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Thursday, July 11, 2013

SDH Presents the 2013 End of Season NBA's Worst to First: 8. Oklahoma City Thunder

Overall Win/Loss Record (At Season’s End):  60-22, first place Northwest Division

At Season’s End:

Team Statistics and League Rank (At Season’s End)

  • Points Scored: 105.7 (3rd)
  • Points Allowed: 96.5 (10th)
  • Team FG%: .481 (3rd)
  • Opponent’s FG%: .425 (2nd)
  • Team FT%: .828 (1st)
  • Team Three Point FG%: .377 (3rd)
  • Rebounds per game: 43.6 (6th)
  • Opponents rebounds per game: 40.7 (6th)
  • Turnovers per game: 14.6 (26th)
  • Opponents turnovers per game: 14.2 (14th)

Individual Statistical Leaders (At Season’s End)

  • Scoring (ppg): Kevin Durant (28.1)
  • Rebounds per game:   Kevin Durant (7.9)
  • Minutes per game:  Kevin Durant (38.5)
  • Assists per game:  Russell Westbrook (7.4)
  • Field Goal Percentage: Serge Ibaka (.573)
  • Free Throw Percentage: Kevin Durant (.910)
  • Three Point FG Percentage: Kevin Martin (.421)
  • Steals per game:  Russell Westbrook (1.8)
  • Blocked Shots per game:  Serge Ibaka (3.0)

Taking a Look Back at the Season that Once Was . . .

SDH Worst to First Recap
Time Period
Change (+/-)
At Season’s End
SDH Player of the Year:
Russell Westbrook

This past season Russell Westbrook has undergone one of the most amazing transformation going from a turnover, ball hogging gunner into the true point guard that many had hoped that he would be.  Instead of simply barreling through the lane with every offensive possession, Westbrook has chosen to slow down his game in order to get his teammates involved and it has been a blessing for all concerned.  He still managed to get off his usual plethora of shot attempts, but they remain in the flow of the offense and have not been forced as he has been known for doing.  His impact was certainly felt when he was forced to sit out the rest of the playoffs due to injury.  If he were to have been healthy, perhaps the Thunder would not have fallen 4-1 in the second round and be still playing in the post season.

It was all champagne wishes and caviar dreams for the Oklahoma City Thunder as they finished the regular season with the second best record in the league behind the Miami Heat and entered the playoffs with home court advantage until the Western Conference Finals.  Many believed that it was already a forgone conclusion that the Thunder would return to the NBA Finals as they simply dominated their competition in the regular season on both sides of the floor ranking among the NBA's top five in scoring, field goal percentage, opponent's field goal percentage, free throw percentage, and three point field goal percentage.  Save for the Miami Heat, the team that had beat the Thunder in last year's finals, OKC had virtually no equal and fans simply waited for the season to play out and to see yet again these two titans duke it out again.  Thunder fans especially anticipated facing the Heat simply because they believed they had a far better team than they had last season--not in terms of improvements in the roster, but in terms of the team's overall execution on the offensive end.  The team's most notable improvement of all came by a rather unlikely source who last season seemed to hurt the the team more than helped it, and underwent the greatest transformation of all.  

In the 2012 season, Russell Westbrook was a selfish, turn over prone ball hog whose idea of setting up his team's offense was simply barreling through the lane hoping there will be someone to kick it out to or someone to rebound one of his errant shots.  After that harsh drubbing in the NBA Finals against the Heat, Russell Westbrook returned the following season as a changed man going from ball hogging chucker to an actual facilitating point guard. Instead of pushing the ball on the offensive end so fast  that his teammates could not keep up with him, Westbrook actually slowed down his game so his teammates can actually catch up and got them more involved as well.  His assists per game average jumped from 5.6 per game in 2012 to 7.4 this season and his assists to turnover ratio improved from a shameful 3:2 ratio to a more respectable 2:1.  His teammates certainly benefited from the new and improved Russel Westbrook as their scoring averages improved greatly along with the team's overall offensive efficiency as there was greater ball movement and his teammates actually had a chance to touch the ball.

Two of the players that had benefited the most from Westbrook's new found generosity were guard Thabo Sefalosha and power forward Serge Ibaka--two players who were essentially non factors in the Thunder's starting five last season.  Last season, Serge Ibaka's role on the teams was that of a simple shot blocking clean up man who basically got his shots from put backs off offensive rebounds and whatever few scraps that were left behind in offensive possible; this season however, Ibaka became a greater presence on the offensive end as his scoring spiked from just 9.1 points per game last season to posting a career high in scoring averaging 13.2 per game.  Thabo Sefalosha's did not have as much of a dramatic boost in offensive production as Ibaka's, but it can be seen as equally impressive as his scoring jumped from under 5.0 points per game over the last two seasons to nearly eight per game this season.  Sefalosha's shot attempts bumped up from under four per game last season to six and went from being a mere misnomer on the offensive end to becoming a clutch three point shooter thanks to his .419 shooting efficiency from beyond the arc.  Thanks to Westbrook, Oklahoma City went from being a two man show with him and Kevin Durant hogging most of the spotlight to becoming one of the league's most balanced and efficient offenses with four players averaging double figures in scoring with eight total scoring at least five per game.

One can actually go as far to say the Russell Westbrook was actually the Thunder's best player this season as he all but transformed the Thunder's offense from a predictable two man affair to a more balanced and efficient team where everyone got a chance to contribute.  Instead of trying to keep up or outdo Kevin Durant in terms of scoring, he chose to complement him by doing the things to help keep a lot of the pressure off Durant so he can do what he does best--namely put the ball into the basket.  Westbrook can be said as being the true leader on the team this season, actually surpassing Durant in that regard, as he channeled his almost limitless well energy in a more constructive way--namely through facilitating his teammates and being the team's rallying point.  He still remained the same offensive force as he was last season as he averaged the around same 23 points per game, but he became even a more potent and efficient on the both ends of the court.  Nothing highlighted his importance the team more than the Thunder's first round series against the Houston Rockets when Russell Westbrook fell to injury in game two and would be lost for the rest of the playoffs.

Once Westbrook got sidelines, everything started to fall apart for the Thunder as they lost the confident swagger and leadership that Westbrook provided and the team simply fell apart after that.  The Thunder blew a three games to none lead losing the next two games to Houston and managed to barely scrape past the Rockets in game six to advance in the second round.  Upon advancing, the Thunder simply got outplayed and outclassed by the fifth seeded Memphis Grizzlies as OKC no longer had the spark that Westbrook provided on both ends of the court subsequently losing the series in five games.  It was such a shame to see such a team that was so very dominant during the regular season become a shadow of its former self because of the absence of one sole player.  If Westbrook were to have remained in the lineup during the playoff, the outcome would certainly been different as the Thunder would have certainly been more than a match for the Grizzlies.  They probably would have far better opponent for the San Antonio Spurs than the Grizzlies were in the Western Conference Finals, for sure; however, that is all speculation as the Thunder spend the off season licking their wounds as the team waits to avenge their past  humiliation at the hands of a lesser team.