A loss in the 2012 NBA Finals to the Miami Heat showed that, while the Thunder had earned their place among the NBA’s most elite teams, they were not yet ready to become the league’s champions. That is something they will hope to correct in 2013, but that does not mean they will be successful.
The 2012-13 NBA season has barely begun, so making predictions of any kind is difficult. The New Year of 2013 is here, though, and it brings with it resolutions and predictions for all of the NBA’s teams.
I’m not going out on much of a limb with this first prediction, but I guess it is important to start with baby steps.
The Oklahoma City Thunder have won their division each year for the last two seasons, and the 2012-13 season will make the third in a row. The truth of the matter is that no other team in the entire NBA has a more dominant hold on its division than the Thunder do.
The Thunder will continue their winning ways. In fact, they will win their division by at least the lead they currently have. More than likely, the lead will be even bigger by April.
Only two players in NBA history have ever won more than three consecutive scoring titles. Those two players are Michael Jordan and Wilt Chamberlain, who each won seven straight.
Kevin Durant will join them in 2013 as only the third player to ever win four straight.
The first third of the season has Durant trailing Kobe Bryant and Carmelo Anthony in points per game, as each of them have had hot starts to the 2012-13 season. However, there is good reason to expect Durant to outlast them in the race.
First of all, Durant shoots a better percentage than either from the floor and from three-point range. That will propel him forward as the season wears on and his team needs him to shoot more. He also has won more scoring titles than Anthony (zero) and Bryant (two) combined.
Do not forget the fact that, during the 2011-12 season, Bryant led the league in scoring for nearly the entire year before being overtaken by Durant. Something similar will happen in 2013.
The Oklahoma City Thunder have had two All-Star-caliber players for the past few years in Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. They have another playing up to that level this season in Serge Ibaka.
The 23-year-old power forward is averaging 14.2 points and 8.5 rebounds per game. He is also shooting the ball at a high level (56.5 percent from the field) and is averaging his customarily league-leading three blocks per game.
Despite how well Ibaka is playing as the Thunder’s third-best player, he will miss out on the All-Star game this year. It will be close, but there are just too many good frontcourt players in the West. Few teams can get two players on these teams. Getting three on one is nearly impossible.
This is a massive limb for me to go out on. Although Kevin Martin is among the major contenders for this award, he is by no means a front-runner right now.
Jamal Crawford of the Los Angeles Clippers and J.R. Smith of the New York Knicks would probably both be ahead of Martin in the race now, but I am predicting that will change by the end of the season.
Martin shoots a better percentage from the field than either of those front-runners. He also plays on a team that appears to have the best chance of the three to win an NBA title. That probably shouldn’t factor into the thinking on an individual award like this one, but it inevitably will.
After being the runner-up for this award in 2012, Serge Ibaka will win it in 2013.
The biggest reason is not that Ibaka is actually the best defender in the league. That player really never wins this award. The one that does is the one that has the most visible defensive impact on his team. Ibaka will be that player.
The biggest reason is his blocks. He looks very unlikely to be overtaken as the league leader in blocks (three per game), and that is one of the very few major defensive stats that people actually pay attention to. The fact that he is actually contributing on offense helps too, as it makes fans consider him to be a better player (as odd as that is).
He also plays on one of the league’s best teams, which will help him in this race as it will Kevin Martin in the Sixth Man of the Year race. Ibaka is far from a complete player, but he will win this award thanks to his high-profile shot-blocking and improved all-around game.