OKC Thunder Chasing NBA History in More Ways Than One

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OKC Thunder Chasing NBA History in More Ways Than One
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

The Oklahoma City Thunder are in pursuit of more slices of historical pie than any other team in the NBA, the Miami Heat included.

This isn't a shot at the Heat, who even in their loss to the Chicago Bulls continue to embody dominance (27 straight wins, peeps). Instead, it attests to all the Thunder have done and have the potential to do.

Today we are afforded the luxury of watching superteams. Criticize some of them as we may, the ceiling they present is astronomical and increases the likelihood that we'll bear witness to something we and the Association haven't seen before.

Kind of like the 1971-72 Los Angeles Lakers' 33-game winning streak. More than four decades later, no other team has beat it. The energy, the angst that surrounded the Heat in their quest to supersede it was incredible.

Oklahoma City is quietly embarking on a series of historical endeavors of its own. These records won't seem as flashy, but only because they've taken a backseat to a stretch of near-perfect Miami basketball.

With the Heat's streak over though, we're left with the Thunder, in all their history-chasing glory.

 

The Kevin Durant-Russell Westbrook Dynamic

Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports
What KD and Russ are doing is, well, unique.

Kevin Durant currently leads the NBA in scoring, notching 28.2 points per game. He attempts 17.8 shots per game to get those points.

Russell Westbrook is posting fewer points per night (23.2), but jacking up more field goals (18.7).

Admittedly, this is significant in itself. But it becomes historical if Durant finishes out the year with a scoring title.

Per the Elias Sports Bureau, if Durant closes the season as the league's leading scorer while not also leading his team in shot attempts, it will be just the second time in NBA history this has happened (via Darnell Mayberry of The Oklahoman):

With Westbrook (18.8) attempting more shots than current scoring leader Durant (17.9), the Thunder could join the 1954-55 Philadelphia Warriors as the only two teams with that distinction.

Neil Johnson won the scoring title for the 1954-55 season, but teammate Paul Arizin attempted two more shots per game that season.

Good? Bad? 

Let's just call it unique.

Westbrook gets chided for taking too many shots while Durant gets derided for not hoisting up enough.

But instead of taking exception to this concept, let's just accept it. Oklahoma City has the third-best record in the Association. This dynamic is working.

It's also historical; the league hasn't had this dynamic for nearly 60 years.

 

Crazy Margin of Victory

Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports
OKC is winning in a historic fashion.

The Thunder are presently outscoring opponents by 9.4 points per game, the highest point differential in the league.

According to ESPN.com's Tom Haberstroh, it's the highest margin of victory since the 10.3 the Boston Celtics posted in 2007-08.

Ready for a historic bombshell?

Per Haberstroh, only six teams since 1979-80 (the three-point era) have had a better margin of victory, and all six have gone on to win that year's NBA title:

Actually, no one's been better than the Thunder in average margin of victory (MOV) since the title-winning 2007-08 Boston Celtics, who outscored opponents by an average of 10.3 points a game. What's more, only six teams in the 3-point era (since 1979-80) have been more dominant on the scoreboard. And here's the kicker: All six of those teams ended up holding the Larry O'Brien Trophy at the end of the season. Not bad company, huh?

Not bad company at all.

In no way, shape or form does this guarantee the Thunder will win the championship, but in the midst of a season that has been dominated by the Heat (and even the San Antonio Spurs), it does mean plenty.

There was a recent stretch where Oklahoma City had dropped 3-of-4 against teams above .500. Some panicked, while others (including yours truly) provided some insight on how the team could improve.

Panicking was premature, and while every team can improve (and I stand by my words on the Thunder), this group isn't on the precipice of flatlining. They're doing well; pretty damn well if you consult the history books.

 

Kevin Durant Gets His Own Slice of 50/40/90 Pie

Spruce Derden-USA TODAY Sports
Durant is on the cusp of joining an elite faction of players.

You've heard about it before, I know. But it's worth mentioning again.

Durant is on pace to shoot better than 50 percent from the floor overall, 40 percent from deep and 90 percent from the charity stripe.

The Durantula will become the ninth player in NBA history (minimum 30 games played) to join the uber-exclusive 50/40/90 club.

Impressed?

I'm sure you were. You might be a little tired of hearing about it by now. So how about I give you something else to chew on?

Durant getting his efficiency on (via NBA.com).

Durant is averaging 28.2 points per game. Should he hold serve there, he'll post the second-highest points-per-game total of anyone who has ever shot 50/40/90 in a season.

Not enough? I didn't think so.

He's also in line to lead the league scoring, and if he closes out as the top point-totaler, he'll be the first player ever to win a scoring title while shooting 50/40/90.

Any time you put yourself in the company of Larry Bird, among others, you know you've done something right. 

Once you take it a step further and separate yourself from him, you know you've done even better.

Like Durant's doing now.

 

In Good Company

Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

One thing we can't get enough of is title perspective.

Knowing how teams are faring with regards to their chances of making the finals and subsequently obtaining a ring is depicted in many different ways, like the findings of Haberstroh we just discussed.

As it stands, the Thunder are scoring 112.3 points per 100 possessions (second), allowing 102.4 (fifth) and averaging 93.7 possessions per 48 minutes (eighth). 

Since 1973-74, only two NBA teams have posted an offensive rating of 112 or better and a defensive rating of 103 or less while also playing at a pace that exceeds 90.

Who were they?

The 1995-96 and 1996-97 Chicago Bulls. 

Both Bulls squads were led by Michael Jordan and both won a title that same year.

Coincidence?

Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sport
All hail the Thunder.

Perhaps, but the Association's history is littered with correlating happenstances. In other words, they can still mean something.

Which team do you think will win the 2013 NBA title?

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At the bare minimum, however, this is further evidence of how well the Thunder are playing, how they stack up against some of the best teams and players in NBA history.

And to think we were previously worried (again, myself included) that Oklahoma City had some major adjustments to make.

But here the Thunder are, embracing their genre of basketball, winning and taking a large chunk of the league's historical pie with them.

At the rate Durant and friends are playing, they may eventually take a championship ring with them as well.

 

*All stats used in this article were compiled from Basketball-Reference, Synergy Sports, 82games.com and NBA.com unless otherwise noted.

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