Oklahoma City Thunder: 3 Keys for a Winning Season in 2012-13

Justin Goldman@JGoldmanASUCorrespondent ISeptember 11, 2012

Oklahoma City Thunder: 3 Keys for a Winning Season in 2012-13

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    The Oklahoma City Thunder came as close to winning a championship as a team can get. Ultimately, they fell short against the Miami Heat in a five-game series. But the Thunder shouldn't be upset with the result. Entering the 2012-13 season, the Thunder have a championship-caliber team. From All-Everything player Kevin Durant to Russell Westbrook and even James Harden, OKC is a team full of stars.

    The Thunder will easily have a winning season in 2012-13, but it is going to take a lot of work to get back to the Finals. The Western Conference has only gotten stronger, and there many teams ready to take OKC's spot.

    For the Thunder to win the championship in the 2012-13 season, they are going to have to be on top of their game. There are three keys to bringing the Larry O'Brien trophy to Oklahoma City.

1. Stay Healthy

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    Staying healthy is the key to nearly every team's success. But a lot of times, that's easier said than done. Take the Chicago Bulls for example. Without Derrick Rose they will still be a decent team, but they are by no means a championship contender. 

    The Thunder must stay healthy this season to remain the title threat they should be. 

    OKC has never really had major injury concerns. Kevin Durant has, for the most part, been as healthy as they come. The same can be said for Russell Westbrook and the other players for the Thunder.

    As for the roster right now, the only player with legitimate injury history is Perry Jones III, who the Thunder stole with the 28th pick. Many teams passed on him in the draft because he has the potential to develop long-term knee problems. But the Thunder got a player with a ton of upside, and if he stays healthy, he should be a huge addition.

    Should anyone not named Kevin Durant or Russell Westbrook get hurt, the Thunder will still be title contenders. So keep your fingers crossed that nothing happens to Durantula or Westbrook. 

2. Be More Pass-Happy

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    Last season, the Thunder put up a lot of points and were third in the league in scoring at 102.6 points per game. And as crazy as this may sound, the Thunder could be scoring a lot more than that. 

    At times last season the Thunder's offense got very stagnant. Kevin Durant would become a vacuum, and when he wasn't on, it was hard for OKC to score. There were stretches where Russell Westbrook considered himself the best player on the team.

    Even James Harden was infected by the don't pass bug. Against the Heat in the Finals, Harden couldn't find his shot, but when the ball came his way he kept looking for it. 

    If the Thunder can put together a more diverse offensive attack, rather than relying on one-on-one basketball, they should be able to put up even better numbers.

    It will also make them much harder to stop, because teams won't be able to key in on one guy. 

    It's scary to think the Thunder could be better offensively, but they really can be. 

3. Improve Defensively

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    The Oklahoma City Thunder were a middle-of-the-road team defensively last season. According to Team Rankings, OKC allowed 96.7 points/game, good for only 17th in the league. They were much better at contesting their opponents' shots, holding them to 42.9 percent from the field. 

    As a unit, the Thunder were 10th in terms of defensive efficiency last season. And even with their gaudy offensive numbers, their issues defensively should not be overlooked. 

    Serge Ibaka is phenomenal defensively, and he is only getting better. Kevin Durant's length makes him a mismatch for most small and power forwards. But he needs to show more. Durant needs to use the same intensity on defense as he does on offense. With his size, speed and athleticism he could be a defensive force, but he hasn't gotten there yet. 

    Westbrook does a good job of slowing opposing point-guards, but he is no CP3 or Rajon Rondo. 

    The team needs to play more cohesively on defense. If the Thunder could show as much dedication to defense as the Celtics and Bulls do, they would be the best team in the league.

    I expect them to be slightly better this year defensively, especially when it comes to limiting their opponents' points. That would lead to the highest scoring margin in the league and, potentially, an NBA Championship.