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The Thunder: The Missed Opportunity

The Numbers

  • Average Seed
    4
  • 📉 Pessimist
    43.4 wins
  • Realist
    52.7 wins
  • 📈 Optimist
    62.0 wins
First Seed
 
11.2%
Division
Top 4
👍 Over (50.5)
👎 Under (50.5)
🎀 Playoffs

Good is the enemy of great.

Jim Collins

The Brief

And the window closes...or at least, it gets much smaller, for the Thunder's championship hopes. Last season they topped the West, but an unfortunate injury to Westbrook wasted a historic season from Durant. Now, the Thunder are stuck with a roster that has great players backed by terrible players. They'll still be in the fray, but their chance to be a dynasty team is over.

Meanwhile, their prodigal son James Harden looms in Houston with a budding dynasty of his very own.

The Story

In 2012 the Thunder managed to slay giants on the road to the NBA finals. They ended up losing to the Heat, but it was forgivable and predictable.

At the end of that season, the Thunder were coming off an appearance as the youngest ever team in the NBA finals by two years (25.2 for Thunder, 27.1 for the 91 Bulls). And given the age progression of teams, there was every reason to believe they would dominate the next decade.

If you had given me the option I would have bet on OKC owning the NBA over the next five years.

Then, to save about $1 million per year, Sam Presti decided to trade James Harden (Harden would not sign for $14 million and demanded the maximum). In return for Harden, OKC got what amounts to a cup of coffee (unless a miracle occurs and a draft pick morphs into a player as good as.....James Harden). What's really bizarre is that they could have saved the money by amnestying Perkins to stay under the luxury tax. That trade in turn allowed Houston to begin building a possibly young dynasty of their own. That may end up being the apex of the Thunder's journey.

The Thunder had a good season last year, on the back of Kevin Durant playing a season for the ages, and were atop the west. However, an injury to Westbrook showed just how fragile this team really is. Throw in Memphis getting smarter and better, the Clippers pulling an opposite George and the Spurs being the Spurs and somehow the team of the future from 2012 winds up as the projected fifth seed in the West in 2014.

Last Year

  • Actual Wins: 60
  • Expected Wins: 66.6
  • Lucky Wins: -5.5

 

Player Minutes Age WP48 Wins
Kevin Durant 3119 25 .299 19.4
Russell Westbrook 2861 25 .155 9.2
Serge Ibaka 2486 24 .216 11.2
Thabo Sefolosha 2229 29 .217 10.1
Kevin Martin 2136 31 .135 6.0
Kendrick Perkins 1954 29 .017 .7
Nick Collison 1583 33 .138 4.5
Reggie Jackson 993 23 .123 2.5
Hasheem Thabeet 770 26 .118 1.9
Eric Maynor 391 26 -.026 -.5
Derek Fisher 346 39 -.046 -.5
DeAndre Liggins 290 25 .152 .9
Perry Jones 280 22 -.099 -.6
Jeremy Lamb 147 21 -.086 -.3
Ronnie Brewer 142 28 .100 1.8
Daniel Orton 104 23 .087 .2

 

Indicates that the player is no longer with the team.

  • 66.6 total Wins Produced
  • 4 players leaving
    (2773 minutes, 7.4 wins)

Durant, Ibaka, Sefolosha, and Westbrook are an amazing core. Sure, you'd rather have Harden than Westbrook, but that's just salt in the wound. The problem the Thunder had was that after those four players they were quite fond of Kendrick Perkins and Derek Fisher. These two players are terrible. Are we sure Scotty Brooks is a good coach? 

Unfortunately if you're going to play two terrible players regularly, you need your core to be healthy and going strong. And as we can see, that was not the case for Westbrook. Regardless, the Thunder do still have some key pieces, so why are we down on them for next season?

This Year

  • Projected Wins: 52.7
  • Conference Rank: 5
  • % Playoffs: 91.1
Player Position Minutes Age WP48 Wins
Kevin Durant 3.2 3138 25 .227 14.8
Serge Ibaka 4.2 2466 24 .232 11.9
Thabo Sefolosha 2.4 2218 29 .188 8.7
Nick Collison 4.5 2007 33 .102 4.3
Russell Westbrook 1.0 1935 25 .152 6.1
Kendrick Perkins 5.0 1555 29 .023 .8
Reggie Jackson 1.2 1363 23 .095 2.7
Hasheem Thabeet 5.0 1188 26 .076 1.9
Perry Jones 3.8 972 22 -.076 -1.5
Jeremy Lamb 2.8 788 21 -.064 -1.1
Derek Fisher 1.2 665 39 -.013 -.2
Steven Adams 5.0 519 20 .038 .4
Ryan Gomes 3.1 391 31 .027 .2
Rodney McGruder 1.0 277 22 .055 .3
Andre Roberson 4.0 190 22 .050 .2

 

Indicates that the player is new to the team.

  • 📅 57.5 WP last year
    by these players
  • 🔀 -6.0 WP (roster changes)
  • -10.0 WP (age/experience)

The reasons are pretty simple. First, it seems unlikely Durant keeps up last season's play. Yes, he's an amazing player but last season was ridiculous. Next, Westbrook is not likely to be full strength. Finally, the Thunder have some bad players that will still eat a good chunk of minutes. Perkins and Fisher are embodiments of the sunk cost fallacy. Jones and Lamb look poised to cost the Thunder wins. The Thunder did acquire a few new rotation players in the offseason, but we're not expecting anything there. In short, the Thunder have taken a step back.

Playoff Rotation: Russell Westbrook, Thabo Sefolosha, Kevin Durant, Serge Ibaka, Kendrick Perkins, Derek Fisher. I'm going to claim that the Thunder, despite having some very tough playoff options, will let the Perkyfish keep them down. Expect another "upset", which may even be with the Thunder as the lower seed.

The Wrap

The Thunder are a very good team. But what's maddening is they could have been great. Yes, they did hit the finals. And it's likely Durant will win an MVP at some point. But this team could have formed an amazing rivalry with the Heat. Durant vs. LeBron could have been this generation's Magic vs. Bird! Instead, pretend the Bulls traded away Pippen, so that Jordan never went on to threepeat. Many will gloss over this because the team will still do well. The Boxscore Geeks know better.

For want of a nail, the kingdom was lost indeed. Two years ago I was convinced that Durant and Harden would own the West in OKC. I am now skeptical that KD can win a title in OKC. Westbrook is a talented but flawed player for that second chair on a title team. Scotty Brooks is too enamored of players that should not be anywhere near his starting rotation. Presti’s record since drafting Harden has been spotty at best.

At this rate, KD will wind up in Houston with his buddy Harden before too long.

I hope Durant does end up in Houston. OKC deserves to be punished for pulling out of Seattle and for being cheap (as defined by not wanting to lose a little money each year even though the overall value of the investment was skyrocketing). Anyone who has at the very least doubled their investment in less than 10 years should be kicked out of the league for not trying to win it all... those owners are the worst and prove once again that the only problem with the league is dumb owners.

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