Before the Los Angeles Lakers acquired big man Dwight Howard from Orlando this summer, the Oklahoma City Thunder were the odds-on favorite to return to the NBA finals. The runners-up to Miami, the Thunder bring their big guns back in all-stars Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and sixth man of the year James Harden. Oklahoma City certainly will be a major factor but they have some seriouscompany now in the western conference.
As long as the Thunder have Durant in the mix they have as good a shot as anyone to hoist the Larry O'Brien trophy. The silky smooth swingmanaveraged aleague-high 28 points and 8 rebounds last season as Oklahoma City went 47-19 and earned the second seed in the playoffs. Durant is quickly becoming one of the best closers in the game with the knack to hit big shots. In fact, Durant hit three game-winners alone in the 2012 playoffs, two of them against the Lakers in the second round.
The 6'-9" Durant can go inside and out to score and that's what makes him so tough to defend. Durant hit 133 three-pointers in the regular season last year, tied for third best in the league.With the soon-to-be 24-year old Durant back, the Thunder are not only a serious contender this upcoming season but for years to come.
If there was ever a dynamic duo in the league it would be the Durant-Westbrook combo.The scoring point guard Westbrook had his best season as a pro, averaging 23 points and 5.5 assists a game for the Thunder last season. Westbrook's decision-making got better and his constant attacking style kept opposing defenses on their heels. Like Durant, Westbrook is only 23 years-old with his best basketball likely still in front of him.
Durant, Westbrook and Harden kept their games sharp by playing for the gold medal winning United States men's basketball team at the 2012 London Olympics.Harden scored 16 points a game in the regular season and was a sharp-shooter off the bench, but he slumped in the Finals against Miami, averaging only 12 points a game.
Oklahoma City extended Serge Ibaka with a huge four-year, 48 million contract in the off-season. Ibaka averaged a modest 9 points and 7 rebounds but a whopping 3.7 blocks per game. Ibaka brings a physical presence at the powerforwardposition that electrifies the get-it-and-go offensive style the Thunder love to play.
In this summer's draft, Oklahoma City snatched 6'-11" Perry Jones III out of Baylor. Once projected as a top 10 pick, Jones slid down the draft board with a knee issue and there were concerns about his overallcommitmentto the game. Jones hopefully adds depth to the already deep front court led by centers Kendrick Perkins, Nick Collison, Cole Aldrich and the recently signed bust so far, Hasheem Thabeet -- the former 2 overall pick by Memphis in 2009.
Oklahoma City also added former Georgetown shooter Hollis Thompson as a free-agent. Thompson will stick with the team if he can stick the outside shot.
Oklahoma City has the superstars and the supporting cast to be contending for many years to come and this season won't be any different.