Image courtesy of William Bennett Berry.
It’s almost scary to think that it was six years ago….
Back in 2008, the Thunder were the biggest joke of the NBA. They had a roster packed with overpaid journeymen and long-forgotten prospects, mixed with a few diamonds of young talent. Oklahoma City was certainly excited to have a team to call their own, but everybody knew that the roster was far worse than what the Hornets had to offer. Pretty much everything about the Thunder, including the logo, seemed thrown together at the last minute. I mean, the in-arena entertainment re-played “Everybody Clap Your Hands” six times every game, games airing on TV were rife with technical errors, and the team was run by a coach whose most notable NBA accomplishment was getting choked by Latrell Sprewell.
Things improved quickly, though. Even in that first 23 win, 59 loss season, there were moments of glory. KD got into scoring battles with Melo, and we managed to steal a couple of games from playoff teams. By the time the winter of 2009 rolled around, the Thunder were winning regularly and OKC had fully embraced them.
For a long time, I thought the image of the Oklahoma City Thunder as a bad team would never return. That is…..until this year’s team was hit with the injury plague of the century.
As it stands, the Thunder are 1-4 over their first five games, and will likely field their weakest lineup of the year on tonight against the Grizzlies. Perry Jones was the one shining ray of hope during the first five games, as he’d picked up a few of KD’s old offensive sets and proven himself able to score. Unfortunately, PJIII hurt his knee in Tuesday’s game, effectively destroying the Thunder’s lineup for the time being. I’m expecting the Thunder to get at least another player back from injury by the time Sunday’s game rolls around. Thus, Friday night will likely be your last opportunity to tune in and watch one of the worst Oklahoma City Thunder teams you’ll ever see.
One important question remains. Are tonight’s injury plagued Thunder better than the opening night 2008 Thunder? Which team is the worst Thunder team of all-time? Let’s break it down.
Image courtesy of William Bennett Berry.
As we found out last year, getting a major star injured on your team can actually be a rewarding experience. For the 27 game stretch that Russell Westbrook was absent last year, the Thunder went a strong 20-7 amidst a MVP performance from Kevin Durant. The goings may not be as easy during Durant’s expected 15-25 game absence this year, but we’ll definitely be able to learn a lot about who we have. With three regular rotation pieces from last year (Butler, Sefolosha, and Fisher) all now out-of-town and two more rotation players in the decline of their careers (Perkins and Collison), the Thunder figure to be working in a lot of new people.
Last year, the injury did a variety of things to the team. Most importantly, it solidified Reggie Jackson as somebody who was dynamic enough to earn a starting role based on talent alone. This is good for OKC in the short-term and certainly helped us against the Grizzlies (see: game 4), but will definitely hurt us when figuring out how to pay him after this year.
Anyway, let’s get down to brass tacks. Here’s 5 bold predictions on things we’re going to learn about the Thunder thanks to Kevin Durant’s injury. Get well soon, KD.
1. Russell Westbrook is an MVP-caliber player
I know that everyone has their doubts about Westbrook’s ability to carry this team on his own. But I couldn’t be less concerned. Sure, KD has barely missed any legitimate games over the course of his career, but in those rare instances where he has missed a legitimate game, Westbrook has shined.
For example, when KD missed seven games during the Thunder’s inaugural season, Westbrook managed to lead the Thunder to a 5-2 record on his own. I know that was five years ago, but it was the same season the Thunder started 3-28 and finished 23-59.
Furthermore, Westbrook’s supporting cast of Jeff Green and a bunch of role players wasn’t exactly as impressive as the roster is today. Need more evidence? Consider that Westbrook’s 2009 win against Dirk’s Mavericks also came without Jeff Green. Also consider that Russ was able to beat Garnett’s Celtics without Durant or Green back in 2010. Russell hasn’t exactly gotten worse since then, and that he was 3 rebounds and 2 assists away from averaging a TRIPLE DOUBLE during last year’s playoffs can’t be ignored.
Image courtesy of William Bennett Berry.
It’s been a long off-season, but we’re only a few weeks away from the regular season tip-off of Thunder basketball. But before we get into what our team will do on the court, let’s take a look back at what the players did over the Summer, using absolutely ridiculous social media posts and my personal anger as your guide.
