Russell Westbrook is the best player on the Oklahoma City Thunder. Anyone care to debate that? Didn’t think so.
But who is the second best?
It’s really a question that Thunder fans have never had to ask until this year. From the very first tipoff at the Ford Center in 2008 (remember when the ‘Peake was called the Ford Center?), Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook were donning the orange and blue.
Even though there’s a contingent of OKC hoopheads who still ride for Jeff Green, it became clear fairly quickly that we had two really special players playing for our franchise. For eight seasons, there were two Thunder superstars.
We were spoiled. It’s been talked about too much in the national media and doesn’t need to be rehashed here. But this season, as we all know, was different. It was Robin Hood and a band of merry men (you know Westbrook would definitely wear the bright green tights too).
Unfortunately, in this modern NBA you need more than that. It’s sad but really you can’t win a title unless you have a “superteam,” stacked with multiple stars and surrounded by excellent role players with minimal contracts. Look at the most recent champions: Cleveland, Golden State, Miami, San Antonio. For every one Dirk Nowitzki “man on a mission” Mavericks-type team, there are a dozens of these superteams.
And yes, I think it’s a little shallow to look at the NBA and see title contention as the only measure of success. The Thunder had a successful season by any measure, no matter the result of this series with the Rockets. Retaining Westbrook, positioning him for one of the greatest individual seasons in NBA history, beginning to reshape the roster, winning 47 games, it was all far cheerier than the doomsday scenario I was planning for when I wrote this dreary mess on July 5th.
But isn’t hoisting the O’Brien Trophy the ultimate goal?
With that in mind, there has to be another player who can play like a star. If you’re looking for one, you won’t find it on this roster. But if you’re Billy Donovan trying to decide who to give responsibility to in Game 4, or Sam Presti having to make roster decisions this summer, who can you even look to as the second banana?
Let’s meet our eligible bachelors:
Positives: Has a cool mustache, has all the skills to become the greatest late night TV host in history, everyone on the team loves him, sets a mean screen when he wants to, uses phrases like “swingin’ at the knees” to describe a good performance, can win an entire playoff series by getting a player on the other team suspended (*cough*ZBO*cough), is an above average rim protector, can run the screen-and-roll and catch lobs from Russ and well as anyone, is 7’1 and 275 pounds but still athletic.
Negatives: Has plum forgotten that he’s 7’1 and 275 pounds but still athletic, can’t shoot aside from the magical seven-foot flip shots, has looked unable to switch high screens onto faster players this series, doesn’t seem to have the desire to average 20 points per game long term, doesn’t take more than two showers per week (ok maybe I’m guessing on that last one).
Positives: Has a beautiful velvety singing voice, can create off the dribble (theoretically), can shoot and make threes (theoretically), is an athletic two-way player (theoretically), has the mentality of a future star, looks like the next Clyde Drexler in the open floor.
Negatives: Is a genuinely terrible baseball player, is a way better when you’re just thinking about him vs. when you’re actually watching him play, CANNOT guard James Harden, looked like a deer in the headlights in the first two games of this series, hasn’t really learned how best to play next to Westbrook.
Positives: Is a top five on-ball defender in the NBA, the only player on the team that can guard Harden, has a perfect NBA wing body, was the first one on the team to confront KD, has actually made an impressive habit out of dogging old Thunder players, is the second leading scorer in this series, is good for one back-cut dunk per game.
Negatives: Couldn’t make five three pointers in a row if I locked him in a gym overnight, is as likely to break a light at the top of the ‘Peak as he is to hit a spot-up three, is completely ignored by defenses in the playoffs, gives me heart palpitations thinking about him as the second star getting wing isolations.
Positives: Has the second best mustache on the team but top five in the league, is a premier low post scorer, could be this generation’s Ernest Hemingway, loves being a member of the OKC Thunder more than anyone else, would take a bullet for Westbrook (well not in the chest!).
Negatives: Can’t even be on the floor in certain playoff situations, is a pretty awful defender full stop, has turned into a total black hole when he gets the ball in the low block, and uh yeah…need I go on?
Positives: Can hit jumpers from 18 feet and in, can hit one-handed heaves from 80 feet and out, can score in the low post, can switch screens and at least make Harden think, brings the nasty.
Negatives: Has only been a member of the team for two months, and uh…probably can’t play a huge share of minutes at age…*googles age*…31? Wait…holy crap…is Taj Gibson the second best player on the Thunder?!?
I’m not sure, what do you all think? Can one of these four become a star beside Russell Westbrook?
For today’s purposes, one or more of these guys just needs to step up and have a big game. We won’t be winning any titles tonight, but we can get one step closer to #Thunderin6.