The exploits of Durant and Co make Oklahoma City Thunder favourites to top Western Conference
Everything seems to be clicking for Oklahoma City Thunder. They have the best record in the western conference. They are beating the best teams. They are turning around hopeless starts to win by double digit margins. They seem to be playing some of the best basketball of the year. But the fact remains that they have a super star point guard who has been injured for a while now. They have a centre who figures in SI.com’s all atrocious starting 5 and they have a shooting guard who hardly does scoring. How are they doing it then?
This article is not about No. 35 and his mind boggling statistics. Instead, this article is about the influence this man has had on the team and three of his team mates.
When the 2013-14 season started, OKC was touted to be a team overly reliant on Kevin Durant. With Russell Westbrook making a comeback after a serious injury, Durant was expected to carry the entire team on his shoulders. But Westbrook made a very strong comeback and OKC were cruising. They had an enviable record of 21-4 in the games Westbrook played. Just as things seemed to be falling in place though, Westbrook got injured and was forced to undergo surgery once again. OKC then had a mixed run and questions were being asked about Durant being able to run a team.
As they say, when the going gets tough, the tough get going. Durant took over the role of guiding his team, and inspired by his god-like form, OKC seem to have found a way to win without Westbrook. Durant has been in crazy form this season, averaging a whopping 31 points a game at more than 50% shooting. The nearest to him is Caramello Anthony with 27 points. In addition to scoring he has averaged almost 8 rebounds and 5 assists a game. But OKC has not been all about Kevin Durant.
Serge Ibaka is in his fifth season with OKC now. Coming into the team as the 24th pick in the 2008 draft, he has made good progress to become a starter and one of the best defensive players in the league. Reggie Jackson is in his third season. Coincidentally, he was also the 24th pick in the 2011 draft. He had never started a game until the current season. Jeremy Lamb was traded by Houston Rockets to OKC after he was picked up in the 2012 draft (12th pick). He is still to make a strong statement in the league.
Now look at the stats for the same players in the current season:
The key behind the success of OKC this season in addition to Kevin Durant has been Ibaka’s consistency and the growth of Reggie Jackson and Jeremy Lamb. Ibaka’s progress continues with every season. He has been one of the steady performers for OKC barring some days when his shooting is just pathetic. Terrific at shot blocking and good at shooting, he is growing as a rebounder too.
Jackson has been the point guard in the absence of Russell Westbrook. Though he still has a long way to go before he can be seen in the same vein as his feared team mate, he has done his best to fit into the role. He has ably assisted Durant in scoring and making plays happen. He has been a significant threat from behind the arc, one major improvement in his shooting. He is also not scared to attack the hoop.
Lamb has been the super sub OKC look up to. A natural shooter, he has given OKC the advantage of having yet another player who can shoot threes. In the game against Houston he scored 22 points and showed he is ready to play the big boys. He is just 21 and has a lot to improve on his overall game.
The hot topic being analyzed on every basketball site today is Durant’s monster scoring spree and how OKC are back to winning. But that is not the only reason why OKC have been soaring in the standings. Durant’s ability to make players around him play has been equally important, if not more.
Let us look at the statistics of the four players during the 12 game 30+ points scoring streak.
Though the stats don’t change much from the season average for Ibaka, Jackson and Lamb, there is definitely improvement in scoring. In these 12 games, OKC have a 9-3 record. It is interesting to see the stats of the four players in the games OKC lost.
(Ibaka played in only 2 games)
There is a considerable difference between the two tables. Durant’s numbers remain almost the same, except the shooting % which is lower. This means he is forced to make more shots in the game, affecting his accuracy. Jackson’s stats are better compared to the 12 game stats. But Ibaka and Lamb played significantly below their season average. Their shooting % was rather abysmal.
Now Duran can shoot all day, all night, with eyes closed and god knows how else. He will surely score, and score loads. But for OKC to win, two of the above mentioned three players need to step up as well. With the Westbrook-Durant combination not present, OKC need to have significant contributions from the others to win games. Yes, there would be wins like the one against Golden State when Durant scored 54 points at 68% shooting; those days is just about feeding him the ball and watching him bury it. But not all days will be like that.
We are half way through the season and OKC are in a very comfortable position. If Durant continues to play this way and the others also maintain their form, OKC would become serious contenders for the title. Not to forget Westbrook, who would be raring to get all guns blazing once he comes back.
I would definitely put my money on OKC to top the Western Conference when the season ends.