The last time we saw the Oklahoma City Thunder make a conference finals, LeBron was wrapping up his final season in Miami, David Stern was still commissioner and Kevin Durant was running the show in OKC.
It is hard to believe that was only two years ago, but a lot happens in just two years.
If you asked anyone prior to the season what two teams the western conference would boil down to, most people would have said the San Antonio Spurs and the Golden State Warriors. The Spurs made a major splash in free agency when they signed all-star forward Lamarcus Aldridge. As for the Warriors, they didn’t lose a soul and are coming off an NBA championship run.
Meanwhile, people (including myself) were damn near ready to write off the explosive Thunder. When Billy Donovan took over the Thunder, he did not inherit a ton of depth off the bench (insert Dion Waiters joke), like the Spurs or Warriors have.
However, he did inherit two bonafide superstars in the form of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. There is absolutely no denying that both of them are in the pool of top 5, maybe 6 players in the NBA.
Remember when I said a lot can change in two years?
When the Thunder last made the conference finals, this was Kevin Durant’s team with Russell Westbrook playing second fiddle and not even being mentioned as a star. Durant was being mentioned in the same breath as LeBron for best player in the NBA, yet he was never held to the same standard as LBJ.
The fact that a local newspaper in OKC backtracked on a negative Kevin Durant headline is enough reason to believe he has been coddled as one of the game’s elites. Yet, he has no problem lashing out the media in press conferences. I just never understood it.
If you are going to elevate Durant to LeBron’s level at the time both teams made the finals, shouldn’t he be held to the same standard and criticism?
Meanwhile, Westbrook became the scapegoat in all of it.
“He shoots too much.”
“He’s not giving Durant his touches.”
“He is the reason OKC will never win the title.”
Part of the reason that Westbrook has always received the backlash is from the fact he plays the point. By design, the point is the guy who gets everyone involved and controls the pace of the game. For those who maybe watch a game occasionally, perhaps you have noticed a trend, most of your point guard are SCORING, not facilitating. Curry, Westbrook, Lillard anyone?
The fact that Westbrook is the most athletic point in the NBA and maybe the most athletic player outside of LeBron, why not use it to your advantage? There is a reason he gets to the line so much and at 80% from the charity stripe, why not take advantage of it? Take the free ones.
The fact of the matter is two years ago, Westbrook had been averaging roughly 21-23 points on 17-18 shots per game. Meanwhile, Durant was floating around 17-20 shots averaging 27-28 points.
If Westbrook gives up five shots hypothetically, do you really want Durant taking 1/4 of your shots? I would think not. Thats a heavy workload and you would burn him out.
As I said, a lot changes in two years.
Fast forward to now. Oklahoma City just knocked off the the one team you never bet against, the San Antonio Spurs. They are heading into a showdown with the Golden State Warriors for the conference finals.
Perhaps, that can be attributed to the new coaching change with Donovan running the show. For the first time since OKC became one of the leagues best franchises, the offense looks efficient. They still maintain a rather fast pace which is why most people were always hopping on the bandwagon to begin with, however, I will call it controlled chaos. So kudos, to Billy Donovan.
Their big win comes on the back of both Westbrook and Durant.
The duo is starting to play with more efficiency then in years past and Durant is starting to play second fiddle to the now emerging Russell Westbrook.
Before you fanboys get your panties in a wad, understand that is not a knock on the Durant. They are both still top 5-6 players, but Westbrook is beginning to come into his own. He is learning to facilitate the floor without letting his scoring suffer.
The guys almost averaged a freaking triple double on the season at 23 points, 10 assists and 8 rebounds. So far this post season, 25, 10 and 7. WHAT!?
The thing I love most about Westbrook is that he is a killer. He wants the ball when the game is on the line and he isn’t afraid of failure, much like Kobe and much like Jordan. He has that killer instinct everyone always raves about.
Aside from the gaudy numbers on the offensive end, Westbrook has always been a menace in the passing lanes.
We are witnessing the evolution of Russell Westbrook. Take notice because it was just two years ago that everyone was saying how much of a liability he was. Westbrook is finally getting the recognition he deserves. No more scapegoating, for now.
The conference finals should be a fun one. Don’t blink.