5 Reasons to Believe Oklahoma City Thunder Will Win NBA Title This Season
However this is a new year, and this is a new—and arguably improved—Oklahoma City Thunder team.
They didn't quite have what it takes to win the ultimate prize last year, but this young team has gone through some growth since then and is primed to contend for, and possibly win, the 2012-13 NBA Championship.
Read on to find out why this OKC team will take home the Larry O'Brien trophy at season's end.
Russell Westbrook's Growth as a Point Guard
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Russell Westbrook has always been one of the best scorers in the NBA and, while he's continuing to drop big-time points night-in-and-out, he's also slowly becoming more of a "pure" point guard.
Westbrook's kept himself in the top 10 in scoring at 22.6 points per game, but he's also increased his assists, rebounds and steals per game, while slightly lowering his turnovers.
Unfortunately, people still point to the fact that he takes—barely—more shots than Durant and use that to say that Westbrook is still far from the point guard he needs to be.
However, it's hard to argue that Westbrook's increased production all over the court isn't evidence that the young point guard is trending upward towards being the total package.
The two things you'd like to see him get under control a little more are his shot selection and his temper. Westbrook currently takes four threes a game and that number should probably be lower as he's a career .297 shooter from deep.
That said, Westbrook is becoming a better player in almost every facet of the game, and that will help out greatly in the Oklahoma City Thunder's quest for a title.
They Have the Experience
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As previously mentioned, this Oklahoma City Thunder team is still very young.
In fact, the Thunder currently only have four players—Nick Collison, Kevin Martin, Kendrick Perkins and Thabo Sefolosha—over the age of 25.
As far as key players go, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook are 24, while Serge Ibaka is just 23.
In last year's NBA Finals, one could argue that the team's overall youth played a part in their ultimate loss to the Miami Heat.
I mean, at that point, almost no one on the team had ever even seen an NBA Finals, let alone won one.
However, now OKC has paid their dues and have the experience needed to become a championship-caliber squad.
Last year's loss stung at the time, but, in the end, it could serve as the final step needed towards winning the championship hardware.
Serge Ibaka's Increased Workload
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In the 2011-12 season, James Harden was the Oklahoma City Thunder's third option, and rightfully so.
Harden is an excellent scorer, who plays efficient basketball and excels at getting to the line.
However, the Thunder might end up being better off without him, especially in the playoffs.
This is because OKC is now able to give Serge Ibaka a more expanded role in their offense.
Now, no one's going to sit here and tell you that Ibaka is a better offensive player than Harden, but getting him more involved on offense should lead to him being more active all over the court.
It's fairly easy to see the effect that increased touches can have on a player's effort level. After all, how hard would you try if you knew you were never getting the ball?
Ibaka is only taking about three more shots per game, but his scoring is up by almost four and a half points and he's rebounding at a higher rate.
Another added benefit of Ibaka's increased production is that it gives the Thunder a more varied offensive attack.
Again, Harden is the better offensive player, but he's also a perimeter player like Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant.
Ibaka, as a frontcourt player who can shoot the ball exceptionally well from mid-range, gives teams one more thing they have to game plan around and spaces the floor effectively for his All-Star teammates.
Improved Frontcourt Depth
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In last year's playoffs, the Oklahoma City Thunder's frontcourt depth consisted of starters Kendrick Perkins and Serge Ibaka, as well as guys like Nick Collison, Nazr Mohammed and Cole Aldrich.
That team would have trouble surviving in this year's playoffs, especially in the West, where so many teams have multiple quality big men.
Luckily for OKC, they've upgraded their frontcourt depth quite a bit in the offseason.
They still have the always solid Nick Collison and Kendrick Perkins, and Serge Ibaka has taken a step towards being the next Thunder All-Star.
However, it's the emergence of Hasheem Thabeet as a quality bench player that really has the Thunder excited.
The former number two overall pick has never lived up to his draft status, but he's quickly becoming a major player in the OKC's frontcourt rotation.
Those increased minutes are deserved as Thabeet is hustling after rebounds, shooting at a high percentage and altering shots on defense.
Kevin Durant's Continued Dominance
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Simply said, Durant is one of the two best players in the NBA and he could very well be the hungriest.
Michael Jordan had to suffer against the Detroit Pistons for three years before he could win a championship, making him want that title more and more.
Most great players have to go through one or more of those tough playoff losses before they're ready to take the next step towards greatness.
Durant now has that series and the fire has been lit.
He's already proven this season that he's ready to do whatever it takes to get back to the Finals, posting career bests in virtually every statistical category.
This, ladies and gentlemen, is a man on a mission. A mission that won't stop until he's holding the Larry O'Brien trophy high over his head at season's end.
Which season is hard to say, but know this, Kevin Durant is hungry for a championship and there's not much you can do to stop him when the "Durantula" has you in his web.