The two youngest teams in the NBA met up Friday night in what has quickly become one of my favorite match-ups to watch in the league today.
Oklahoma City took care of Memphis 102-94 led by Kevin Durant, who threw up 32 points with 10 rebounds while Russell Westbrook chipped in 23 points and seven assists.
I can’t help but want to take a look into the crystal ball that tells the NBA’s future and see what could be if these two franchises are able to hang on to their respective cores of young stars.
Right now, the Thunder are a lot better off than Memphis but I like to include the Grizzlies in the conversation mainly because of how much I loved their most recent draft and the potential I see in O.J. Mayo.
You can’t help but love every pick they made in the draft, starting with the second overall pick, Hasheem Thabeet (the definition of “upside”). They went on to take DeMarre Carroll and Sam Young. How can you complain with those picks, especially when you already have young studs like Mayo, Mike Conley, Marc Gasol and Rudy Gay?
The Grizzlies are too young right now (obviously) and have surrounded their young squad with some poison in the forms of Zach Randolph and Jamaal Tinsley. Why add these two for the season when it will only stunt the growth of their youths and delay handing over the offensive reigns completely to Mayo and Gay?
Also, it turns out that Gay isn’t that good despite his great offensive numbers. He basically doesn’t play defense or hustle. Whoever he is matched up against routinely scores 25 to 30 points.
Durant has been just the opposite for the Thunder. It's impressive how easy he makes scoring look and how much touch he has for someone his size. But it is his hustle that is starting to stand out now and it is becoming contagious among his teammates.
Durant has such a knack for coming up with easy baskets because he always keeps moving. For someone that would sometimes get stuck standing in the corner earlier in his career, this movement has done wonders for his game. While he isn’t the most emotional player, he makes up for it in leading by example.
He is clearly making the stride from “a nice young star with crazy potential” to “this is a guy you can build a championship team around.”
The other three former top-five picks around Durant are perfect compliments for his game.
Westbrook is a defensive-minded combo-guard who is emerging as a nice floor leader and assists man, posting 16.1 points, 6.9 assists and 4.7 rebounds per game.
Jeff Green also can play multiple positions, starting at power forward for the team, while rookie James Harden provides scoring off the bench and physical perimeter defense as well.
All signs say that these four will continue to get better together thanks to their leader Durant’s commitment to improving, documented by him via Twitter over the last few months.
I just love this team. They are about two years and one more solid role player away from becoming a legitimate contender, which would be very impressive this early in Durant’s career.
They’re stuck with guys like Nenad Krstic and Thabo Sefolosha as high-minute contributing role players. While both players are solid and fit their roles well, a bump in talent at those two spots could drastically improve the young team. I’m thinking Joakim Noah and James Posey types.
This year the Thunder should be battling for a spot in the playoffs with an outside shot of pulling off an upset. (Who knows, maybe Durant will average 40 a game in the first round or something.)
While the Grizzlies have a little more work to do, the future is bright for both teams if only they had team nicknames that the league could take serious. (And yes, Supersonics is more serious than Thunder.)
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