GDHQNBA15_2pg-Oklahoma City Thunder

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WESTERN CONFERENCE NORTHWEST DIVISION Oklahoma City It’s not absurd for Thunder fans to feel as if time is running out for their team to win a championship. It might seem ridiculous to say that, but there’s no guarantee that Kevin Durant will remain part of the Thunder for the remainder of his career. Meanwhile, Sam Presti has built a team with three outstanding players in Durant, Russell Westbrook, and Serge Ibaka, but hasn’t filled certain voids in the team’s roster, when perhaps just one more solid rotation player would put Oklahoma City over the top. Even though Westbrook missed nearly half the season with injuries, Oklahoma City finished the regular season with an excellent 59-23 record and high hopes for winning a championship. Unfortunately, the Thunder ran into an Ibaka injury and the San Antonio Spurs, and while it looked as if the Thunder might make a series comeback, the Spurs closed out the series with an overtime win in game six at Oklahoma City. Defense It’s easy to look at players like Durant and Westbrook and think the Thunder shouldn’t be very good at defense, but they are. It starts on the inside, where Serge Ibaka has established himself as perhaps the League’s top shotblocking force. Ibaka is a great complement to the stout Kendrick Perkins and rookie Steven Adams, both of whom provide tough defense in the post. Meanwhile, Durant makes the most of his length on the perimeter, as he’s very good at disrupting his opponent’s shots. Thabo Sefolosha, who went to Atlanta in free agency, was a defensive specialist who could match up with just about any wing player in the league. For his part, Westbrook tends to gamble for steals more than he should, but he has tremendous athleticism and can hold his own against some of the toughest point guards in the Western Conference. With no real holes in Oklahoma City’s roster, their defense was very strong last year overall. However, much of that was surely due to Sefolosha’s presence, and it’s unlikely that either Reggie Jackson or Andre Roberson will be able to make up for that. At the same time, Sefolosha was only a 1,600 minute player for the Thunder last season, and the team’s overall defensive performance seemed to be just fine even without him in the lineup. As it turns out, the biggest problem the Thunder have on defense has little to do with defense itself, and more to do with how some of their better defenders do on offense. Perkins has reached the point where he simply should never be given the ball on offense. Adams has more potential to develop into a two-way player, but while he’s already established himself as a physical force and a pest, he was a rookie last season and made his fair share of rookie mistakes. Even so, Oklahoma City should be a strong defensive team again this season. The big three of Durant, Westbrook, and Ibaka are all back, and Adams should improve in his second season in the league. Perkins is legitimately a very good defender, even if his offense is putrid, and reserves like Nick Collison play quality defense as well. It’s the scoring that gets attention, but make no mistake about it: Oklahoma City wouldn’t be so successful without having a genuinely good defensive roster. Offense Oklahoma City’s offense is all about two players: Durant and Westbrook. Durant won his first league MVP last season as a player who could not only do just about anything offensively, but do anything at a very high level. Durant takes a lot of three point attempts and makes 39 percent of them, but he’s so good and driving to the basket and making floaters that his overall shooting percentage is right at 50 percent. Durant is also perhaps the League’s best player at drawing fouls and getting to the line, and he’s predictably an outstanding freethrow shooter as well. Unfortunately, a fracture in Durant’s foot will have him sidelined for a couple months. That means the burden on offense will fall to Westbrook, a player who isn’t shy about taking command of the offense in just about any situation. Westbrook aggressively drives to the basket early and often, and his tendency to take a tremendous number of shots is something that has agitated many fans who believe it’s Durant Russell Westbrook Sam Forencich/NBAE/Getty Images


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