The Oklahoma City Thunder were under fire after trading away superstar James Harden to the Houston Rockets. Critics jumped out of the woodwork, bashing the Thunder for making a move that would seemingly hurt their chances of winning a NBA championship. Since Harden’s departure, the Thunder have slowly improved each year. They won 60 games in their first year without Harden, a mark they hadn’t hit since their days as the Seattle Supersonics.
If it wasn’t for Russell Westbrook getting injured in the playoffs, there’s no telling how that season would have ended; I’m guessing it would have been with a trip to the NBA Finals. It’s now 2013, and the Thunder’s second season without Harden or Kevin Martin, who the Thunder got in exchange for the bearded superstar.
No one would have guessed that OKC would be adjusting so well to the departure of two players who are now averaging well over 20 points per game. I, for one, knew that they’d be safe as long as Kevin Durant, Serge Ibaka and Westbrook were active. Still, having three potential All-Stars isn’t enough to get by in the NBA. It’s been their supporting cast who has stepped up, making it that much easier for the Thunder to overcome adversity.
Players like Reggie Jackson, Jeremy Lamb and Steven Adams have been key contributors to their team’s early success. Jackson and Lamb are both averaging more than nine points a game, while Adams has added some much needed toughness to a weak center position. As time goes on, these players will get better and become even more of a factor.
There’s also been the solid play of Ibaka, who’s been asked to do more in Harden’s and Martin’s absence. The feared defender has improved his offensive game and is becoming more of a threat at the power forward position. Ibaka should be making his first All-Star appearance soon, as long as he continues to expand his game and maintain some consistency.
The Thunder are 9-3, with a big game against the San Antonio Spurs looming. The Spurs are on an 11-game winning streak, and a win against this team will add to the Thunder’s confidence, making them even more dangerous. Behind Durant’s MVP-like play and Westbrook’s dominance, this OKC team is looking better than ever, and are showing no sign of slowing down. Expect this team to make it deep into the playoffs, possibly returning to the NBA Finals.