The Thunder are proving it's possible for a 23-win team to play above .500 the next year and still be a disappointment. The love for them was too extreme towards the end of last season.
Sure, the playoffs are in sight, but it will take a few years before this team is anywhere near the top of the Western Conference.
They exhibited potential against Boston tonight but the Celtics taught them that with potential comes patience.
Although the Thunder are advanced on the defensive end (fifth in defensive rating), they allow great defensive teams to control the tempo of the game.
They run an undeveloped offense, one that lacks the creativity most NBA teams possess. Great defensive teams expose that and when opponents also have a greater range of offensive plays, they exploit them as well.
Their other fatal flaw is the need for a big man .
Nick Collison started tonight. Collison is a quality rebounder, especially on the offensive side. He's 6-9 but he's strong like a center and uses his strength to get through opposing big men for rebounds.
Collison is willing to do the dirty work, but it costs him at times and leads to foul trouble. When he's on the bench, they can't get inside because the opposing center will shut down the Thunder's small lineup.
Unfortunately, the Thunder lack quality big men outside of Collison and Nenad Krstic. As a result, Kevin Garnett and Kendrick Perkins had a field day, making 15 of 18 shots.
The bench is another problem . Krstic's injury forced Collison to start, which left them with even fewer quality players.
Rookie James Harden is their best guy off the bench. Harden is extremely raw right now, but he should start sometime during his natural progression this year.
Harden wasn't the third overall pick this year for nothing. He can handle the ball like a point guard, but he can shoot the three over shooting guards, sort of like Brandon Roy.
He provides skills that Thabo Sefolosha doesn't provide. But the rest of the Thunder bench doesn't have any other skills that they can't get out of the starting five.
The trio is legitamate, but not there yet. Kevin Durant, Jeff Green, and Russell Westbrook are talented, but they're still growing.
Westbrook has grown up quickly, but he too is still raw in his second year. As a defender, he sticks to the ball, which is good and bad.
He forces the opposing point guard to make an unproductive pass, which gives the offense less time to find a way to score. But he also follows the ball too much, which leaves his point guard open and provides him with more opportunities to foul than necessary.
Westbrook always looks unsure on offense. When he passes, he hawks the teammate who has the ball, as though he doesn't trust himself and he didn't set them up with a quality shot. With the ball, he misses open lanes because he thinks too quickly.
Green has been a team player. He's one of the best young players when it comes to setting up a pick and roll.
He has an athletic advantage on the majority of power forwards, but against athletic power forwards, he needs to find other ways to contribute besides his scoring. Kevin Garnett held him to only six points.
Durant is long and quick. He can shoot from almost anywhere. He's taller than his defenders, so he rarely has to significantly adjust his arch. But his team depends too much on him for scoring.
Durant has the court vision to be a strong passer. But the Thunder doesn't have enough good scorers to take less pressure off him.
On defense, Durant lacks the instincts to know when to use his length to his advantage. When he's not in the game, the team mostly plays small ball, but it's when they can't get inside when they lose
Still, the Thunder have a lot going for them. Despit being one of the NBA's youngest teams, they're winning more than they lose and forming a cohesive unit on offense and defense.
The expectations of making the playoffs were premature. Most people only get to see them when their team plays them, since they're rarely nationally televised. Therefore, they go by what the media tells them. On TV, you keep hearing, "Potential, potential, potential."
But with potential comes a period of development.
The Thunder are in that period. Not ready to contend, but before you know it, they will have gone from a 23-win team to the NBA's elite.