So, here’s the Thunder’s off-season from my perspective. At the close of last season, the Thunder had three players under contract (Durant, Westbrook, and Ibaka) that should have played very major roles on international teams in the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup. I was excited, because I’m the only person in the world that really loves international basketball. Thus, I applied for press credentials and booked travel to Spain, along with travel to follow Team USA’s exhibitions. Shortly after I did that, Russell Westbrook decided not to play for Team USA. Then, disaster struck when Under Armour offered KD a lot of money, and Paul George forced KD to face his own mortality. Durant decided to quit Team USA in the middle of training camp. I was now stuck covering a team that had absolutely no relation to my Thunder-centric website. Serge Ibaka would be at the competition, but his team was staggered on the other side of the bracket, and thus at the other side of the country for the vast majority of the competition. As it would turn out, I’d never see Serge Ibaka play live.
So, how was Serge Ibaka’s 2014 FIBA competition? Well, I’d say it can be effectively summed up in this picture:
This image, and all images below, are courtesy of William Bennett Berry. Seriously, Czech him out.
It’s been another great week of basketball as the Thunder cruised past the Bucks and mounted yet another fourth quarter comeback, this time against the Nuggets. There’s nothing really strange going on, so here’s some general impressions that I’ve had of the Thunder so far this season. Feel free to steal them and pretend you thought of them yourself next time you meet up with your friends.
1. There’s no James Harden/Kevin Martin replacement, but it’s not a big deal.
This might seem strange to people who have followed the Thunder for years. We’ve had an extremely rigid and top loaded scoring system for years. It’s extremely rare to see anyone but Kevin Durant or Russell Westbrook at the top of the scoring list, while Ibaka and Harden/Martin would usually slide in at third and fourth, while the rest of the team toiled in the single digits. This type of hierarchy exists on every team to some extent, but very few have as consistent and rigid of a hierarchy as the Thunder do.
Hello again Thunder fans! It’s been a tough week. After a miracle win against the Wizards at home, the Thunder went out West and were narrowly edged out by two of the league’s best teams. Last night’s Warriors game was particularly tough, because an insanely epic comeback was negated by a last second shot from Andre Iguodala.
Wednesday night’s game against the Clippers was different. From the outset, the Thunder looked like the superior team. The Clippers had no defense near the rim (indeed, Hasheem Thabeet was able to score at will), they couldn’t force any turnovers, and their bench was horrible. But Kendrick Perkins’ absence definitely took a toll on the team, as did Nick Collison’s foul trouble and the ever-looming threat of Blake Griffin in the paint.
But what hurt most of all….was what you see above. After a 6-6 shooting night, Serge Ibaka was forced off the floor for supposedly balling a fist after being shove by Matt Barnes. The ejection pretty much cost the Thunder the game, as their big man reserves were depleted and Scott Brooks started giving more minutes to Thabeet and Gomes. The worst part about it is that the brawl wasn’t even fun to watch. Just a bunch of guys clamoring together and a couple of ejections. By far the best part about the whole thing were Barnes’ theatrics, as he picked up his kid and proceeded to Tweet his frustrations.
That got me thinking….what have been some of the best Thunder brawls over the years? The worst? Obviously, there haven’t been many actual fights, as they’re usually broken up as soon as they start. But there have been quite a few scuffles, words exchanged, and technical fouls. Utilizing the power of my intellect and the resources of the internet, I was able to find them. Here’s the most memorable Thunder brawls.
#5: Metta World Peace Tries to Steal the Ball After the Play is Over
This was a particularly intense moment during the second round of the playoffs in 2012. Westbrook tries to keep the ball as he falls to the floor on a rebound. Metta World Peace went after it, managing to muster up a jump ball. But after the ball was solidified, he and Westbrook kept going at it. Kendrick Perkins and Jordan Hill came over to calm things down, but World Peace just shoved them away, resulting in Joey Crawford doing his best offensive line impersonation and pushing Russ to the other end of the court. To me, that last part is easily the best thing about this play. It’s just bizarre to watch him push a man much younger and stronger than him 20 feet down the court.
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