Led by the best scorer in the NBA, Kevin Durant, the young and exciting Thunder continued their steady ascension up the NBA ranks last season.
After reaching the Western Conference Finals in 2010-11, the Thunder came out hungry last year.
They finished the lockout shortened season 47-19 and earned the West's second-seed for the playoffs.
The Thunder swept the defending champion Mavericks in the first round and then blew past the Lakers 4-1 in the second round.
They fell behind 2-0 the top-seeded Spurs in the conference finals before storming backup to win four straight games and reach the NBA Finals.
They couldn't quite bring a first NBA title to Oklahoma City though as they were beaten in five games by LeBron James and the Miami Heat.
Gotta be KD - Kevin Durant is only 24-years-old and is coming off his third consecutive NBA scoring title. At this point there is no reason to think he can't make a run at the record of seven straight scoring titles held by Michael Jordan and Wil Chamberlain. His crazy length and agility allow Durant to get his shot from anywhere on the floor and he only looks to be improving. He shot a career best .496 from the floor last season and also set career marks in assists (3.5), blocks (1.2) and rebounds (8.0). If not for a guy named LeBron, Durant would be the best basketball player on the planet right now.
Fill It Up
With three straight scoring titles under his belt at just 24-years-old, Kevin Durant could very well make a run at some of the NBA's all-time scoring records.
Plans B - After Durant, you also have Russell Westbrook. If opposing defences focus all their energy on Durant, Westbrook has the skills to torch you. On alot of teams, Westbrook would be the number one scoring option. On the Thunder he forms a potent one-two punch monster that basically dares the opposition to pick their poison. It's no wonder the team averaged 103.1 points per game last year.
Getting Defensive - Most of the attention is given to he Thunder's abilities on te offensive end but this team also features some pretty darn good defenders. Serge Ibaka led the NBA by a wide margin with 3.7 blocks per game last season and finished second in defensive player of the year voting. Alongiside Kendrick Perkins, the Thunder have a formidable front line that's tough to beat for opponents. They also have Thabo Sefolosha who is one of the best perimeter defenders in the NBA. Just look at what he did against Kobe Bryant and Tony Parker in last season's playoffs.
No Rest for the Wicked- Yes the Thunder's core players are young and probably more capable than most teams of playing a crazy amount of games, but eventually everyone wears down. Anyone would be worn out by a compacted 66-game season, followed by a run to the finals and then a trip to the Olympics. Well Durant, Westbrook and Ibaka all did just that. Hopefully they managed to squeeze in a little down time somewhere in there.
Get ready for the season with the latest from TSN.ca.
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Tougher Opposition - The Thunder's road back to the finals got that much harder with the way the Lakers retooled this off-season. At this point it's probably even money as to whether L.A. or OKC reach the finals. The Thunder may even be slight underdogs. And even after the Lakers, the West is still much deeper than the East which means the Thunder will have a much harder time getting back to the title matchup than the Heat will.
X Factor: The New Guys
The Thunder shocked many people around the NBA by trading away young star James Harden just days before the start of the regular season. Harden's production off the bench was crucial to the Thunder's success last season as he put up averages of 16.8 points, 3.7 assists, 4.1 boards and 1.8 three-pointers. More importantly he was a major glue guy for the team having great chemistry with the team's other stars. The degree to which Kevin Martin and Jeremy Lamb can gel with their new teammates and help to replace some of the lost production will go a long way to determining how the Thunder fare this season. Martin can shoot and should help replace some of Harden's scoring while Lamb has nice qualities as a rookie. Still, it's always dangerous when you remove a key piece of a team that seemed so close to a championship.
What to Expect
They have the best scorer in the league, a bevy of offensive weapons as well as some of the league's premier defenders. Despite the loss of Harden, the Northwest division is theirs to lose and 60+ wins are likely. The only question is whether or not they can overcome the Lakers, get back to the NBA finals and win it all this year. It's going be tough, but I wouldn't bet against them.
Tim Chisholm's Offseason Grade
When you make it to the NBA Finals, you can rest a little on your laurels when it comes to team construction.
For a young team like the Thunder, in fact, they have improved by virtue of losing in the Finals because that hunger will now refocus them heading into this season.
The real curiosity is what this team is going to get out of Perry Jones, the intriguing young talent they snagged after he plummeted on draft night.
If he manages to capitalize on his strong talent base with the Thunder, look out.