they became competitive. And in most cases, it took much longer for these teams to become actual contenders.
But let's look at the human element, too. Oklahoma City has been gifted two of the biggest superstars in the sport. In terms of popularity, you could make the case for Durant and Westbrook being in the top 5 of NBA players, and nobody would argue with you if you declared them both in the top 10. On a cultural level, Durant and Westbrook are the only reason Oklahoma City has gotten such a positive image worldwide. You don't see a bunch of Spurs jerseys outside of San Antonio, but you'll definitely find those of Durant and Westbrook.
On a basketball level, no other team has that level of talent in their top two players.
Of course, at this point, most people would argue that Durant and Westbrook only play for each other, and don't do enough to get the team involved. Maybe, but consider what they've had to work with. Oklahoma City has never been rich enough to afford a consistent third or fourth piece. Oklahoma City isn't a very attractive destination for free agents, either. The Thunder don't have the tradition of winning that the Spurs do, nor the glitz and glam that comes with bigger markets.
I don't blame Presti, either. By and large, he has stuck to his philosophy of team building from the beginning to the end, and that's all I can ask. Other teams that change their front offices and directions from year to year suffer from all of the chaos.
Of course, many are up in arms over Presti's choice in coaches. Brooks was seen as a complete non-disciplinarian, and many see Billy Donovan as a hands-off coach. This perceived coaching weakness drives me bananas. For all of the criticism of Brooks, there wasn't a single iota of locker room drama on this team. Not even last season, when things fell apart. But firing Brooks last year was the right decision. Not so much because of what Brooks did, because injuries really hampered the Thunder. Rather, Brooks was fired because after so many years, players start tuning coaches out. The only coaches that survive in this league for extremely long tenures tend to be fiery disciplinarians, guys like Popovich, Sloan, and Nelson. Brooks wasn't that type of coach. And honestly, the injury-plagued season was a good excuse to get rid of Brooks....because we all know he wasn't the best tactician.
So we replace Brooks with Billy Donovan, an experienced coach who knows tactics but isn't necessarily going to be hard on his players. So far, the players have really been behind Donovan, and the Thunder's offense has gotten a lot more sophisticated. I'm seeing a lot more motion in the offense, and sophistication in plays out of timeouts.
Furthermore, players have seen significant improvements on an individual level. Enes Kanter, maligned as a complete defensive sieve, has actually put together some measure of respectability on that end. For Kanter's part, he mentions working on defense in seemingly every single interview. Heck, look at Dion Waiters. Waiters' numbers haven't been there, but he's so much smarter about where he goes on offense. Instead of constant stepbacks in terrible 1 on 1 situations, we're seeing Dion take corner threes and get to the rim more. Even Kyle Singler has seen some improvement under Donovan after some truly putrid numbers with OKC last year, and seems to be a bit more comfortable in his role.
There's been a lot of complaining about the lack of minutes for backup Cameron Payne as well. And yeah, I'm sad that he won't get minutes. Payne definitely has the potential to be a starter in this league. But at this point, the Thunder have 19 games left, and they need to stick with a rotation. At the moment, it appears Coach Donovan is set on using a 9 man rotation, with Kanter, Singler, Waiters, and Foye getting minutes. But the backup point guard is Kevin Durant.
Durant's place as the backup PG has people up in arms, but consider this: superstar players are becoming the ballhandlers, and traditional point guards are falling by the wayside. Consider Milwaukee. They have Michael Carter-Williams, one of the best passers and defenders in the league. But they're starting the 6'11" Giannis Antetokoumpo at point guard right now, and Jason Kidd has actually said that it has improved ball movement. The crazy thing is that Giannis isn't even running traditional point most of the time. Giannis just brings the ball up the floor.
Heck, look at the Chicago Bulls. Last night, Pau Gasol had 13 assists. This comes just 10 days after Pau Gasol racked up a whopping 14 assists against Portland. Now, Gasol has always been a extremely good passer, but never on this level. Since January 1st, Pau has averaged what would be a career high 5 assists per game. At 35 years old.
Versatility is becoming the name of the game in the NBA, and we need to give KD's PG lineup a chance to shine. So far, we've only seen the lineup in 6 games. Randy Foye is just two and a half weeks removed from playing with the Denver Nuggets. And we saw KD's backup PG lineup play quite successfully against the Bucks.
What else is great about Donovan? Billy has kept KDs minutes down. After averaging 38 minutes for his whole career, Durant is averaging 36 minutes this season. It takes incredible restraint and planning to stick to such a strategy.
Before I close here, I'd just like to say that our fans' lack of confidence about our ability to beat the Spurs and Warriors really bugs me. We were literally one play away from beating Golden State. The other game that OKC played against Golden State with a full roster, it was competitive until the fourth quarter. And in both games, the Thunder were playing with entirely new rotations. And in the latter game, the Thunder were playing their sixth game in nine nights on the road.
Success isn't as far away as the pundits and skeptics might have you believe. These next 19 games are about refining what we have, instead of pining for what we don't. With Durant and Westbrook now experienced and in their prime, I feel more confident about the Thunder's ability to win than ever before.
Thoughts? Fire 'em off in the comments!