Time enough for Thunder to rise in West? For Durant to repeat as MVP?


VIDEO: Does KD have an honest shot at the 2014-15 MVP?

With Christmas Eve and Christmas morning coming for the Oklahoma City Thunder both early and separated by 96 hours this year – getting Russell Westbrook back last Friday vs. New York and Kevin Durant in time to play at New Orleans Tuesday night – the best way to assess the Thunder’s situation is:

A) No worries.

B) In the nick of time.

C) Too late to matter.

The same set of answers can apply to two questions spinning off the Thunder stars’ comebacks: Is 65 games enough time for the OKC to position itself as a championship contender in the rugged Western Conference? And does Durant have a legitimate chance to repeat as the NBA’s Most Valuable Player?

Here at Hang Time HQ, the first question seems easier to answer than the first. The 5-12 Thunder woke up Tuesday in 12th place in the West standings. They were 4.5 games behind No. 8 Phoenix (10-8). For a team as playoff-savvy as Oklahoma City, just qualifying for the postseason would put them in position to push toward The Finals – they’d just have to do it without either homecourt advantage or a relatively easy first-round matchup (since this is the West, we stress relatively).

OKC also was eight games out of a Top 4 berth, where it would enjoy home court for at least one round. Realistic to think the Thunder could climb over that many rivals? Durant, Westbrook, coach Scott Brooks and the rest have won 72.1 percent of their games the past three seasons. If they were to win at that clip over their final 65 this season, they’d finish about 52-30.

Only once in the last eight years would that record be good enough to finish fourth or higher. And that worked out for Utah in 2006-07 because its 51-31 finish was good enough to win the Northwest Division, earning it a Top 4 berth even though No. 5 Houston went 52-30. The same sort of thing occurred in 2005-06 (Denver’s 44-38 earned homecourt over Memphis’ 49-33).

Also, the Lakers and the Grizzlies secured the Nos. 3 and 4 slots in the post-lockout 2011-12 season by finishing 41-25 (.621), the equivalent of 51-31 in an 82-game season.

So it’s not too late for the Thunder. How ’bout Durant?

If OKC does push toward a playoff spot or a top seed, odds are good that the NBA’s 2014 MVP will have something significant to do with it. He’ll already have on his side the unofficial criterion of how his team did/does without him: the Thunder are a 5-12 team in his absence. If they were to turn that around and go 45-20 or 47-18 with Durant after his return from foot surgery, that would be compelling apart from his individual stats.

The MVP field has no early runaway favorite: Marc Gasol has gotten attention for Memphis’ start, Stephen Curry is a possibility from Golden State and LeBron James always is a factor. Durant would face a particular hurdle in an injury-shortened season: Would MVP voters consider a player who missed so many games?

Only three previous Most Valuable Players, out of 59 in NBA history, appeared in fewer than 70 games in a full season. Boston’s Bob Cousy played 64 of a possible 72 in 1956-57, his teammate Bill Russell played 69 of 72 the next year and Portland’s Bill Walton played in just 58 of 82 in 1977-78 – with most of his absences coming at the end, missing the Blazers’ final 22 games. Portland went 48-10 with Walton, 10-14 without him.

As for other individual stats, Durant shouldn’t have much trouble grabbing voters’ attention. Since his rookie season, he has averaged 28.6 points, 7.4 rebounds and 38.9 minutes, while shooting 48.7 percent from the field and 38.5 percent on 3-pointers.

And actually, if someone were to begrudge Durant his raw numbers, consider this: A scoring average of 28.6 played out over 65 games would get him to 1,859 points – the equivalent of a 22.6 average over 82 games. Fourteen NBA MVPs averaged less than 22.6 in their hardware-winning seasons.

None of this, of course, addresses the likelihood of Westbrook splitting votes with his freshly healed Thunder teammate. Fresh off his hand surgery, Westbrook grabbed a 1-0 lead in OKC impact by scoring 32 points and sparking the Thunder past the Knicks last weekend.

