I still remember exactly how I felt about the Thunder when Kevin Durant departed the team. Part of how I felt was knowing that my dreams of seeing the Thunder being crowned as the NBA champions had been shattered. Part of it was also about the move itself and how weak it was, especially that Oklahoma City showed him nothing but love. However, at the end of the day, you realize that this is all part of life and that people will eventually think about themselves and will base their actions based on where they benefit the most.
It then became even worse when Ibaka got traded, even though Oladipo was a good player, but I felt it and knew it deep down that the Thunder were not good enough to make it to the finals. In fact, even when the Thunder had Ibaka and Durant, I used to criticize them about playing individually, not playing based on set of formations and plays, not sharing the ball, and being weak in terms of 3rd and 4th quarter execution. However, we all knew that those issues could be fixed, and we always thought we had more time.
Moving on to the next season, the Thunder finished 6th in the Western Conference with an early playoffs exit from the Rockets (4-1). It was frustrating to the point that I thought that the Thunder should undergo a rebuilding process. It even reached to the point where I thought that OKC should get rid of Westbrook because there is no point of him putting those spectacular numbers if we are not going to make it to the conference finals at least. The Thunder used to be one of the most reputable heavy weights teams in the NBA and seeing them collapse was awful. It hurts.
Of course, Sam Presti being Sam Presti, he put on an off-season magic show where the Thunder ended up acquiring Paul George and Carmelo Anthony. Things finally seemed great, us as Thunder fans became optimistic about the team being on the right track. However, that optimism did not last long until it was clear that Westbrook, George, and Anthony had weak on-court chemistry between them. Coach Donovan was also still in the process of learning more about the team and trying to figure out how to run the team day-to-day in the NBA. The Thunder ended up being the 4thin the Western Conference with a 48-34 record and an early playoffs exit from Salt Lake City.
I lost hope in the team. I didn’t know what was going on. Was it because of the coach? Was it because the team went all-in on Anthony, and his ISO ball play style that doesn’t work in the NBA anymore? Was it because George wasn’t as good as advertised? Should OKC still consider trading Westbrook? All I knew was that the Thunder are getting worse, and that it was time to lower my expectations and accept the fact that they are not a championship caliber team anymore.
But then, a new chapter unfolded which is the 2018-2019 season. Believe it or not, I am not frustrated anymore; I am actually optimistic about how things will end this year. The Thunder are off to an amazing start in comparison with the previous two years. They are the 3rd in the west with 1 game behind the top-seeded Denver Nuggets. The team chemistry looks great. Westbrook is finally changing his play style and giving the lead to George to do his job. Coach Donovan seems to have more control over the team; his presence and touches as a coach are being noticed.
Numbers never lie — the Thunder are second in rebounds per game, first in steals per game, and 6th in blocks per game, using their defense to control games. I still believe offense is an issue for the team, and had always been an issue. OKC are ranked 23rd in assists per game, 11th in points per game, 15th in field goal percentage. If they improve their offense I certainly believe that OKC will regain their reputation as one of the top heavy weights team in the Western Conference and they will be able to make it to the conference finals. Challenges remain, however. If you are a team that can shoot the 3-point ball very well, you are going to be an absolute threat. The Thunder need to continue building good offensive sets that generate open looks from outside. Alex Abrines, despite missing several game-winning 3-point attempts in the last few weeks, should still be given opportunities to be the reliable 3-point shooter the team needs.
Should the Thunder trade for a new player? I don’t think so, I think stability is needed and all of the stated problems can be addressed in a span of 82 games in order to be ready for the playoffs. It is the little details that make the biggest difference. If the Thunder manage to address those details, then I think they have a real opportunity to regain their standing as a feared playoff team.
Do you think the Thunder will make it to the conference finals in the 2019 NBA Playoffs?
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