2012 NBA Playoffs: OKC Thunder Have the MVP & 6th Man in Durant and Harden

Derek CrouseContributor IIIMay 9, 2012

Add Westbrook, and the Thunder have the real "Big 3"
Add Westbrook, and the Thunder have the real "Big 3"Brett Deering/Getty Images

The Oklahoma City Thunder are for real. The shortened 2011-12 NBA season brought us sloppy basketball early, but in Oklahoma, the roster started to click.

The Thunder played more consistent all season than most teams. We saw some of the usual suspects as award candidates, but also had a few surprises along the way. How many fans or experts would have known that the Oklahoma City Thunder could take multiple individual awards?

The MVP award is hard to wrap your hands around.

You could pick the best player in the NBA or the player that meant the most to his team’s winning percentage. Many experts are looking to LeBron James to pull away with the MVP. What hurts his chances is having a player like Dwyane Wade as a teammate. Having Wade increases his assists, rebounds and all the half-court alley oops you see on ESPN.

While he is the most exciting player to watch, I don’t think he deserves it this season because of midseason faltering when the Heat took the foot off the pedal.

Kevin Durant should be getting more attention as the MVP. Durant has taken his game to a new level from multiple aspects, not just scoring.

The Oklahoma City Thunder are contenders for years to come with the aging Los Angeles Lakers and San Antonio Spurs teams. Durant has a sweet stroke and developed his play even more in clutch situations late in games. He scored fewer points per game in 2011-12, but still earned the scoring title.

Without Durant, Russell Westbrook might score more but the Thunder would have no chance at a ring in the Western Conference.

The Thunder have momentum on their side more than any team in the NBA
The Thunder have momentum on their side more than any team in the NBARonald Martinez/Getty Images

The Oklahoma City Thunder even have the potential Sixth Man of the Year Award winner on their roster. James Harden has taken the opportunities in crucial situations. Recently, he scored a career-high 29 points in the win that swept the Dallas Mavericks from the playoffs. The third year player out of Arizona State has become a better distributor and increased his free-throw makes with an 85 percent average this season.

It seems as Harden’s beard grows, so does his game.

He can be counted on in the fourth quarter on both sides of the floor. While it’s hard to give a sixth man award to a player who averages over 31 minutes a game, James Harden takes more awards to an ever-improving Oklahoma City Thunder team.

What is very ironic is that Harden could also be considered the for the Most Improved Player Award, too. He seems to always be in the right place in the right time. He attempts almost five three-pointers a night and averages 39 percent from deep. He doesn’t attempt many field-goals, but that makes him an effective decoy when needed. He is averaging 49 percent from the field, which means he isn’t just jacking up random shots. He isn’t a score-first player.

James Harden has the potential to become the next Robert Horry if he improves on the skills he already has.

The Oklahoma City Thunder might not be fully on the national map just yet, but with the ever-improving talent and multiple award candidates this season, they have to earn respect.

The Thunder could end up being one of the most talented small-market teams of all the three major sports.