No team was more aggressive this past offseason bringing its core back than the Oklahoma City Thunder. It was a risky move after the team won 48 games but was bounced out in the first round of the playoffs for a second consecutive year.
Clearly the Thunder were good enough to rack up wins in the regular season, but could a core of Russell Westbrook, Paul George and Steven Adams get to the promised land, a place Kevin Durant couldn’t take them?
Well, as the NBA passes the one-third mark of the regular season the returns in Oklahoma City have been outstanding. Westbrook and George are forming one of the West’s deadliest 1-2 punches, Adams is having a career year and Billy Donovan is getting contributions from a host of bench players.
In case you hadn’t heard, everyone’s chasing the Warriors. The thought was that the Houston Rockets were next in line, but they’ve struggled mightily all year and are currently out of the playoff picture. So, who’s next in the West? For now it’s the Thunder.
They’re 18-9, have the fourth best net rating in the league (6.6, also best in the West) and are doing it thanks to a NBA-best defense that’s missing its best player in Andre Roberson. The offense has been good, not great, ranking 16th in efficiency but 12th in the NBA over the last month.
The reality is they haven’t had to be great offensively because of how great the defense, led by George and Adams, has been.
George is averaging career bests in points, rebounds and assists and leads the league with 2.2 steals per game. We’ll add quickly that he makes some sense as a good value bet for Defensive Player of the Year at +1000.
Also, Adams is averaging a double-double for the first time in his career and the expensive acquisition of Dennis Schroder has paid off, as he’s averaging 16.8 points and 5.0 assists off the bench. Schroder is a play for Sixth Man of the Year at +1000 odds with Karamba.
We’ll get to Westbrook in a moment, but this team has a little bit of everything that’s needed to contend with Golden State. The clamp down defenders, the ability to play small, two-way stars and a clutch performer who’s been here before.
They’re +1400 to win the West and +4500 to win the NBA Finals, but if you’re looking for a non-Warriors pick in the West it should begin here.
We’ve written before about just how closely contested the Northwest Division is. It hasn’t gotten any clearer since we last wrote on them, but Oklahoma City is proving just how good they’ll be and how much they’ll test our pick, Denver, all season long.
And Oklahoma City might have the inside track. Denver is dealing with significant injuries to starters Gary Harris (hip) and Paul Millsap (toe), with Will Barton (groin) and Isaiah Thomas (hip) still out. Denver has dropped two of three, allowing the Thunder to go ahead in the Northwest standings.
These two squads, along with Utah as a Wild Card, will make for an incredible battle all year long. But with the injuries to the Nuggets, OKC’s odds at +190 with Betfair look like the smartest play.
When Westbrook won MVP two years ago it was based primarily on the fact that he, the year after Durant left, averaged a triple-double. He was the first player since Oscar Robertson in 1963 to accomplish the feat, making him a deserved winner over James Harden.
Last season Westbrook did it again, albeit with some inflated rebounding numbers in the final week of the season, and yet hardly anyone noticed; he finished sixth in MVP voting.
Brodie is back at it again this season, averaging a triple-double through 18 games. His numbers are down in many areas – points, assists, 3-point percentage, field goal percentage – but the fact that he’s averaging 20-10-10 for a third straight season will put him into the MVP conversation again. His candidacy may hinge on how well the Thunder do, and right now that’s looking good.
He’s a ways away from really contending, holding +1600 odds (ninth best) on 888Sport. But if Oklahoma City continues to win and flirts with the top spot in the West, those odds will shrink quickly.
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