Is this the end of the Oklahoma City Thunder as we know them? Or can they put together another title run – and their seventh straight winning season against the NBA odds? Maybe with a few cosmetic changes.
Jason’s record on his early NBA picks for 2013-14, up to June 3 inclusive:
3-1 Series (+2.0 units)
If you’ve ever doubted the NBA betting power of the small market team, just take a look at the Oklahoma City Thunder. Despite having two of the very best players in the league, including this year’s MVP, Oklahoma City is still a regional basketball market. That’s how the Thunder keep raking in the cash while staying at or near the top of the Western Conference standings. Check out these numbers:
2013-14: 59-23 SU, 43-37-2 ATS
2012-13: 60-22 SU, 49-31-2 ATS
2011-12: 47-19 SU, 35-31 ATS
2010-11: 55-27 SU, 43-38-1 ATS
2009-10: 50-32 SU, 48-34 ATS
2008-09: 23-59 SU, 46-35-1 ATS
That’s six straight years of profit, and five straight years with an SU record of .600 or better. Absolutely incredible. But it hasn’t been enough to actually land the Thunder an NBA championship. What do they have to do, and will they hold any valoe for our NBA picks?
The first thing we all need to do is remind ourselves that winning a championship is hard. Only one team gets to do it every year, and there are 30 teams trying to squeeze through that bottleneck. Oklahoma City was the No. 3 favorite on Bodog’s preseason NBA futures market at 8-1, behind the defending champion Miami Heat at 2-1. Sometimes all you can do is wait for your turn.
That, and be prepared for when your turn comes. The Thunder have shown they can play at a high level year after year; GM Sam Presti cut his teeth working with the San Antonio Spurs, and he’s kept a steady hand on the tiller since taking over the Seattle SuperSonics in 2007. Presti had the luxury of drafting Kevin Durant (29.8 PER) second overall that summer, and he also got to tear down the Sonics and build for the future in Oklahoma City. Durant, Russell Westbrook (24.7 PER) and Serge Ibaka (19.6 PER) are a championship-level Big Three, and Reggie Jackson (15.4 PER) is a quality back-up point guard behind Westbrook. They’ll be together for at least another two years.
The Straw that Stirs the Drink
Not everybody’s happy about that. We keep hearing about how Durant and Westbrook aren’t any good together. Because of injuries, Jackson ended up playing more minutes in OKC’s preferred starting rotation, and according to the plus-minus stats at 82 games, Jackson was a better partner for Durant:
Jackson-Sefolosha-Durant-Ibaka-Perkins: 549.4 minutes, plus-77
Westbrook-Sefolosha-Durant-Ibaka-Perkins: 349.1 minutes, minus-28
Ah, but if you only go by those numbers, you fail to see that the Thunder were even better when Westbrook, Durant and Ibaka were joined by Andre Roberson (9.0 PER) and Steven Adams (11.2 PER). In fact, we saw the Thunder move away from Sefolosha during the Western finals, putting Jackson in the starting backcourt against the Spurs. It wasn’t enough, but it was an improvement.
This is where we can expect the Thunder to keep improving. Sefolosha (10.4 PER) is an unrestricted free agent, and while he’s been an excellent defender, Sefolosha’s offensive limitations aren’t worth it for this particular team. Oklahoma City has Perkins (6.3 PER) under contract for one more year; he’s even worse on offense, delivering minus-0.9 Offensive Win Shares for the Thunder. Adams should end up taking more of those minutes at center.
One other piece of business for Presti this summer: Derek Fisher (10.1 PER) has yet to retire as we go to press, but he could be the next coach of the New York Knicks. Fisher ended up playing 81 games and 17.6 minutes per game for Oklahoma City this year, and he wasn’t a total disaster, posting a Simple Rating of minus-1.4. But Presti can do better, and history suggests he will. All good things to those who wait.