20 Comments

  1. KDfan says:

    Look at the broad picture. In the absence of Russ and KD the rest of the team learned to play well and with confidence. They have continued to play well and carried us in the last two games (even in the loss to NO and the win over 76’ers). That according to me will be the defining moment. More role players with confidence have developed. Scotty has more reliable players to depend on in case our dynamic duo has a hiccup. To me, we look more like a Spurs team. It doesn’t matter who scores, it doesn’t matter who’s the superstar (they’ve been labelled and they’ll continue to be superstars ), but it matters that we win. Now whether we reach the playoffs or not, the stage has been set for us to be Champions definitely next year. However, if we do reach the playoffs this year that will be a momentum which will carry us to a Championship. Thunder Up folks!

  2. Tyrone says:

    Problem is, they’re in the West which is ridiculously stacked at this point. And because of that the record of teams in the East says less about how good they are, so it’s highly possible that an Eastern 8 seed who wins 5 more games than the Western 9 seed is actually equal to the West team. Time to make it it the 16 best teams make the playoffs already….

  3. ViKing says:

    IMO; There’s no question of OKC reaching the playoffs. Estimating how much OKC will win out of the next 65 games based on their former years’ performance (72 %) is less “riskful” than estimating the games the 8th-seeded in the West will win in total (48 wins in average the last years). There’s already a gap between the current 7th and 8th seeded team, and this will increase.

    KD’s and RW’s short injuries is good news for OKC in the long-run, giving the chance to other players to improve their game and ownership (which is an issue at OKC). And especially Lamb and Jackson have done so. Unfortunately Jones got injured. With an improved OKC roster, and bench, in addition to future injuries and form dips of other western teams, certainly OKC will make the playoffs.

    However, SAS and LAC will probably improve their seeds, as well the opposite will occur for GSW, Memphis and Rockets. This basically means that OKC needs to outperform Portland w/ 9 wins to reach the 4th seed (or anything higher than 8th or 7th seed). That doesnt really depend on OKC, but instead on Portland, how well they can keep up their form and avoid injuries.

    MVP? LBJ is probably most prone to keep up w/ his performance so far out of the current season’s 10-20 top-players. Maybe KD or RW can get OKC to a 4-6 seed. MVP this year is not a race between KD and LBJ, but between 10-20 players so far.

  4. Indiana'sownLarryBird says:

    Right now Marc Gasol, Stephan Curry, Anthony Davis are the MVP’ s of the league right now…. Not this year for Durant…

  5. Messed up says:

    Come on, the season is still young.
    Yes, other teams have an advantage, the nr 7 seed in the West has a 12-5 record, so it’s going to be hard to climb the ladder. But injuries can suddenly happen to other teams too. Imagine Lamarcus Aldridge suddenly gone or Marc Gasol, the teams will be impacted.
    Plus, this will serve as an extra motivation for Durant.
    Don’t count OKC out just yet.

  6. G14 says:

    Let me play the devil’s advocate. Who is an MVP? A player who didn’t make playoff final. He abandoned his country when it needed him because he was afraid of getting injured the way Paul George got injured. He sat for 17 games. Is that who you would vote for as MVP. If that is the case, you have a narrow definition of who an MVP should be. For me, I would go with average points per total season games(both played and not played), games won(should help his team succeed), Achievement off court(World Championship). So in that respect, I would be looking at the cavs(Irving,James), GSW(Stephen, Thompson) and Rockets (James Harden) for an MVP. Durant 2014 was a big mistake, he totally disappointed everyone who voted for him and lied about why the MVP didn’t serve his country.

