The fact that Ryan Gomes joins the Oklahoma City Thunder does make them slightly better heading into next season, but it doesn’t change the fact and the outlook of their current situation, which seems to be Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook just not having the right team around them to win an NBA title.
Are Durant and Westbrook constantly getting better? Probably. Durant averaged 28.1 points, 7.9 rebounds and 4.6 assists last season. MVP’ish as they come in a world that doesn’t include LeBron James. Russell Westbrook saw a slight dip in his scoring average as he made the transition of being a more traditional point guard at certain moments on the floor, forced into that role due to James Harden no longer being on the team.
There are two schools of thought backing and dismissing the Thunder’s window of opportunity to win the NBA title, with each of them focusing on either what they have left, or what they’ve lost over the last couple of years.
Negativity is easier to explain, so we’ll begin there. Last season the Thunder bowed down in five games to the Memphis Grizzlies in the conference semifinal. Even though Russell Westbrook didn’t play, the expectations from the NBA finalists from 2012 were higher, bigger and better. Yet Kevin Durant fell apart under the heavy load he had to carry, while the absence of another ball carrier, which the Thunder still don’t have, took too much out of him.
The Thunder haven’t made too many changes. None of their draft picks seem like players who will contribute right away, while their previous picks like Jeremy Lamb and Perry Jones don’t seem like players that are in the plans of Scott Brooks to contribute substantially next season. It leaves them with the roster of Durant, Westbrook, Ibaka, Jackson, Perkins, Collison and Sefolosha, hoping someone from the previously mentioned players steps up.
A better team, with Harden, couldn’t beat the Miami Heat in the 2012 finals, losing in five games; that team nearly lost to the Memphis Grizzlies in the Western semifinals. Last season’s early exit had a lot to do with Russell Westbrook injuring his knee, but something about the Thunder wasn’t as convincing as it was the year before, despite the numbers that suggested they’re the second best team in the league.
But there’s also the positive, which first and foremost bases itself on Durant and Westbrook continuing to improve. There’s not a lot more these two can do, but no NBA team has a tandem of playmakers this good and this dominant. Durant has to win the MVP at some point, and the only think you can think of missing from his game is being better on defense.
Serge Ibaka is an All-Star, even if he’s not the complete big man on offense. The Thunder have made up for losing Kevin Martin or that third scorer everyone seems to be convinced they need with more minutes for Jackson, more minutes for Lamb and Ryan Gomes picking up the slack.
The window is as wide as Durant’s wingspan, but more accurately, depends on Durant and Westbrook staying on the team. With them, even their depth problems and not having sufficient backups to their big men shouldn’t matter that much, because their two superstars are good enough, as long as they keep up their improvement curb, to win an NBA title without being part of a “big three.”