A Thunderous Improvement

All-American Sports BlogContributor IDecember 17, 2009

OKLAHOMA CITY - OCTOBER 29:  Kevin Durant #35 of the Oklahoma City Thunder watches a free throw against the Milwaukee Bucks at the Ford Center on October 29, 2008 in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. The Bucks defeated the Thunder 98-87.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.   (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
Chris Graythen/Getty Images

          Let’s take ourselves back to December 14th, 2008. It’s around 9:07 P.M in San Antonio at the AT&T Center, where the Oklahoma City Thunder had just lost their 7th straight game, leaving their record at an atrocious 2-23. Something was clearly wrong with this team, but what was unclear was the fact that no one knew exactly what it was. Sure, struggles are imminent when you’re a young, developing team in the league. But any NBA team should be talented enough to will their way to victory more twice in 25 tries.

            That’s beyond pathetic.

            It was obvious that something had to be done for an immediate change to occur, but what was also undeniable was that nothing would turn the team around as quickly as their fans would hope. It was doubtless that the Thunder would endure a long, long season ahead, which is exactly what happened. After a coaching change, 20 different players in uniform, a league-low in three-pointers made, a league-high in turnovers, the Thunder sat at the basement of the Northwest division, going 23-59.

            After their hideous start to the 08-09 season, the Thunder showed a vast improvement, winning 19 games from January to April as opposed to four from November to December. This was indubitably nothing to boast about, but something to “feed on” as the off-season approached. And although this season was quite a disappointment for Scott Brooks and his squad, there were actually many individual positives to build upon.

-         Kevin Durant was 6th in the league in scoring, 24th in free-throw shooting, 18th in steals,

-         Nick Collison was 34th in the league in rebounding, while Jeff Green was 37th

-         Russell Westbrook was 19th in the league in assists, and 14th in steal

            Although these four players make up only a portion of the team, they gave their fellow teammates a glimpse of hope, proving that they’re on the same level as some of the better players in the game.

            Their off-season, which shied away from risky or drastic moves, was certainly a successful one. Via the draft, they gained a solid starting SG in James Harden(averaging 9.2 ppg, while playing decent from all aspects of the game), and reserve center B.J Mullens, who has yet to see the slightest amount of playing time.

            When the 09-10 season began, many believed that the Thunder would yet again come out of the gates with a broken leg. But on the contrary, they proved the numerous doubters incorrect, winning 12 of their first 21, and currently hovering around .500 with a 12-11 record. Why such a steep improvement in less than a year?

            Overall, their stats as a unit have increased noticeably.

-         From 30th to 23 in turnovers

-         From 9th to 1st in Free-Throw %

-         From 27th to 22nd in point differential

-         From 28th to 22nd in three-point percentage

            But there’s not a single statistic that stands out when you look at the Thunder as a team. Although, if you look at each player separately, you see a colossal improvement.

-         Kevin Durant is 3rd in the league in scoring, 8th in free-throw percentage, 11th in steals, 37th in rebounds, and 50th in blocks.

-         Russell Westbrook 9th in the league in assists, and 48th in scoring.

-         Jeff Green is 38th in the league in blocks.

-         James Haren is 30th in the league in free-throw percentage.

-         Thabo Sefelosha is 21st in the league in steals.

      Now, it’s more apparent this improvement has occurred so rapidly. As you can see, Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, and other key contributors have improved their game remarkably this past off-season.

      Durant specifically, who was passed up by the Blazers for the first pick in the ’07 draft, is now being associated with the best in the game. His progression is as transparent as a magnifying glass, and is finally translating into victories. With the assistance of his supporting cast, Durant has lead this young franchise to a 12-11 record. He, along with Westbrook and Green, have given this team the boost they need to make a legit run at the eight seed in the Western Conference.

      No, their record’s not eye-opening, but under the circumstances you can easily give this team credit for their turnaround. The core of this quickly blooming group of men looks like it’ll be around for years and years to come.

      Their most skilled players are only in their early twenties, which is incredible considering how much experience can do to a player in today’s game. Look four or five years into the future, and it’s clearly mind-boggling when trying to conceive how effective this team could eventually be.

Time will only tell.


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