When the Oklahoma City Thunder started the season an abysmal 3-29 the snickers could be heard around the NBA, however the team has been doing some great things over their past 40 games.
Between Kevin Durant averaging a blistering 30.6 points in February and rookie point guard Russell Westbrook averaging 17.5 points since February 1, there have been plenty of reasons to get excited about this team.
Even though the impact of these two players has been great, what should grab your attention is the fact the team is an impressive 17-23 over their past 40 games.
“We’ll take away those tough games we had early on because we were still learning how to win, and we still are, but I like the way we’re progressing,” head coach Scott Brooks told Hoops Addict. “We’re going to have to continue to get better. We have a plan in place and we’re going to have to execute that. Our development program is very good and I believe in our guys.”
For the players and coaching staff wins and losses were never a point of emphasis this season. Instead, the coaches continued to work with the younger players and the results are paying huge dividends as this season draws to a close.
“We just maintained our focus and we kept working hard,” Jeff Green told Hoops Addict. “The past is the past and we continue to move on. We have to continue to get better. Scott (Brooks) has done a great job with us and since the whole coaching change he has allowed us to play free and the run we’ve been making has been great. We just need to continue to do that and continue to get ready for next season.”
While other teams are slowing down and playing out the season, the Thunder have rallied around a young nucleus of talented players, listened to what the veteran players have to say and have bought into what the coaching staff is preaching.
While many players around the NBA eye the upcoming summer break as a time to relax with family and friends this won’t be the case for Oklahoma City’s young core.
“We believe in summer work,” Oklahoma City head coach Brooks told Hoops Addict. “It’s not a time to rest and come back in October, we want to see progress. We will hit them this summer to make sure they are doing their work but we’ve got guys who are gym rats to is makes it easier on the coaches.”
It’s one thing for the coach to say this, it’s another when the players buy into this approach and embrace it.
Luckily for Thunder fans it appears the young core is willing to do just that.
“Most definitely,” Green explained with excitement and pride to Hoops Addict when asked if he planned to workout with the team this summer. “We’re trying to get better as a team and in order to do that we need to continue to work hard and we’ve got to push each other. That’s something we’re planning on doing this summer. We’re going to push each other to the limits to make the team better.”
Still, the players know nothing is guaranteed. While some fans are starting to notice this team and heralding them as a team to watch, nothing is guaranteed in the NBA; just ask the Toronto Raptors and Chicago Bulls. Both franchises were heralded as teams to watch but despite having young cores they have yet to be able to take the next step in becoming legitimate threats in the playoffs.
Veteran forward Nick Collison is well aware of that and is willing to warn anyone who is willing to listen that improvement on the court next season isn’t guaranteed because of raw talent.
“I think it’s good and it’s obviously better than how we started, with that being said I’ve been on teams who have finished strong by winning a (Pacific) Division and had everyone coming back and we won 30 games,” Collison recently told a group of reporters while in Toronto. “What I’m trying to say is next year we need to be able to start over and try to do it again. It really doesn’t matter what you did the year before. You can build confidence and experience but when next years training camp starts you have to be ready to play.”
While everyone went into the season proclaiming Portland as the new face of the Western Conference it’s about time people started adding Oklahoma City into the mix. With a bright young general manager in Sam Presti coupled with a talented trio in Durant, Green and Westbrook and four first round draft picks over the next two seasons, it won’t come as a surprise if in the near future Portland and Oklahoma City are regularly meeting in Western Conference Finals to battle for a trip to the NBA Finals.
In fact, if the trio of Durant, Green and Westbrook hold true to their vow of working hard this summer the teams success may come a lot quicker than most NBA fans expect.