The Golden State Warriors dominated headlines throughout the season’s first seven weeks, ensuring the San Antonio Spurs would again be overlooked. And now that Gregg Popovich’s dominant team is finally getting the attention it deserves, another longtime Western Conference power has taken its place as the league’s most forgotten potential champion.
Hello, Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, and Oklahoma City. It’s good to have you back.
The Thunder’s record won’t impress anyone. For a team accustomed to winning 60 or more games when fully healthy, that its managed a solid 16-8 record into mid-December isn’t exactly eye-opening – roster turnover and coaching change be damned.
But that surface-level takeaway ignores crucial context, namely the six games Durant missed in mid-November with a hamstring strain.
Oklahoma City has a 13-5 record with the 2014 MVP in the lineup, good for a 59-win pace. Its net rating with Durant, Westbrook, and Serge Ibaka on the floor is +16.9, the league’s best non-Warriors mark. And despite the quietly lengthy absence of Durant and other adjustments gleaned from wholesale offseason changes, the Thunder boast the third-highest adjusted point differential (SRS) in basketball.
Reminder: Oklahoma City has lost just one playoff series since 2012 when its Big Three are healthy. With Durant and Westbrook playing at MVP levels and Ibaka guiding the recent improvement of Billy Donovan’s defense, there’s ample reason for the Warriors and Spurs to fear the Thunder.
And after an undefeated week that included wins against likely playoff teams, it’s time the basketball world realizes it.