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The Thunder pivot: Look at us now

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Oh, how the tables have turned in OKC.

NBA: Houston Rockets at Oklahoma City Thunder
The Thunder extended their winning streak to seven games with a victory over the Rockets last night.
Rob Ferguson-USA TODAY Sports

Things can change so quickly in sports. In a snap of the finger you can go from riding a wave to drowning underwater. The thing is, it is impossible to predict. It just happens.

The NBA is weird like that.

The Oklahoma City Thunder began the year playing sloppier than a kindergartener’s art project. The offense was sporadic, the defense let up easy, and the chemistry of the team seemed non-existent. An 0-4 start had experts and analysts across the country calling the downfall and predicting the Thunder would miss out on the playoffs.

Soon enough, the snap of a finger came.

What changed?

Oklahoma City has the fourth best defensive rating in the NBA behind the Boston Celtics, Denver Nuggets, and the Milwaukee Bucks. Opponents are shooting 44.4 percent from the field, which is good for ninth best in the entire league.

The team ranks fifth in the league in offensive boards per game and tenth in total boards per game. This means extra possessions. The New Zealand mammoth Steven Adams is providing 14 points and 10.5 rebounds per game to spearhead this statistic.

The Thunder also rank number one in steals per game with 11.6, a total of 1.4 more than the second ranked Memphis Grizzlies. This is a sign of stingy, aggressive defense. Paul George is the league leader with 2.82 per game. They also lead the league in opponent turnovers per game at 19.2.

The Thunder are a team that prides themselves on defense. The term “defense wins championships” is a term is mainly used for football but it is more relevant in basketball. The Warriors, Cavaliers, Heat, Lakers, Spurs, Mavs (teams to win titles over the last decade) have all finished top ten for the season in defensive rating for their championship seasons.

In this day and age where the Warriors are the Apple to everybody else’s Nokia, it is hard to believe many teams have a shot at winning a title. The Thunder are questionable in terms of serious title contention out west, but defense is not one of their concerns. It will improve especially when Andre Roberson returns from injury. He and Paul George will be the best wing defender duo in the league by the time the playoffs arrive.

The Thunder need to improve their field goal percentage. They rank 20th in the league at 44.6 percent from the floor. This equates to poor shot selection, mediocre offensive rhythm, and leaving valuable points on the table.

The Thunder are coming off an impressive 98-80 victory over the Houston Rockets on Thursday night and look to remain hot despite Russell Westbrook being sidelined by an ankle injury he suffered in Monday night’s game against the Pelicans.

NBA: New Orleans Pelicans at Oklahoma City Thunder
The team has been resilient since Westbrook went down with an ankle injury.
Alonzo Adams-USA TODAY Sports

A seven game winning streak has the Thunder sizzling hot and finally rumbling. One could argue that it should be eight straight if they did not crumble in second half against the Boston Celtics two weeks ago.

The Thunder look to be the force in the West that many thought they would be. The Rockets are falling apart right before our very eyes. The Pelicans are having an average season and Anthony Davis could be on the way out. The Utah Jazz and the Los Angeles Lakers are both 5-6. The Grizzlies, Clippers, and Kings have started their seasons strong, but can they be trusted to continue?

Oklahoma City sits at fourth place in the Western Conference only behind the Warriors, Nuggets, and Blazers. Nobody has been playing better basketball over the last two weeks than this team.

Right now they are without Russell Westbrook and Andre Roberson. Paul George is having another solid season, although it would be nice for him to increase that field goal percentage that is currently at just under 39 percent. Steven Adams is proving himself to be a force to be reckoned with down low and Dennis Schroder has been a solid acquisition off the bench. Jeramy Grant is showing tremendous improvement in performance and confidence on the offensive end.

With the superstar missing time to begin the year and missing time now, it has been the second option and the role players who are stepping up huge for this team in impressive fashion. The case used to be that this team was in utter disarray whenever #0 was not on the court to direct things. Now it looks like he can take his time to recover while the rest of the team holds things down in his absence. It is all about ensuring that this team is at full strength and full force by the time the playoffs come.

When Packers superstar quarterback Aaron Rodgers told the media and fans to “R-E-L-A-X”, his team went on a six game winning streak to close the regular season and found themselves in the NFC Championship game.

When the Thunder started this season 0-4, did you do the same?

NBA: Houston Rockets at Oklahoma City Thunder
Paul George has been playing basketball at a high level on both offense and defense.
Rob Ferguson-USA TODAY Sports