Skip to content

Be warned: This year’s Thunder are better than last year’s

Jan 12, 2013, 9:30 AM EDT

Serge Ibaka, Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook Getty Images

Kevin Durant is a better player today than he was when the Thunder lost Game 5 of the NBA finals last season. His ball handling has improved allowing him to take on more playmaking. His defense is better. He is rebounding more.

Russell Westbrook is more of a floor general. His play seems crisper, more confident. And he’s still one of the most athletic players in the NBA.

Serge Ibaka might win the NBA’s most improved player award this year — he has developed a very reliable midrange catch-and-shoot jumper and is shooting 57.1 percent on the season. He used to play only for his defense, now he starts because you have to guard him.

When the Thunder traded James Harden for Kevin Martin before the season the team took a small step back. They will miss Harden’s playmaking off the bench. His defense. His beard.

But the Thunder today are a better team, a hungrier team than the one the Heat beat in the finals last season. Their defense is about the same but their offense is 3.5 points per 100 possessions better this season — it is the best offense in the NBA.

That growth is because Durant and Westbrook are just 24 years old and still on a steep improvement curve. Ibaka is 23. With every new experience — like losing in the finals — they learn. They get better.

“When we made the (Harden) trade, we knew that we were still going to be a good team…” Thunder coach Scott Brooks said. “Our players are better. They came back better this summer. I thought the Olympic experience for all of them, even Serge with Spain, I thought everyone came back a little better.”

All of that showed in a rout of the Lakers Friday night. The Thunder defended and got out on the break to get some easy buckets. They moved the ball, made the extra pass, got good looks and then their shooters knocked them down.

Kevin Durant showed a mean streak, scoring 42 points and seeming at points to really enjoy taking it out on the Lakers. At one point he drove baseline and dunked over Antawn Jamison, then glared with a fire he rarely makes so public. Westbrook had 27 points but also 10 assists. The Thunder role players get their jobs and execute them.

And they are not tolerating lapses — up more than 20 with 9:42 left in the fourth quarter, the Lakers scored back-to-back buckets on lazy defense by the Thunder. Brooks called time out and chewed out his team. He put the starters back in for a few minutes to fully seal the game. And to send a message about effort and building good habits.

The Miami Heat are not building good habits, they are coasting through this season. Which is still enough to lead the Eastern Conference. It’s not easy to imagine a scenario where another team comes out of the conference. The Heat are the defending champs, if you want a ring you have to go through them.

Oklahoma City might just be a team that can do that. Because their stars are better than they have ever been.

Latest Posts
  1. Pelicans waive Toney Douglas, still await Norris Cole decision

    Jul 31, 2015, 10:26 PM EDT

    Utah Jazz v New Orleans Pelicans Getty Images

    Norris Cole is still looking for a bigger payday.

  2. Pacers’ Jordan Hill arrested for reckless driving, clocked at 107 mph

    Jul 31, 2015, 7:15 PM EDT

    Phoenix Suns v Los Angeles Lakers Getty Images

    Hill told the police he was “in a hurry.” I guess so.

  3. Warriors trade Gerald Wallace to Philadelphia in exchange for Jason Thompson

    Jul 31, 2015, 7:01 PM EDT

    Dallas Mavericks v Sacramento Kings Getty Images

    Neither guy is going to make a difference on the court for these teams. This was just moving some money around.

  4. Trail Blazers guarantee Allen Crabbe’s contract for next season

    Jul 31, 2015, 5:46 PM EDT

    LV Celtics v Trailblazers Getty Images

    Crabbe looked good in Las Vegas at Summer League.

  5. Report: Hedo Turkoglu wants to play anther NBA season, Kings possiblity

    Jul 31, 2015, 4:59 PM EDT

    Washington Wizards v Los Angeles Clippers Getty Images

    The Kings don’t really have the roster spot for him.

  6. Grizzlies’ D-League affiliate hires female assistant coach

    Jul 31, 2015, 4:11 PM EDT

    NBA.com NBA.com

    Iowa Energy add Nicki Gross to coaching staff

  7. Report: Joe Johnson “pumped” that Deron Williams bought out by Nets

    Jul 31, 2015, 12:52 PM EDT

    joe johnson nets sleeved alternates

    Johnson makes $24.9 million, but this is the last year of his contract.

  8. Report: Knicks to sign Thanasis Antetokounmpo

    Jul 31, 2015, 12:47 PM EDT

    20141220 Westchester Knicks at Maine Red Claws Getty Images

    New York drafted Giannis Antetokounmpo’s brother last year

  9. Report: 76ers second-rounder J.P. Tokoto won’t sign with Philadelphia

    Jul 31, 2015, 10:23 AM EDT

    Houston Rockets v Philadelphia 76ers Getty Images

    No. 58 pick will reportedly head overseas or to D-League

  10. Knicks waive Ricky Ledo

    Jul 31, 2015, 9:21 AM EDT

    Ricky Ledo AP

    Guard didn’t show much in short stint in New York

  11. NBA lands in Africa trying to put down roots, which is all about youth programs, infrastructure

    Jul 31, 2015, 8:35 AM EDT

    cd0ymzcznguwzdbhnduynddiytjhm2yyzthlmtjjotqwyyznptu5nzjmmwjlotdhnzrhn2iwytixngrhnwi2yzqwyjzk AP

    “One thing to come out of this will be more camps, more clinics, more games, more youth competition, and from that you get into infrastructure, and building more courts.” —Masai Ujiri, Raptors GM and native Nigerian

  12. Mark Cuban says trading for Rajon Rondo was tough call, “came down to a coin flip”

    Jul 31, 2015, 7:59 AM EDT

    Houston Rockets v Dallas Mavericks Getty Images

    “And the coin flip was as much about, is there going to be anything else that we could do? Because we knew we had to do something.” —Mark Cuban on trading for Rajon Rondo.

  13. Pau Gasol on Fred Hoiberg: “I think we’ll play with a better flow offensively”

    Jul 30, 2015, 11:30 PM EDT

    Pau Gasol Pau Gasol

    Hoiberg has a much stronger offensive reputation than Tom Thibodeau.

  14. Blazers waive Brendan Haywood after acquiring him from Cavs

    Jul 30, 2015, 10:43 PM EDT

    Brendan Haywood, Michael Beasley Brendan Haywood, Michael Beasley

    Portland received Mike Miller and two second-round picks in addition to Haywood.

  15. Report: Kings expected to hire Nancy Lieberman as assistant coach

    Jul 30, 2015, 10:00 PM EDT

    Austin Toros v Texas Legends Austin Toros v Texas Legends

    Lieberman would be the second female assistant coach, after Becky Hammon

Top 10 NBA Player Searches
  1. K. Bryant (2791)
  2. B. Haywood (2307)
  3. I. Thomas (2167)
  4. L. James (1930)
  5. M. Miller (1881)