5 Reasons Why Oklahoma City Thunder Will Win the 2013-14 NBA Title
5 Reasons Why Oklahoma City Thunder Will Win the 2013-2014 NBA Title
With the fall of Russell Westbrook, the NBA championship hopes for the Oklahoma City Thunder fell in the 2012-13 NBA Playoffs.
After a tough season that was surrounded in controversy over the decision to trade James Harden (now one of the 10 best players) instead of giving the trio of Kevin Durant, Harden and Westbrook one more shot at a title run together before a decision be made, the 2013-14 NBA season feels like the Thunder are starting over in some ways. No longer possessing established veterans or budding stars for support to their two superstars, the Thunder must now turn to the likes of Reggie Jackson, Perry Jones and Jeremy Lamb to hopefully establish something resembling a consistent offensive pipeline for the Thunder oil well that's suddenly a few bodies short of operating with ease.
With Westbrook sidelined for an undetermined period of time to rest his surgically repaired knee, the majority of the heavy lifting will be put squarely on the shoulders of Durant. Although the early portion of the season will prove to be challenging for the Thunder, there is plenty of positives about this team going forward that can get a fan base excited, especially about its opportunity at winning a ring.
In a league that is increasingly dominated by the young, athletic and perimeter oriented, the Thunder might just possess the best of all three dimensions save for the team that resides in South Beach. The Western Conference, unlike the recent past, no longer has one powerhouse team that is leaps and bounds superior to its counterparts as the likes of the Memphis Grizzlies, San Antonio Spurs, Los Angeles Clippers and Golden State Warriors along with the Thunder have minimal talent differential and rely more on strategy and matchup than simple out-muscling of their opponent.
With that said, there are five distinct reasons that the Thunder could and should at the very least vanquish their opponents and rise like the reborn phoenix that once shone brighter than any team in the entire NBA. Without further ado, here are the five underlying reasons why the Thunder should win the NBA championship in the 2013-14 NBA season.
5. Hunger To Get Over The Hump
You can see it on the faces of Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and the rest of the Oklahoma City Thunder teammates. Well, everyone except Kendrick Perkins, who just looks like that most of the time. Perkins' on-court demeanor aside, is there anyone who wouldn't start to get a little frustrated with their lack of success after this long?
The past two seasons have been full of great triumphs as well as great failures. To begin, the biggest Thunder rivals and obstacles up until the Miami Heat were none other than Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers along with Dirk Nowitzki and the Dallas Mavericks, both who ended playoff runs prematurely before the breakthrough during the 2011-12 NBA season. As with most challenges that have come in front of Durant, Westbrook and the Thunder, they were met eventually with the force to overpower the opponent after initially being outmatched by experience. In a way, you could say that the Thunder are the NBA's ultimate sponge for experience as they just seem to bounce right back from any shortcoming with what seems to not only be reinvigorated passion but an elevated level of play.
That aside, the past two seasons for the Thunder have begun with the goal of a championship as the primary focus and in both instances, they came up well short of their goal. With the departure of James Harden as well as the sudden lack of depth within the team's personnel, there is more pressure to get over the hump now than there ever was for the fear that their two stars become disinterested among the lack of success and choose to relocate in a few seasons' time. If we've learned anything about the Thunder in the Durant-Westbrook era, it's that pressure has always been equalized with the hunger to persevere in said pressure. This season, nothing but that should once again be expected.
4. Healthy Russell Westbrook
For all the talk around the media about Russell Westbrook's presence, decision making and occasional over-enthusiasm on the floor being a deterrent to Kevin Durant, the Oklahoma City Thunder were reduced in the absence of their All-Star point guard. Yes, Durant is an all-world basketball talent, a superstar and depending on who you ask, one of the two or three top players on the planet. That said, Westbrook is no slouch himself as can be seen by his career averages of 19.9 points, 6.9 assists and three second team All-NBA appearances.
In reality, Westbrook just might be one of the top five or six players in the entire league and for all the talk that Derrick Rose receives about his talent, physical ability and passion for the game, save for a slightly higher tendency for out-of-control antics on Westbrook's part, there really isn't that much of a difference between the two.
If Westbrook can recover without setback and regain the form that NBA fans are all too familiar in seeing, the Thunder will have a great chance at riding their two horses all the way to an NBA championship.
Last season, the Oklahoma City Thunder ranked 10th in the NBA in points allowed at 96.5 while leading the association in point differential at +9.2 points per game.
Translation: Not only do the Thunder like to play fast, they like to stop you from scoring on them. In a way, I think it's stats like this that the eventual Mike D'Antoni "you only run but we need to actually get a hand in someone's face on defense here and there to actually win something" intervention will be built upon.
Aside from playing at a high tempo, the Thunder is a team with a lot of defensive talent and a lot of fiery, fierce competitors. In Westbrook and Durant, you get two long, athletic and bothersome defenders who can stay in front of just about anyone in the league. In Kendrick Perkins, the team gets the big body that, although recent results have been less than ideal on an individual level, can guard the big bodies in the post.
Although the team possesses these three, it's the presence of Serge Ibaka and Thabo Sefolosha that gives the Thunder its bite on defense.
In Ibaka, the Thunder lay claim to one of the best shot blockers in the NBA and a player that is a few months removed from finishing third in voting for the NBA's defensive player of the year award.
In Sefolosha, it gains the services of one of the tougher and more pesky perimeter defenders in the entire league.
At the end of the day, you can score all you want but without a properly established and consistent effort on defense, there will always be a team slightly more fundamentally built that inevitably end your pursuit of that cherished ring and banner just short each time. With the Thunder, if the past is any way to predict the future, we don't have to worry about their defense because the rest of the NBA has to.
2. Playoff Experience
Four straight years of playoff experience and minimal change in personnel means that not only do the Thunder enter the 2013-14 NBA season with a load of playoff experience but also with the kind of cohesiveness that can only be built through many battles in the trenches together throughout the years.
Of the teams that currently reside among the Western Conference elite, only the San Antonio Spurs possess the kind of experience in the playoffs that the Thunder have residing within their locker room. With experience comes the knowledge of not only how to perform when all the marbles are on the line, but also a history of doing so, something that the Golden State Warriors and Los Angeles Clippers simply do not possess.
At the end of the day, experience leads to knowledge. That knowledge, once digested and made sense of, becomes wisdom.
1. Star Power
Of all the strengths that the Thunder have established the foundation of the basketball team around, the biggest strength lies in that of their sheer talent.
When it's all said and done, the Thunder will only go as far as Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant and Serge Ibaka can take them this season. You can have all of the elite-level defense that Thabo Sefolosha can provide, all the secondary scoring that Jeremy Lamb and Reggie Jackson might well provide and all the intangible locker room traits that Kendrick Perkins can provide, but if those three aren't on the roster, the Thunder are not in the conversation of a title contender or even a respectable team for that matter.
Can Westbrook and Durant find a way to replace the scoring and floor spacing that went missing with the departure of Kevin Martin? Can they finally create an unstoppable two-headed monster that seamlessly puts away opponents with coordinated chaos or will they remain merely the battle of two powerful heads but with egos that prevent such cohesion from fully developing?
In my mind, I believe that last year's playoff disappointment extinguished some of the big egos in the room in a way that an Amare Stoudemire fist towards a glass case never could. In his mind, Durant knows he needs Westbrook and Westbrook likewise knows he needs Durant. If we were able to see Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant, two stars who liked each other about as much as Simon Cowell probably liked listening to a grade six choir, win three championships together, these two should have no problem figuring things out this upcoming season.