By A. Suave Francisco
The Oklahoma City Thunder have improved immensely over the span of 41 games. Right at the halfway point of the season, the Thunder have overachieved by many people's standards, and right where they should be according to others. After a tough loss Friday night to the Minnesota Timberwolves, they have a (24-17) record on the season.
With that record, they are looking at 46-50 wins on the season, 46 on the low side, 50 on the high side. With consideration of the players OKC lost this summer, you have no choice but to be optimistic after the first half of the season. There are problems, but that's something we all knew would happen. Russell Westbrook has played out of his mind thus far, OKC's bench is much improved, and the Stache Bros. are playing on another level.
The country is on notice, Russell Westbrook has had a historic season. Averaging 30.8 points, 10.7 rebounds, and 10.5 assists, Westbrook may just be the best player in the NBA. His 19 triple-doubles in one season breaks the record for the most since the NBA/ABA merger, with 41 games to go.
In addition to that, Russell continuously brings the best out of his teammates. He's making them all better and that's been the universal example of a great player. For example, let's mention Andre Roberson, a player that's never been and probably never will be a legitimate threat on the offensive end of the court. Well, he's averaging a career-high in points (6.9), rebounds (4.6), assists (1.0), and also blocks (1.0). He's also improved his already defensively stout play by ingraining his name into the NBA All-Defensive Team talk.
The bench has played well individually but at the start of the season, you couldn't say that. When Westbrook leaves the game there's bound to be a slight let down, but as of late, it has only been slight. On a few occasions, they even made a comeback without Westbrook on the court. Enes Kanter has averaged All-Star numbers since the new year, including 14.1 points and 6.6 rebounds per game this season, off the bench.
Alex Abrines finally found his rhythm within the past month and has yet to look back. The problem early on in the season was the quickness and physicality of the game. That doesn't seem like a problem for this rookie, as he's already making an impact just 3 months into his NBA career.
We've already addressed Kanter's play, but Steven Adams has been great as of late. After he signed that big $100 million contract, many questioned his work ethic during games due to some bad performances, but within the past month, Adams has played at an All-Star caliber level just like Kanter has. He's rebounded well and now averages 12.2 points (five points more than his career average), 7.6 rebounds, and the most impressive stat may be his free throw shooting which is at a career high 71.4 percent.
The Thunder are seventh in the Western Conference but only one game out of fifth place. Even after a loss on the road to the struggling Timberwolves, it still feels like this team is trending in the right direction. There's an obvious test afoot, with five-of-six upcoming games on the road, featuring some pretty tough Western Conference opponents.