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Sunday, June 14, 2015

SDH's 2014/2015 NBA End of Season Worst to First Countdown: 17. Oklahoma City Thunder

2014/2015 Projection: 50-32, second place Northwest Division, fifth place Western Conference

Actual Finish: 45-37, second place Northwest Division, ninth place Western Conference

2014/2015 Finish

Actual 2014/2015 Finish

Team Statistics and League Rank

  • Points Scored: 104.0 (5th)
  • Points Allowed: 101.8(24th)
  • Team FG%: .447 (18th)
  • Opponent’s FG%: .440 (9th)
  • Team FT%: .754 (15th)
  • Team Three Point FG%: .339 (23rd)
  • Rebounds per game: 47.5 (1st)
  • Opponents rebounds per game: 42.7 (11th)
  • Turnovers per game: 14.0 (20th)
  • Opponents turnovers per game: 12.9 (21st)

Individual Statistical Leaders

  • Scoring (ppg): Russell Westbrook (28.1)
  • Rebounds per game:  Serge Ibaka (7.8)
  • Minutes per game: Russell Westbrook (34.4)
  • Assists per game:  Russell Westbrook (8.8)
  • Field Goal Percentage: Enes Kanter (.566)
  • Free Throw Percentage:  Jeremy Lamb (.890)
  • Three Point FG Percentage: Anthony Morrow (.434)
  • Steals per game:  Russell Westbrook (2.1)

  • Blocked Shots per game:   Serge Ibaka (2.4)

SDH’s Hero to Honor: +Russell Westbrook

What an absolute shame that the Thunder failed to make the post season, because if it had, this man would have most likely won the title of Most Valuable Player; however, even if he may be overlooked in the MVP race, there is no doubting that Russell Westbrook put forth one of single most impressive athletic performances for not only the year, but possibly in recent history.  This man literally carried the team on his back over the course of the regular season on both ends of the court as he finished it as not only the league's leading scorer, but also fourth in the league in assists with nearly ten per game and second in steals per game.  In addition to ranking in the top five in scoring, assists and steals, Westbrook was a absolute monster on the boards leading all point guards in rebounds averaging more than seven per game thus making him even more statistically intimidating that the king himself, +LeBron James.    Although Westbrook may have earned bragging rights for having the single most impressive season in possibly NBA history, what stings the most is that it was essentially all for naught as his team failed to make the playoffs despite such a mind blowing performance that will probably will never be seen again for quite some time

SDH’s Face to Forget: Scott Brooks

As Westbrook's earth shattering performance and super-heroics feats disappear in the annals of sports history, there will be an equally tragic event for Thunder basketball.  Scott Brooks--the man who led the team to countless division titles, playoff appearances, thus making him one of the sought after coaches in the +NBA--has been let go by the organization due to the team's inability to make the playoffs this season.  What makes this decision so unjust was not the fact that he got fired after just one disappointing finish, but the fact that he kept the team afloat and in the playoff chase despite the obstacles.  For much of the season, he was without +Kevin Durant, Serge Ibaka, and Russell Westbrook, yet still managed to keep the Thunder in striking distance of the post season; yet, through some cruel twist of fate, the team was eliminated out of contention as the +New Orleans Pelicans snatched the tie-breaker away from them leaving the Thunder on the outside looking in for the first time in five years and their now former head coach looking for a job.  Now Brooks will have a chance to prove that he can still coach an NBA team to playoff glory without having his two former anchors in Durant and Westbrook.  It will be interesting to see how he will manage in a new environment, with new personnel and a different front office; however, what will be even more intriguing is who the Thunder chose as his successor and whether or not he will maintain the team the way Brooks had for so long.

Forgive the pun, but to say that the 2015 +NBA Season for the +Oklahoma City Thunder was a "stormy" one would be putting it mildly as the team started it without its two leading scorers +Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook for the first month on the season and stumbled out of the gates with a 5-12 record.  Yet in spite of the odds against them, the Thunder clawed back to respectability thanks to the return of their dynamic duo leading the charge, but by the time the team seemed to get back on track Oklahoma City still faced an uphill battle as they had plenty of ground to return to contention in the rather overwhelming Western Conference.  As if matters were not arduous enough, in their quest for returning to relevancy, the Thunder would receive another harsh blow as Kevin Durant would be lost for the rest of the season after playing just 27 games leaving Westbrook to shoulder the scoring load in the most crucial month of the regular season; nevertheless, Westbrook answered the call as he put up on the single most impressive individual performances in possibly the history of sports and dragged his team to very end battling for the final playoff berth in the West.  His finishing the season not only as the league's top scorer, but one of its top assist men and ball thieves would possibly earned him MVP honors had the Thunder managed to clinch the final playoff spot in the West; however, both Westbrook and his team were cheated as they had been eliminated out of contention at the very last game of the season thanks to the +New Orleans Pelicans--who narrowly passed them thanks to a tie breaking technicality.

