The Thunder are thundering(!?) down the stretch, having just dispatched the execrable 76ers in Philly by 19.
My favorite atmospheric disturbance is now 45-28, playoff locked and roster loaded, and firmly in the mix to plant anywhere from a #3 to a #8 seed in the competitive, fertile West.
I just combined language evoking meteorology, gunnery, and agriculture, all in the same sentence. Such is the diversity of Durant, and my own inability to properly use metaphors.
Let us continue, like a typhoon of blooming howitzers...
The West is so tightly bunched that the current #8 seed San Antonio Spurs are only 4.5 games behind #2 seed Dallas. Madness. For comparative purposes, the East has a 15.5 game gap between their #2 and #8.
The Thunder's last nine games will be crucial for playoff jockeying:
@ Golden St
A 5-4 finish means the OKC Thunder - the NBA's version of Professor Xavier's School For Gifted Young Mutants - are 50 game winners.
A team whose best and most promising players are 21, 21, 20, 20, 23, 25.
I'm looking at the 76er box score, and I'm struck by the degree to which it is a microcosm for what the future holds for Durant and the Thunder.
Kevin Durant cruised to 26 points and 10 rebounds and is still firmly cemented as #2 in the NBA scoring battle behind Lebron James. He trails 'bron by 0.2 ppg, a difference worth around 17 points. Durant plays his last game of the season after the Cavs play their last. If you can find Vegas odds for Durant 39+ points against Memphis, I would place your mortgage payment on it.
And I mean I would gladly bet your mortgage. Not my own. I'm asking for 10% of the win.
It's notable that Durant added 3 steals and 2 blocks - he's consistently doing this now and although I wouldn't call him a defensive force, he's very solid.
Russell Westbrook had 10 points and 14 assists in 27 minutes against the Sixers. He's starting to master the Isiah Thomas-perfected art of knowing when to get his and give up his. He's averaging 16 points and 8 assists a game, borders on elite as a PG, and still doesn't have a jump shot.
If he develops one, watch out. He's 21 years old.
Jeff Green's box score is equally telling. 16 points, 3 assists, 3 rebounds. Nice player, only 23 years old, but do we really want Durant's enforcer averaging 6.0 rebounds a game on the season? Durant is outrebounding him substantially and that's not a load he should be shouldering. The Thunder need more AC Green and less Jeff.
My minority opinion is that the Thunder should dangle the attractive young player and see what the market will offer instead of commit to a major contract this offseason, particularly if it precludes the Thunder from resigning guys like Harden or Ibaka down the road. He's a good player. I'm just not sure if he's the right player.
The supporting cast is reasonable. Collison is a solid veteran (and another KU bust NBA big man - warning Cole Aldridge) that gives you work on the boards, Sefolosha gives you a defensive stopper and effort guy, and Krstic is a reasonable NBA Euro-big. Valuable role players all; upside minimal.
The real key to the franchise taking it to the next level - aside from the developmental curves of Durant, Westbrook, Green - is finding a true scoring threat to balance the court with Durant and Westbrook (and allow Sefolosha to come off of the pine), a big that owns the paint on both ends, and the gravy of a solid back-up point for Westbrook.
They have that.
Meet Serge Ibaka, James Harden, and Eric Maynor.
Serge Ibaka - I call him Mokele-Mbembe - is 20 years old, from the Congo, eats glass, blocks shots, and runs like an okapi. He's pure muscle, learning the game of basketball every day, and is marked for goodness if not greatness.
Shooting Guard James Harden (20 years old) is a 6-5 220 pound rookie from Arizona State shooting 37% from 3, 81% from the FT line, and averaging a strong 10 points per game. The kid has game. Real game. There will be a time very soon when the Thunder can look to him to drop 25 when it matters. Pairing him with Sefolosha gives you a cooler and a heater at Shooting Guard and the number of NBA teams that have that is approximately none.
Eric Maynor, the least important of the three, is the young guard from VCU that eliminated Duke a few years ago - remember him?
Yes, that is the dagger.
He's 23 and a classy young guard. Utah gave up on him too early, and the Thunder have real value here.
One more thing: young GM wizard Sam Presti has two late first rounders in this year's draft.
This an exciting young team and they are singlehandedly dragging me into rekindling an interest in NBA basketball, kicking and screaming the whole way.
So, in summary: Thunder young, Thunder good, Durant is not mortal, don't be afraid to explore Green's value, fear Mokele-Mbembe.