The Oklahoma City Thunder, at least until the Miami Heat play, are owners of the NBA’s best record, yet there remains serious doubt as to whether this squad is a legitimate champion contender.
While the Thunder boast a 28-7 record, the ambiguity that haunts them is not undeserved.
Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook headline a depth chart laden with both talent and youth, the latter of which has created cause for concern.
It is often forgotten that Durant is only 23, that Westbrook is also only 23 and that James Harden is only 22. People lose sight of the fact that Oklahoma City is not made up of experienced veterans, but rather, inexperienced stars.
The result? A flurry of turnovers, missed free throws down the stretch and a penchant for disappearing on the defensive end.
Oh, and also, the best record in the league.
Despite growing pains, despite displays of weakness and despite a wealth of uncertainty, the Thunder sit atop the Western Conference, and the entire league for that matter.
Durant is the greatest one-trick pony to set foot on the hardwood since Carmelo Anthony came out of Syracuse, Westbrook is the best shoot-first point guard since the Gilbert Arenas of hold and Serge Ibaka, defensively, resembles a younger, more athletic Dikembe Mutombo.
No, it hasn’t always been pretty, nor has it always been easy, but the Thunder have found ways to win, on any given night, given any caliber of performance.
Take Oklahoma City’s victory over the 76ers on Wednesday night. It had it all. Turnovers, scoring droughts, abysmal foul shooting and defensive lapses, yet the Thunder still came out on top, against one of the better teams in the league, mind you.
As much as the contrary is preached, there is no set recipe for becoming a championship contender. Just because the Heat make it look easy on a daily basis doesn’t mean they are locks to win a title come June.
If the Mavericks taught us anything last year, it’s that it doesn’t matter how you come out on top, as long as you do. And the same concept applies here.
It doesn’t matter how sloppy the Thunder look at times. It doesn’t matter how inexperienced they are. And it doesn’t matter how well off Miami appears.
All that matters is Oklahoma City has found ways to win games, against all different types of opponents, regardless of the circumstances.
Should we be surprised that the Thunder have experienced such a high level of success despite such capriciousness?
Because legitimate contenders always do.
Dan Favale is an avid basketball analyst and firm believer in the three-pointer as well as the notion that defense doesn’t always win championships. His work can be found at Bleacherreport.com in addition to TheHoopDoctors.com. Follow @danfavale on Twitter for his latest posts and all things NBA.