Losing a former MVP should derail a team for years, get coaches fired, and send a once promising future into a “rebuilding” situation faster than you say “draft picks.”
But don’t tell that to the Oklahoma City Thunder.
When Kevin Durant darted for a better life in Oakland, Russell Westbrook and the Thunder were left with more questions than answers. While Westbrook is one of he most dynamic players in the entire league, the pieces around him did not bring the same appeal. Because of Westbrook’s greatness, he became just the second player in NBA history to average a triple double, winning him last season’s MVP. But it became evidently clear come playoff time that the Thunder not only missed Durant’s scoring punch, but Westbrook couldn’t do it all on his own (the Thunder would lose to Houston 4-1 in the first round of the playoffs.)
Going into the offseason, OKC needed to find pieces that could not only help Westbrook on the court, but steady the ship once he went to the bench. Like that of LeBron James, when Westbrook went to the bench, OKC was one of the worst teams in the NBA on both offense and defense. Because of the steep drop in production, Westbrook played nearly 48 minutes a game, which came back to bite him and the team in the playoffs.
Enter Paul George and Carmelo Anthony.
In two of the most surprising moves of the summer, OKC acquired both Paul George and Carmelo Anthony for essentially Victor Oladipo, Enes Kanter, Domantas Sabonis, and a couple of draft picks.
Sign Sam Presti up for GM of the year!
Not only does George and Anthony help with the scoring load, but now the Thunder have three players who are solid defenders in George, Andre Roberson, and Steven Adams. While Anthony does little to nothing on the defensive end, he alongside Westbrook, will be a solid one, two punch on the offensive side of the ball (George will make them nearly unstoppable on offense when all three are clicking.)
With OKC’s new “Big Three” assembled, ball movement might be their biggest Achilles heel. Anthony, Westbrook, and George all fell in the top 20 in usage rate last season (Westbrook being number one.) Each player will need to scale back their play styles a little, but if that happens, look for them to propel themselves as one of the top teams in the NBA.
While i’m not ready to put them neck and neck with Golden State, OKC has a chance to make some serious noise this season.
P.S.- Both George and Anthony are on one year deals, so this could could look drastically different come a year from now.