Photo Credit: (Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Along with the Chicago Bulls and the Miami Heat the Oklahoma City Thunder are one of the troika of teams you would expect to be holding the Larry O’Brien Championship Trophy up at the end of the season.
But the question you have to ask is this: Can the team everyone has called the team of the future, the young Turks ready to take over the West, do it? Time will tell. But for right now, let us together go through the reasons why they won’t.
1: James Harden won’t be around to be their primary play maker.
By now, you’ve seen, heard, and read about James Harden getting the old roaring elbow from Ron Artest.
But the dirty little secret of just how important James Harden is to the Thunder lies in the way Russell Westbrook has been deployed during this run.
He’s not really a point guard in the traditional Isiah Thomas, John Stockton, or even Chris Paul mold – in terms of setting up his teammates, getting them the best shot at the right time, and generally controlling a game that way. And yet, he’s not a selfish shoot-first gunner. Really, when you sit and think on the subject, he’s the dictionary definition of a combo guard. When you need him to, he can run a team with some level of skill. But when the opportunity presents itself, he is more than capable of turning himself into a fireball and scorching a team with offense.
The trouble with this? Russell thinks the opportunity is there more than it actually is. One game during this postseason, he will see the opening and take it. Except that opening will be a mirage. The only hope is that he doesn’t shoot them out of a elimination game.
James Harden frees Russell Westbrook up from the burden of having to walk a tightrope that he is not yet ready to walk yet. But if James is still feeling the effects of a concussion? The Thunder are in a lot of trouble.
2: They can’t get easy baskets.
Think about it. The Heat can.
So can the Bulls.
What can the Thunder do? Their best scorer, with all apologies to Russell Westbrook, is a jump shooter. They get nothing in terms of reliable scoring from Kendrick Perkins and Serge Ibaka, as that frontcourt is there more for defense and intimidation than it is to provide you with the scoring you need in one of those desperation grind-it-out playoff wars every championship team has to win.
So that means that either Durant or Westbrook is going to have to A: have one of the great outside shooting runs in the history of the playoffs or: bang down low whenever their shot isn’t falling and get to the line (where they are both lethal). Is the Thunder mature enough to do that yet? Only time will tell. And that leads us to point #3.
3: Scott Brooks might not be ready for this level yet.
Let’s be clear, it’s commendable that he has taken a team as young as this one is, with as many different ways as it could have split apart, and somehow kept it all on the right path. But if they can’t do it this year, Scott Brooks might be consigned to a Buck Showalter fate. A guy who can build a team, get it to a certain point, but can’t get it over the top. There is a certain amount of pride in that, but really, that’s not a life you want to be living. Always called in to get things started, but told to bounce before you can see the glory of the finished project.
Let’s be clear, he’s got a team that is too young and too good to be in nothing less than the NBA Finals this year. If he can’t get that done there are a lot of good coaches around who would gladly take the chance of shepherding a team this good.
I know the Thunder are good but there are still reasons why they can’t win. Hopefully, I made a compelling case.