Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.
VIDEO: Inside the NBA’s experts dissect the Thunder
> After a loss last week, Kevin Durant said the Thunder want to be a great team, but they’re fooling themselves. My question for you: Are the Thunder a great team, or are they fooling themselves?
David Aldridge, TNT analyst: You can’t be a great team with a middling defense (19th in points allowed, 13th in Defensive Rating). Nor can you be great when you’re 0-3 against the Warriors. Now, with two Alpha Males like Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook on your squad, you are always close to great. But until and unless the Thunder figures out how to incorporate everyone on offense on a consistent basis, I see the same ending coming in May. Of late, it looks like OKC is making a more concerted effort to get Serge Ibaka, for example, more shots (double figure attempts in his last 10 games). That’s a step in the right direction.
Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: We throw around the word “great” way too easily. No, this OKC team isn’t “great.” There are two “great” teams this season, which is one or two more than most seasons, and one of them – San Antonio – could slip from that perch if a priority on resting players for the postseason chews up the final week or two of the regular season. If the Spurs were to knock off the Warriors, they still might wrest the “great team” title away from Golden State. But if the Thunder ends up winning the title, they’ll be known as the surprisingly good upstart team that upset the two powerhouses in the West.
Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: The Thunder have been fooling themselves for a while. They are an incomplete team with two great players and even with the splendid individual talent of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, that’s a recipe not likely to win a championship in the age of the Warriors and Spurs. For an “elite team” they cough up fourth-quarter leads because their offense relies almost exclusively on Durant and Westbrook to make big shots late. Too many other players around them with limited skills at one end of the court or the other. That’s quite dangerous on any given night, but that formula just doesn’t add up to 16 wins through the playoffs.
Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: Neither. They are not a great team. But they could become very good in time for the playoffs, where greatness is truly established. That’s the potential, not where they are now. The Thunder are definitely not fooling themselves, though. Durant and coach Billy Donovan, two of the critical voices in the locker room, have not hidden from the reality that OKC has been inconsistent much of the season, even when piling up wins the first half of the season, and that it has been getting exposed since the schedule turned tough. This team is struggling in some ways, but the ability to live in reality is not one of them.
Shaun Powell, NBA.com: We must first define greatness before giving an answer. Is greatness the 1986 Boston Celtics? How about this season’s Warriors and Spurs, are they the benchmark for greatness? Then no, compared to the teams above in the West, OKC is merely very good at the moment and therefore fooling itself. But the Thunder have the potential to be in that class and anyone who doesn’t think so is fooling themselves. It comes down to whether OKC can play some D when it counts, and if Billy Donovan can convince his stars to occasionally chill with the one-on-one and play team ball in the crunch and be less predictable. Two very big ifs.
John Schuhmann, NBA.com: They’re a very good team, but they’re a clear step below the Warriors and Spurs. Their offense gets too Russ-and-KD heavy, with little ability to adapt, down the stretch of close games. But defense, especially when they go to their bench, is their real problem. They rank 14th on that end and 25th since late January. They have matched up well with the Spurs over the last several years, so Saturday’s game in San Antonio will be telling. But I’d believe in them more if they could play their starting lineup, which has been the best high-usage lineup in the league, 48 minutes a game.
Sekou Smith, NBA.com: Great team? Not exactly. Very good team? Absolutely. And I agree with KD: they are fooling themselves if they think playing the way they have, particularly against the other very good and great teams, is going to get it done. The Thunder’s flaws get exposed far too often for me to believe they are title ready. And I still need to see them involve some of their role players at critical moments. It’s always on KD and Russell Westbrook to rescue the Thunder when things get tight. Leaning that hard on your superstars will get you to a certain point, but you need to have other guys to fill in the gaps and make plays, on both ends, in order to take that next step.
Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: They have great talent. Are they a great team? That’s one of those questions to be answered in hindsight only. Just because they have the talent and the potential doesn’t make them comparable to the Warriors or Spurs — the only way for OKC to be great is to prove it.
Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: They are, obviously, a pretty good team. While their numbers are good, particularly offensively, to me the Thunder are a great example of the value of the eye test — despite a new coach and new philosophies, they seem to still end up going one-on-one and taking questionable shots at the end of games. (Unrelated but related: I don’t understand how a guy as big and athletic as Serge Ibaka is averaging fewer rebounds per game than Russell Westbrook.) I like the addition of Randy Foye, but I don’t think this team can get to that next level without major philosophical changes.