If you’d have to pick, right now, two NBA teams that are going to reach the 2013 NBA Finals, it would probably be the Oklahoma City Thunder from the West and the Miami Heat from the East. While the Thunder should run into a bit more opposition from the Lakers than they did last year but at the moment, most signs point to a repeat of the recent finals series.
Why? For a number of reasons. One of them is that both teams have the two best players in the NBA. If there’s one team sport in which having the best player on your team, no matter the talent around him, gives you a chance of succeeding, it’s basketball, and especially the NBA. Now, when you add that to the fact that both teams also have the two best ‘Big Three’ combos in the NBA, you’re getting a little bit more convinced.
Now, we settled our version of the Lakers – Thunder 2013 thing last weekend, ruling in favor of the Thunder. But reaching the NBA Finals and not coming through to win their first NBA title (forgetting the 70’s Sonics, mind you) won’t make anyone involved with this incredibly talented team happy. What have the Thunder changed to put themselves in a better position?
Many think that the Thunder got THE steal of the NBA Draft with Perry Jones III, a 6’11 power forward that will probably get more time than rookies on championship caliber teams do, with the Thunder really needing a front-court guy to add from the bench. Jones averaged 13.7 points and 7.6 rebounds during his sophomore year.
The Thunder also added Daniel Orton, who played a bit for the Orlando Magic last season but seems like another guy who left college, and specifically Kentucky, way too soon. Hasheem Thabeet, another project waiting to actually develop into more than just edge of the bench player, was also thrown into the mix. Hollis Thompson, who went undrafted two months ago and averaged 12.8 points per game last season for Georgetown was also signed.
Notice a trend? Adding forwards. Scott Brooks knows that a lot of the problems he had with the Miami Heat had to do with over-using Kendrick Perkins, not going enough with Serge Ibaka and needing, possibly, guys who’ll be a bit more effective in small-ball kind of basketball. They shouldn’t really encounter anyone who does it as well like the Heat until the NBA finals and two more times during the regular season, but being prepared is never bad.
But the Thunder couldn’t add anyone who can make a big and immediate impact. Too much money tied into their main five guys – Durant, Westbrook, Harden, Ibaka and Perkins. It doesn’t matter. So he just needs to build on the fact that his young guys (Durant, Westbrook, Harden, Ibaka) are going to continue and improve. Kevin Durant just becoming more and more unstoppable, Ibaka adding a bit more to his offensive game and Westbrook and Harden to become better decision makers.
It wouldn’t really hurt to have bit more plays in the playbook for the team to run. It seemed that over relying on their talent and ability to score quick points couldn’t take them that far against the Heat. The defense was better than what they faced against the Spurs, and there was the whole LeBron James taking over, with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh as his sidekicks to get over. The Thunder couldn’t, despite being the favorites heading into that series.
Kevin Durant was simply good, but not great. Russell Westbrook brought the whole positive and negative package with him. Kendrick Perkins became useless but Brooks continued to go with him instead of Ibaka. James Harden didn’t really show up, and the Thunder were always about the trio of scorers doing their thing. Thabo Sefolosha was good for a while, but eventually Wade and LeBron stopped fearing him and he just doesn’t add enough on offense to become a 30 minute type of guy for an entire series.
It’s a bit more about changing philosophy, minor adjustments, for Brooks as a head coach in the way the team players and for specific players, mostly Westbrook and Harden in my opinion, about what their roles are on the court. There’s no team in the NBA, not even the Lakers, with this kind of firepower when firing on all cylinders. Now all that’s left is to get it to work in the Finals as well.