OKC Thunder Haven't Peaked Yet

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OKC Thunder Haven't Peaked Yet
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The Oklahoma City Thunder are 47-17, most of the players on their team have found themselves in the NBA Finals under this head coach, they've got an unparalleled offense and a top-10 defense, but there's still plenty of room for this group to grow.

With their play over the course of the season, the immense amount of carryover they've shown from last year to this year and just how good Kevin Durant is, it makes it seem as if they're in the same boat as the Miami Heat and the San Antonio Spurs—but they aren't.

That's not meant to be a knock on the Thunder; they're absolutely everything I said just now, but they're so much more.

A scout told ESPN's Marc Stein that their evolution is still ongoing, and they're not done getting better, unlike their archrivals in the other conference in the Miami Heat:

I really want to not like them because they play so much isolation basketball, but the bottom line is that they've consistently shown that they have two guys who can win you the game at the end. [Russell] Westbrook seems to have always had that confidence. [Kevin] Durant seems to be growing by leaps and bounds every week. It's scary to say, but this is an improving team.

I don't want to compare them to the Michael Jordan Bulls, but there's a little something that reminds you of how [Chicago] got slapped around by the Pistons until they grew up and were ready to beat them. The Thunder is getting a dose of that now. All the playoff wars this team has already been through is giving them a real veteran feel.

Once a team makes the NBA Finals, an opinion forms that because it's already so good, the team's just going to have to figure out how to beat the Heat, rather than watch as its players simply outgrow the Heat.

LeBron James is 28 and we've still got no idea when he's going to start plateauing, let alone going a bit downhill. Dwyane Wade is 31, and Chris Bosh is nearly 29. This is a team with three excellent basketball players in their prime.

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Looking at the competition they had in the finals a season ago, Kevin Durant is unimaginably just a 24-year-old, as is Russell Westbrook, while Serge Ibaka is just 23.

Watching Durant, we know that he's one of the best scorers in the NBA. A title that took Carmelo Anthony a good six or seven years to earn, Durant was able to grab it before the end of his fourth year.

Every facet of his game has improved year after year, and he's still not at that magic 27- to 30-year-old mark that seems to be the peak of most NBA superstars. In fact, he's still quite a long way away from that point.

When LeBron James was 24, we were complaining about everything imaginable. He wasn't clutch, he shot too many three-pointers, his free-throw shooting is incredibly suspect and he should go into the post more. The laundry list of what we wanted him to do was incredibly long.

Now what do we complain about with Durant? I suppose he could be more assertive with Westbrook and improve his defense a bit. That's about the extent of his shortcomings. 

We constantly knock Westbrook for his poor decision-making, and his shot-happy style of play, but we forget that he's only 24.

Westbrook is a year younger than Ty Lawson and six months younger than Stephen Curry, two players who we talk about as guys still in the building process, yet we expect Westbrook to make perfect decisions and be a finished product every night.

Give Westbrook a few more years to learn how amazing his teammates are and a bit more about his own restrictions, and then we can label him as a poor decision-maker.

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Serge Ibaka developed a jump shot this year, and now he's shooting the ball like he's been doing it his entire career. I've got no idea where to point at when we're talking about his ceiling, but he's got the tools to become the league's best power forward.

If Ibaka were a baseball player, he'd still only be the guy who played the entire season setting Triple-A on fire getting ready to get called up for the 40-man roster expansion. That's how young and still in development he is.

Should Oklahoma City fail to win, or even make the NBA Finals this season people are going to start asking what it can do to make itself a better team.

The answer to that question? Nothing.

All three players are signed through 2016 (Westbrook and Ibaka through 2017), they have undeveloped young guys in Jeremy Lamb, Reggie Jackson and Perry Jones sitting on their bench, plus they've got a lottery pick this year as owners of the Toronto Raptors' pick.

This team is going to continue to grow together, it'll develop amazing chemistry, and separately continue to improve, which should terrify the rest of the NBA.

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