    • ism says:

      1. You mean BROAD definition, not narrow
      2. The award is for the season, and has always been. Not for the Playoffs, not for the World Championship
      3. The World Championship is not OFF COURT
      4. Although the MVP is heavily offense-biased, you’d have to bring a little more D to the table than, say, Harden or Irving
      5. KD sat because he was injured, and he returned earlier than expected. Who are you kidding?
      6. Dirk, LBJ, Durant… all of them and other superstars did not play for their countries’ teams at some point. They play 82 games per season and compete with the best of the best, kid.
      7. Point average including games not played? Seriously, man? It will be hard enough for KD to even be a serious MVP contender, but if he actually does some unbelievable stuff and lifts his team to a 4 spot or higher, why take away from his MVP-level-performance based on the games he didn’t play.
      8. Should I go on?

    • rill says:

      You act like he was in the military and didn’t protect his country. It’s basketball ball. Serve? Your post is a joke

  7. Shaqtin a MVP says:

    You are mistaken, the Thunder played without Durant AND Westbrook and have that bad record. Its misleading to give all the credit to Durant when OKC is gonna be close to .700 the rest of the season.
    I already considered them out, now Im back to “I dont know”. Since I didnt expect them back so soon. Some said they are coming back next year.

    Do you wanna know what real MVP-numbers are? How about the 2010-2011 Dallas Mavericks? They had clearly the best record in the league when Dirk got injured. Guess what they did while he was absent! I tell you, 1-10!!!
    When he came back, he wasnt himself in the first few weeks, but Mavs still improved to 4-4. And the rest of the season they had the best record again.
    In the end they had the 3rd seed. Do I have to remind you that we are talking about a chamipnship-team here? You saw the difference when their superstar palyed and when he didnt. If Durant reaches those numbers, Im gonna consider him one of the greats, until then he will remain a great scorer and nothing else.
    Try shooting less KD, be more efficient!

    Oh btw, do you know who was the 2011-MVP? A certain Derrick Rose…….yeah, thats the NBA-experts for you.

  8. sophie23 says:

    They will be a 500.-team by mid-January

  9. Sam says:

    This is unrelated to the article but please get rid of today’s highlight video announcer. He has become annoying to the point that he detracts from the video. An example of this can be found when he calls Russel Westbrook “Westy”. Not only is his commentating ability rather poor but his voice alone forces me to watch the highlights on mute. I sometimes question the whether the NBA hires people off of merit or how much of a discount they can receive. I believe that removing the unknown announcer will be beneficial for the NBA and the image that they try to uphold.
    Sincerely, Loyal Basketball Fan

    • ism says:

      I have come to hold that drunk pirate dearly. He is an unintentionally funny commentator, but he is unique. Keep him! But don’t do him too often.

  10. TD21 says:

    Durant needs to learn how to have a fundamental comeback from injury to have a legendary career. He should consider playing in a Spurs uniform with the immortal Old Man Riverwalk to win his first championship.

  11. justin says:

    I honestly think its too late, the west is very difficult to get a playoffs spot, with about 65 games left, you technically need about 55-58 wins…. I just don’t see it. With that said, go blazers!! Ripcity is behind you guys 110%.

  12. veryhappyokcfan says:

    They will make it, but it will be tight all the way to April. Kevin Durant has to shake off his rust, Reggie Jackson has to swallow his pride, and the OKC bench needs to keep up their momentum. Go Thunder! You can do it! This is going to be FUN to watch them climb over Pelicans, Phoenix, Denver and Sacramento. Cause they will! Cause they can!

  13. Erse says:

    Now i only start to pitty the no.1-2 seeds in the West, who gonna meet them in playoffs 🙂
    If the Brooks keep th depth he managed to sustain during the KD and Russ absence OKC along with Dallas are my tips for the Championship this year 🙂

  14. Issam says:

    OKC has time to make the playoffs if Brooks contiunes involving all the players in the game, not giving the ball to West or KD to have indivudual plays every single time. It’s tough to see OKC with a new problem every year, it seems like their are the perennial candidate.

  15. ancientsrs says:

    I didn’t think the Thunder would make the playoffs a week ago. I figured Durant and Westbrook would be out longer. I look back a few years ago and I recall the Lakers were 17-25 at one point and managed to make the playoffs. The Thunder have a far bigger window to work with.