The Oklahoma City Thunder have enjoyed great success for the last two seasons. Even though they have not accomplished their main goal, winning a championship, they still have reigned as one of the most talented and intimidating teams in the league. Although their success seems to be assumed and assured by many for the upcoming season, there are some major concerns that could hinder them from winning an NBA title.
1) Can Russell Westbrook make a full recovery?
Russell Westbrook suffered a devastating injury when he tore his lateral meniscus in Game 2 in the first round of the playoffs.
Westbrook is one of the most dynamic guards in the league. He thrives and depends on his quickness in order to blow past defenders and score with authority, flash, flair and consistency. He’s going to need his knee at full health in order to do this. In addition, he will need to have faith that he has fully recovered from his injury and trust that he can go back to playing exactly as he did before, which doctors have assured him will not be a problem. Westbrook had surgery just days following the injury and is expected to start the upcoming season at full health. One can only wonder, though, if he will really be at 100 percent and can stay that way. It became very clear soon after his injury that in order for the Thunder to have any chance at claiming the NBA title, Russell Westbrook needs to stay healthy.
2) Where will the production from the SG position come from?
Well…they traded James Harden last offseason and lost Kevin Martin to free agency this offseason. What are they going to do now? The Miami Heat have proven that an effective big three makes winning a title that much simpler, if one can consider that task to be anything near simple. The Thunder lost their strong big three when they traded James Harden to the Houston Rockets last October. They tried to gain his production back last season in the form of Kevin Martin, which simply did not pan out as an effective replacement for Harden. During the regular season, Martin averaged 14 points, almost two rebounds and two assists per game. Comparatively, Harden averaged more than 17 points, four rebounds and almost four assists during the 2011-12 season with OKC. During the playoffs, Martin and Harden averaged almost the exact same statistics as their regular-season numbers with the Thunder, thus making Harden more valuable to the team. Both of these players have parted ways with the Thunder, however. Harden has been extremely successful with the Houston Rockets and Kevin Martin looks to revitalize his career as he begins a new stint with the Minnesota Timberwolves. Who will play shooting guard now and score enough points to fill the void of these lost players?
Age will forever be a factor in the success of any team. The combination of young talent and seasoned veterans who can guide and mentor these young and talented players is incredibly undervalued and necessary to win in today’s NBA. They have many young players, most notably Kevin Durant (24), Russell Westbrook (24), and Serge Ibaka (23), who have emerged into great talent, some of the best the NBA has to offer. Despite this great talent, one can’t help but ask the question: Are the Thunder too young to win a championship? In the last 10 years, the average age of the NBA championship team is 28.3 and in the last 20 years the youngest team to capture a title was the 2009 Lakers (26.2). The average age of the Thunder is 25.1. The Thunder are a great team, but in order to win the championship they would have to greatly defy the odds. Older teams win championships. Seasoned teams win championships. Young teams either sit on the couch watching these older teams show their experience in the playoffs or fail to overcome them in the playoff months.
Although the Thunder have great talent and represent one of the best teams in the NBA, they have these major concerns that will not go away this coming season. Until he proves to be 100%, the question of whether or not Russell Westbrook can return to his old self will still linger. The Thunder cannot avoid the fact that they have a hole in the shooting guard position that needs to be filled. The Thunder, for the time being, are young, and young teams do not win championships. They will compete. They will win games and they will be there come playoff time. But will these concerns have an affect on them achieving their ultimate goal? Only time will tell.