When I say chemistry trumps talent, take the 2019-2020 Thunder as an example. With big hitters like Russell Westbrook and Paul George surrounded by premier role players by the names of Jerami Grant, Steven Adams, and Dennis Schroder, common sense points towards success.
You can’t accurately measure success, but surely a 49-win season (a lucky 49 at that), wasn’t the plan for the Thunder last year. Not even a calendar year later, better yet, a quarter of a calendar later the dynamic of the Thunder is completely different.
When a 49-win season was considered disappointing in the past, this season it’s a dream. It’s a dream that’s nearly on track to come to fruition if the roster stays on par through the rest of this season.
What’s the difference then?
Without disrespecting the former, look at the current makeup of this roster. There are a total of nine all-star appearances, all of which are coming from one player, Chris Paul. While CP3 has been spectacular at times this season, he’s not an all-star in this league anymore and with that being said, OKC has no “star” on their roster. That means they’re heavily dependent on playing team basketball.
Team basketball is a refreshing two words for this city because OKC hasn’t witnessed it in over three seasons. Team basketball has led this them to a 20-15 record through early January and they seem to be peaking at the right time.
Back to Chris Paul, half of the reason he isn’t considered a star in this league anymore is due to the task he bestowed upon himself to mentor this young team, and more specifically Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. Shai is turning into OKC’s next star before everyone’s eyes while he’s playing his best brand of basketball over the last three weeks. Since December 18, he’s averaging 25.3 points per game on 53.5 percent shooting.
While the common opinion around the NBA before the season was that the Thunder would ‘tank’ this year away, putting the historic number of draft picks to good use, through 35 games it’s clear that is not the case.
With the Thunder currently 5.5 games in front of the San Antonio Spurs for seventh in the Western Conference and only two games behind the Dallas Mavericks for sixth, the question is becoming whether or not the Thunder are perhaps only one star away from contention.
Yes, the Thunder have a few expiring/expensive contracts, but that’s something they’ve always struggled with. I agree something needs to be done about Danilo Gallinari, whether that’s a trade before the deadline, a trade-and-sign, or an extension this offseason, but as for Chris Paul, Steven Adams, and even Dennis Schroder, they are vital components to this team contending. If Sam Presti gets rid of either of those four players, it needs to be for all-star caliber talent.
Just think. Compare this year’s Thunder to the Los Angeles Clippers last season. There were a bunch of solid role players, young talent and a dominant sixth man in Lou Williams. This year’s Thunder has the same, but insert a future Hall-of-Famer Chris Paul, all-pro role player Danilo Gallinari, and Dennis Schroder, the new school Lou Will, or Jamal Crawford. To be honest, the Thunder are better than the Clippers were last season.
Now one year later, look at the Clippers. They acquired two all-stars and are now title contenders.
The Thunder aren’t as far away as you think. Give Chris Paul, Gilgeous-Alexander and Dennis Schroder an unselfish, low-maintenance all-star and see how competitive the Thunder becomes within the next year.