Although they finished with the exact same 45-37 record, the upstart Pelicans narrowly edged the more seasoned Thunder thanks to them having a better record in the Western Conference--29-23 compared to OKC's 25-27 finish; however, that should not mar what has been an overall impressive season by a team that had so many odds against it.  Oklahoma City literally took the expression "fighting to the very end," to heart as it virtually brushed off such a horrific start, scratched and clawed through every game winning 40 of their next 65 while undergoing great flux within the organization--not only with the absence of Durant, but also great with upheaval within the roster as well.  Along with Durant, the Thunder also had to endure another significant loss in +Serge Ibaka--the team's leading rebounding and shot blockers as well as its third leading scorer to boot--who had to sit out the season as well for knee surgery and had to deal with an emerging problem heading over the horizon.  During the first month of the season, point guard Reggie Jackson had stepped in to fill the void left by Westbrook's and Durant's absence and posted the best numbers in his career leading the team in points (19.3), assists (7.5) and minutes played, while at the same time grabbed 5.3 rebounds at the same time; however upon Durant's and Westbrook's arrival, both Jackson's minutes and production significantly dropped resulting in him becoming frustrated with his role and demanding a trade.  This resulted in the Thunder pulling off a massive deal involving the +Detroit Pistons and +Utah Jazz that not only cast away a disgruntled player, but also relieved them of a perennial useless dead weight in +Kendrick Perkins--who had worn out his welcome with fans for quite some time--plus gathered pieces to bolster its roster for the final stretch run.

From Detroit, OKC received point guard DJ Augustin and swing man Kyle Singler--two players whose both their ball handling ability and shooting prowess meshed in well with the Thunder's offensive set giving a team a suitable fill in for Durant in Singler while at the same time adding a point guard who did not mind to take a back seat, unlike Jackson; however, they were not the biggest part of the deal.  In a shocking move, the Jazz gave the Thunder rising young big man +Enes Kanter, who had been just coming into his own in the last couple of years and had the makings of a potential All Star down the road; however, similar to the situation with Jackson, Kanter felt uncomfortable with his limited role in Utah and upon arriving to Okay City, he certainly proved himself worthy of All Star consideration with a stellar performance that was only eclipsed by Westbrook's own.   The 23 year old fourth year center from Turkey was unstoppable as he stormed in posting some of the best numbers that has not been seen from an NBA center with averages of 19 points and 11 rebounds per game while shooting an unconscious .566 from the field during the last 26 games of the regular season.   In addition to +Dion Waiters,  whom the team acquired earlier in a trade with the +Cleveland Cavaliers, along with an already solid supporting class of role players from the previous seasons, the Oklahoma City Thunder looked just as strong as it did with both Durant and Ibaka in the roster on both ends of the floor while at the same time provided fans a sneak peak of what might come once they return next season.  Unfortunately, in spite of the rather impressive roster upgrades, it became a case of "too little, too late" for the Thunder as the team's 5-12 start was simply too much of a burden to bear resulting in not only missing the post season, but also falling out of any chance of attaining the number one overall pick in this summer's upcoming draft which is probably worse than simply falling apart and wasting the season away the same way the +New York Knicks, +Los Angeles Lakers , +Philadelphia 76ers and +Minnesota Timberwolves did to the chagrin of many.

Fortunately for the Thunder, they are not in as too bad of a situation as the other teams in the league that fell short to make the playoffs since their fall came due to a series of unfortunate circumstances rather than showing that they are a team in decline or disarray.  Had both Durant and Westbrook been healthy from opening tip off, Oklahoma City would  have won at least 55 to 60 games easy; however, as a result of just sheer bad luck and the even worst misfortune of being in a conference which does not allow any margin of error, the Thunder were forced to play catch up for the majority of the season.  The team will certainly be in better shape with Westbrook, Durant and Ibaka at full strength as they have the entire summer to relax, recuperate and recover from their respective surgeries and hopefully if there are no complications, their restoration period will pass without any complications; however, next season will be bittersweet as they will return without their head coach from the past seven years as it was recently announced that Scott Brooks had been relieved of his post as a result of this off chance season.  The dismissal of Brooks can be considered as both a shame and an injustice since he had led Thunder to stand among the league's elite from the moment he stepped into the coaching seat and it was primarily because of his coaching that the Thunder managed to remain in the playoff chase until the very end; plus, the person who will be replacing him has no experience coaching the NBA and will be expected to return this seasoned veteran team back to the stature that Brooks originally brought it in the first place.  Billy Donovan has been successful in the college ranks leading the +Florida Gators to two straight +NCAA Championship titles plus numerous tournament appearances since then; however, so far no college coach, even the most successful in their respective fields has been able to bring that same success to the pros and he will be expected to coach a team where he will have little or no learning curve and the margin of error is nonexistent.  

The introduction of a new coach could not have come at a worse time as next season will possibly be the most pivotal for the franchise because the contracts of both the team's franchise players will expire at its end and such a crucial time needs a more seasoned professional at the coach's seat rather than one that is learning the ropes.  This past season has made this situation especially rough because it was essentially wasted due to the the injuries of both Durant and Westbrook and the team's failure to make the playoffs thus resulting in this upcoming one possibly being the last hurrah for this small market NBA franchise that has gained such critical acclaim in such a short span of time. Since arriving to Oklahoma City from Seattle, the Thunder went from wallowing at the bottom as a lottery team its first year to winning 50 games and reaching the playoffs in its second to reaching the NBA Finals two years later and has maintained a reputation as one of the league's elite and most successful franchises since then.  Unfortunately, this past season has put all that in jeopardy as it was supposed to be a make or break year to see whether or not it had what it took to at least pull off one last NBA Championship run before everything falls apart and the Thunder would be forced to start back from scratch after such a successful seven year playoff run.   Now Thunder fans will have to painfully endure endless speculation and await this season not with their usual hope and excitement, but with the dread of what may soon come.