The Thunder are on pace for an eye-opening average margin of victory this season. Currently, they’re beating teams by an average of 9.2 points per game, which is the highest margin for a team since the 2007-08 Celtics.
I’ve touched on this myself, but Tom Haberstroh of ESPN.com dug into this today and as expected, did a better job of it anyway. But here’s the overlying question: Based on this, are the Thunder’s the league most dominant team?
The streaking Heat may have your full attention now, but they’re not the only historical juggernaut this season. Most of us, including yours truly, thought OKC took a sizable step back in the short-term after trading James Harden in the offseason. Apparently, we were dead wrong.
Instead, Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and company have gotten even better this season on both ends of the floor. The offense has improved from 107.1 points per 100 possessions last season to 110.0 points per 100 possessions this season, and the defense has shaved a little less than a point every 100 possessions as well. In fact, the Clippers are the only playoff team from last season to see their point differential improve more than the Thunder.
Buoyed by that massive point differential, the Thunder remarkably still have an equal shot at the title as the Heat, according to Hollinger’s projections. It’s time we stopped doubting the Thunder. OKC, in the midst of putting the final touches on one of the most dominant regular seasons in recent times, is somehow flying under the radar during the best season in franchise history. Something tells me that’s just how they like it.
As Haberstroh notes, the team that leads the league in margin of victory has won 15 of the last 30 NBA titles. But check this: Only six teams in the shot-clock era have been more dominant than the Thunder in terms of margin of victory — the 1996 Bulls (+12.2), the 1997 Bulls (+10.8), the 1992 Bulls (+10.4), the 2008 Celtics (+10.3), the 1986 Celtics (+9.4) and the 1987 Lakers (+9.3).
And guess what: All six of those teams won NBA titles.
So all that stuff sounds all great and awesome. But as I covered here, the Thunder have built that impressive margin of victory largely by beating up on bad, average and above average teams. When it’s come to the elite teams of the league, the Thunder have struggled. What’s funny is that in the games OKC’s won against the likes of the Spurs, Nuggets and Grizzlies, they did it in blowout fashion. Basically, the Thunder feast or come up painfully short.
The Thunder have had some seriously impressive beatdowns this season. Beating the Bobcats and Hornets each by 45, the Suns by 31 and the Rockets and Bulls by 30. The Thunder have won 35 games this season by 10 or more points, and 16 by 20 or more. That means the Thunder have won almost 70 percent of their games by double-digits this year. That’s kind of incredible.
But to maintain that sort of margin of victory, you have to do three things: 1) blow some people out 2) win most of your games and 3) don’t get blown out yourself. The Thunder have lost 19 times this season — which is excellent — but 13 of those losses came by less than 10 points. Of the 19, 10 have been by six points or less.
So really, the Thunder’s season has kind of gone like this: They win, most likely by handling their opponent, or they’ve lost, most likely in a very close game. Take those tight two possession games and swing them OKC’s way and the Thunder are 62-9 right now. Yo.
What does it all mean? I don’t think inflating your margin of victory on the back of blowing out the Bobcats really indicates that you’re in the catbird’s seat for an NBA title by any stretch. The Thunder’s 3-9 record against the most elite teams in the league is as concerning as these margin of victory numbers are uplifting.
My takeaway is basically that the Thunder are very good, but we won’t know exactly how good until the playoffs. And how they perform in the postseason is how we’ll remember them, not because they beat teams by 10 points a game.