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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

Are The Thunder Real Contenders?

The news of Carmelo Anthony moving to the Oklahoma City Thunder causes me to finally ask a question I never thought I’d be asking this early in the season: are the Thunder ready for the Finals?

As premature as it may seem, there’s a lot of data to give us some insight on the issue. I believe that they may actually get to the Western Conference Finals this year.

Last season, Russell Westbrook went on a tear with a subpar team. His next best player was a man named Steven Adams whose stats were simply one of a good starter and nothing more. Averaging 31.6 points per game along with 10.7 rebounds and 10.2 assists, Westbrook dominated the game like we’ve never seen before in the modern era. More importantly, he lead them to 47 wins. Although that’s not exactly the most impressive season a team could have, we’re talking about a team whose talent, besides Westbrook, was more pitiful than enviable. This made itself clear when the Thunder faced the Houston Rockets in the first round of the Playoffs. Westbrook did his best and even put up some gaudy stat totals, but it was all for naught.

So, with that given context, are the Thunder ready? Paul George fell into their laps when they traded for him earlier in this year’s free agency. It’s a risk considering he only has a year left in his contract. This leaves a window of one year for a potential exit. But, it’s a risk worth taking.

George immediately bumps up the Thunder from a first round exit team to a Western Conference Semifinal contender. His wing defense is second to none. Although he is not at the tier of someone like Kawhi Leonard, he is most certainly on the level of someone like a Jimmy Butler. He can guard the opposing team’s best player and Russell Westbrook no longer has to break his back over that fact.

I haven’t even touched the fact that his offense is already elite. He outputs a solid 23.7 points every night. This could give Westbrook some breathing room on that end. It also provides high efficiency ratings across the board. In fact, he was about six percent away cumulatively from being in the 50-40-90 club which includes players such as Steve Nash and Dirk Nowitzki. Needless to say, he makes them a genuine playoff threat.

Which brings us to the man of the hour: Carmelo Anthony. He is a well-known scorer but has recently been underrated due to the style of isolation (iso) basketball being diminished. He’s already 33 years old—what can he possibly contribute? Quite a bit actually.

Remember, I put hierarchy nuance above; Westbrook would be the primary ball handler and facilitator while George remains to be the supplementary star. Anthony simply needs to spot up and play iso every now and then. That’s it. That’s all he needs. You see, Anthony was burnt out in New York because his team did not have anyone capable to draw in double teams besides Kristaps Porzingis. Anthony could no longer compete for a championship as the first option for his team. But as the third option? The NBA needs to start recognizing his potential deadliness in this role. I brought this up in an earlier article, but during the 2016 Summer Olympics, he dominated the scoreboard. He was nowhere close to being the primary ball handler. This man averaged 24.8 points per game for his whole career and people are treating him like a backside piece. He’s more than that.
So finally, again, are the Thunder true contenders this season? The West has gotten stronger with the Houston Rockets adding Chris Paul, the Minnesota Timberwolves adding Jimmy Butler, the Denver Nuggets adding Paul Millsap, and the list goes on and on. But I believe that the Thunder fit right in with them. They won’t touch the highest echelon of teams which consists only of the San Antonio Spurs and the Golden State Warriors. But they can hold a candle to them.