In past years, most Thunder fans watched Thunder games simply because they carry around the title of being a Thunder fan. Sometimes not because they genuinely wanted to, but because they felt obligated to. You think we wanted to watch last year’s back-to-back dismantling losses to the cellar dwelling Mavericks and the dysfunctional Magic? Maybe it was the sheer brilliance of Russell Westbrook kept us fans interested for a couple years here and there. However, we all knew those teams had a ceiling, and it wasn’t a very high one. Since 2015-16 there has been a cloud of doubt and pessimism surrounding the Thunder in terms of simply contending. I’m here to let you all know, today, the cloud is gone and should be gone for the long run.
It seems the let downs of years past are long gone and forgotten. Past Thunder teams seemed to always have let down games and lose games they should have never lost. A common theme was energy and horrendous shooting, combined with sloppy play and turnovers. The Thunder we were used to watching used to not show up for certain games. Watching this years team, it feels as if they are rewriting the script and changing the narrative. The theme of this year’s team has been almost unheard of in the NBA. A defensive minded offensive juggernaut that can beat the brakes off of any team on any given night.
The main visual representation of this new Thunder team is the growth and consistency of role players. Gone are the days of Semaj Christon and Ronnie Price duking it out for the backup point guard spot. The Thunder have an incredibly consistent and reliable scoring option of the bench in Dennis Schroeder. The pick-n-roll with he and Nerlens Noel make the second unit… fun to watch, something us fans haven’t been able to say for years. Adding to the bench play is a new toy for Billy Donovan to use in Markieff Morris. His fit with the Thunder is extremely interesting, as he is so versatile and can guard so many positions. The bolstered bench isn’t the only aspect that marks OKC’s improvement. It starts with the two most unappreciated, but most valued pieces in Jerami Grant and Terrance Ferguson. Both enjoying career years, they could arguably be the reason for the Thunder’s recent success and winning play the last two months.
Terrance Ferguson has turned into the three-and-D player the Thunder have been looking for since they became a franchise. His growth as a player has been incredible to watch. Even after an incredibly slow start, he is still shooting a stellar 38.3 percent from beyond the arc. He’s guarding at a very high clip as well. Not only is his scoring a good thing for the Thunder, but the fact other teams have to respect him is absolutely huge for a Thunder team that runs on drive-first minded point guards. To create any hesitation on who to guard makes decisions for Westbrook pretty simple. The way he spaces the floor opens up a whole new element to this Thunder team. Since Jan. 8, Ferguson chipped in nearly twelve points per game while shooting 46.4 percent from three point range. If he is able to keep the same efficiency, that is what makes a good Thunder team great.
The next piece to this puzzle that has slowly formed is budding star Jerami Grant. Grant is having his best professional averaging career highs in minutes, points, three point percentage, and rebounds. His ability to guard literally all five positions on the floor is his biggest valuable asset that he brings to this defensive minded team. He is a matchup nightmare as a lengthy post that moves like a guard. Now his drives to the basket are under control, and his three pointers are dropping at a high clip, Grant is a legitimate scoring option. His 13.1 points per game are a huge lift for the Thunder who have struggled to find consistency from role players in years past.
This team is, for the first team in a long time, enjoyable to watch. Paul George is enjoying his most efficient year of his career and it is a genuine surprise when anything he throws at the basket doesn’t go in. Westbrook has morphed into the player that his critics have always called for him to be, once again averaging a triple double, and deferring to Paul George quite often. As a team, the Thunder have the highest three point percentage since January and a big reason why is the amount of wide open looks they get every game. Fast paced style, handsy defense, and a roller coaster offensive transition attack make this Thunder the most fun Thunder team to watch, maybe ever. Every player on the roster recognizes the potential of the team and knows their role within the system. With consistent role players, two superstars, and a motor that never quits, this team is enjoyable to watch, but more importantly they are contending for a championship.We invite you to follow Thunder Digest on Twitter and like Thunder Digest on Facebook. Don't forget to subsribe on Youtube! Our Podcast is on iTunes and on Stitcher. We also have a Thunder Digest Instagram account if you love fun Thunder photography!