Every season is supposed to be the year for the Oklahoma City Thunder. Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook have missed the first month of 2014-2015. When they do return, which might be very soon, they’ll have a very difficult job of not just bringing their team back to where it “aught” to be, but actually making the playoffs.
The Thunder are the second worst team in the NBA so far, with a 3-12 record. They’ve actually had more problems than just the injuries to their big stars, but the return of Reggie Jackson hasn’t really helped. It gives Jackson a chance to improve his numbers, scoring 20.1 points per game, but not the team, currently on a six game losing streak, three of them coming at home. How bad exactly have the Thunder been?
Defensively they’re doing alright. The defense was never hinging on Kevin Durant and Westbrook. They’re 12th in the NBA in defensive efficiency, giving up 102.2 points per 100 possessions. Offense is where the problems are, ranked 29th in the NBA (76ers are the only ones below) with 94.7 points per 100 possessions, and an effective field goal percentage of 45.9%, higher than only two other teams in the league – Detroit (who actually won in Oklahoma City) and Philadelphia, the bottom of the barrel this season, going 0-14 so far.
Scott Brooks is keeping it vague, saying that his two stars will only return when they’re 100% healthy. Durant is recovering from a stress fracture in his foot. Westbrook is coming back from breaking his hand. Both of them are aching to get back into action, but the Thunder have too much riding on them to let them come back too soon and risk a glorious future just so they can start making up the lost ground as soon as possible.
The Thunder are nine games behind .500 right now. Last season, with Durant all season long and Westbrook for most of it, they finished at 59-23, winning 72% of their games. Right now four teams are above that ratio (Houston, Portland, Golden State and Memphis). Assuming the Thunder get Durant and Westbrook back this weekend (Friday against the Knicks), they should be 3-13 at that point. That means they’ll need to go an incredible 56-10 the rest of the way.
But forget about winning the West and home court advantage. How about making the playoffs? Last season the Mavericks were the 8th seed in the NBA with a 49-33 record. Assuming the Thunder are going to need at least that in the loaded West, that seems to have more teams than before competing for a playoff spot, they’ll need to go 46-20 or better from this weekend. That’s winning 69.6% of their games. They’ve done better than that in each of the last three seasons (all above 71%), finishing second or first in the conference.
What does that tell us? The playoffs aren’t lost, not if Durant and Westbrook don’t linger with their absence. But winning the conference? Home court advantage? That’s going to take a very special effort from December to April, one that might be too much for even this duo of superstars to reach.