Will Kevin Durant and the Thunder be making a re-appearance in the NBA Finals in 2014?
Oklahoma City was the popular pick to emerge as the Western Conference representative in this year's NBA Finals, that is until Russell Westbrook hurt his knee early in the playoffs. The Thunder had no chance after that.
Regular Season Dominance
We saw what Oklahoma City was capable of when fully healthy. They blitzed their way to a 60-22 overall record, the second-best in the NBA, and were able to lock down the number one seed out of the West. The Thunder went 34-7 at home, 26-15 on the road, and were 39-13 against conference opponents. Not to mention the fact that they were pretty good on the season with regards to our NBA picks.
Durant averaged 28.1 points per game to go along with 7.9 RPG and 4.6 APG. He had a PER of 28.3 and shot 51.0 percent from the floor, 41.6 percent from three, and 91.0 percent from the line, joining very elite company in the 50/40/90 club.
His partner-in-crime, Westbrook, had an excellent season as well, posting averages of 23.2 PPG, 7.4 APG, and 5.2 RPG, while recording an overall PER of 24.0.
We saw role players step up as well. Kevin Martin, picked up in the James Harden trade with Houston, slotted in nicely as the sixth man and averaged 14.0 points per game while shooting 42.6 percent from beyond the arc. Serge Ibaka continued his growth and was good for 13.2 PPG, 7.7 RPG, and a few blocks a game as well. Thabo Sefolosha, Reggie Jackson, Derek Fisher, and Nick Collison all contributed too.
The knee injury to Westbrook came on a fluky play and it simply a matter of horrible luck for Oklahoma City. There was no way they were going to be able to make a serious run in the playoffs without one of their star players on the court running the show.
Durant did his best to carry an even bigger offensive load, but the Thunder offense became much more predictable without Westbrook on the floor and opposing coaches were able to easily stymy Scott Brooks' team.
There were, however, a couple positives to come out of the Westbrook injury. We saw Jackson rise to the occasion and there's no doubt he'll be playing significant minutes next season. We also can't feel that this type of humbling experience will be great for Durant's continued growth.
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As long as the Thunder can keep all of their best players on the floor, they'll be winning a huge number of games once again and should, this time, have a better showing in the postseason.
Bringing in a big man who can score could be a great move for the organization, as Ibaka is still a little raw and can be inconsistent, while Kendrick Perkins brings absolutely nothing to the table on the offensive end.
Other than that, you have to like Oklahoma City's chances next season. They have the star quality, some excellent role players, a highly-respected coach, and one of the best home-court advantages in the NBA.
One would have to think Westbrook will come out in 2014 with even more fire than normal, and that pairing with Durant is always going to translate into a lot of wins. Hopefully the Thunder can avoid any major injuries and we see them back in the mix for a spot in the NBA Finals.