One Man Show

One Man Show

The megastars who have carried the Thunder

Chris Paul, in his first year with the Oklahoma City Thunder, stepped into the role as the primary offensive creator during he 2019-20 season. Paul has shined in that role, leading to many magnificent moments. 

In years past, we have seen Russell Westbrook set the league on fire with triple-doubles and crunch-time scoring. The 2018-19 season saw Paul George put up MVP numbers, having the best year of his career.  And if we venture back to 2014, Thunder fans everywhere can remember Kevin Durant’s MVP season that inspired a city. 

However, the question of which season was more impressive has yet to be answered. Most may immediately think that Westbrook’s record-setting triple-double year has to take the mantle. I’m here to say when you look at the circumstances, and the weight of expectations things may be different.

Let’s take a look.

Kevin Durant 2013-2014: 32.0 PPG | 5.5 AST |7.9 REB | 50% FG% | 39% 3P%

Awards: Most Valuable Player, All-NBA First Team, Scoring Champion, All-Star

Durant’s MVP season sparked the conversation that Durant could go down as a top 10 basketball player of all time. Just looking numbers, they are gaudy: the efficiency, the scoring output, and the ability to make plays were on full display.  

The basketball situation around Durant that year was a difficult one. Westbrook got hurt and only played 46 games. Due to the injury, Scott Brooks’ most played lineup consisted of Durant, Reggie Jackson, Thabo Sefolosha, Serge Ibaka, and Kendrick Perkins. They played a total of 549 minutes together. 

The 4-man combination of Durant, Ibaka, Perkins, and Sefolosha played 937 minutes together, putting the entire onus of creating offense on the Slim Reaper’s shoulders. 

Durant bore a 33-percent usage percentage, the highest of his career. He also totaled the most win shares of his career with 19.2. Oh, and he had one of the most effective offensive games with a 54-point performance against the Golden State Warriors. 

Durant would lead the Thunder in 25 total statistical categories. Proving that he isn’t just a great scorer, but an all-around offensive guru. He kept the Thunder far above water, as they finished with a 59-23 record and ventured to the Western Conference Finals. 

Russell Westbrook 2016-17: 31.6 PPG | 10.4 AST | 10.7 REB | 43% FG% | 34%% 3P%

Awards: Most Valuable Player, All-NBA First Team, Scoring Champion, All-Star

During the season Westbrook put the NBA on notice. In a flurry of drives to the basket, late-game heroics, and sizzling assists, Westbrook triple-doubled his way into NBA history. 

His MVP was a celebration of just what unbridled determination and a will-to-win can bring a franchise. 

However, the basketball situation was bleak. The projected starting lineup: Westbrook, Victor Oladipo, Andre Roberson, Domantas Sabonis, Steven Adams. 

A young Oladipo wasn’t a reliable secondary ball-handler. Roberson played because his defense was elite. On the other end, his offensive skill set was historically nonexistent. Sabonis was a rookie who was forced to play the role of floor spacing 4-man, taking him away from his strengths as a rebounder and post playmaker. Adams, though reliable, was not a player you asked to post up every time down. 

Westbrook wasn’t just the engine to the team, he was the whole car. He posted the highest usage rate in NBA history with a 41.6. He assisted on 57 percent of his teammates made baskets. And he posted a box score plus-minus of 11.1, the highest of his career. 

The Thunder were known for its collapse when Westbrook wasn’t on the floor, due to the lack of bench depth post-Durant. Still, Westbrook led them to a 43-39 record in the tough Western Conference. 

Westbrook showed he was here to stay in OKC, not just look for the quickest exit when times got tough. 

Paul George 2018-19: 28.0 PPG | 4.1 AST | 8.2 REB | 44% FG% | 38% 3P%

Awards: All-NBA Third Team, All-Defensive First Team, finished third in MVP voting, All-Star

This Paul George season came as a pleasant surprise to all. Coming into the year there were many questions surrounding Paul Goerge’s fit next to Westbrook. They had come off of a disappointing loss to the Jazz in the playoffs, and they had traded Carmelo Anthony in order to start Jerami Grant. 

The keys were in George’s hands to be the main scoring threat for the Thunder, and he flourished in that role most of the season. 

He posted career highs in almost every box score counting statistic, while also being the anchor to the Thunder’s defensive disruption scheme. Posting an NBA-best 2.2 steals per game, he often guarded opposing teams best perimeter scorer, or whoever was hot on a given night. 

George’s season, though a pleasant surprise, didn’t end the way Thunder fans hoped. He ended the year hurt, and the Thunder stumbled in the playoffs against a very good Portland team. 

Chris Paul 2019-20: 17.7 PPG | 6.8 AST | 4.9 REB | 48% FG% | 36% 3P%

Awards: All-Star 

This season is hard to quantify due to the NBA hiatus. However, everyone can see the value Chris Paul has added to this Thunder side. 

His counting numbers aren’t gaudy, but fans feel his impact every game. He’s been a shrewd leader for a Thunder team that was first believed to be tanking. His competitive nature hasn’t let any members of the Thunder take a night off. 

He sits as the clutchest player in the NBA, according to NBA.com. Paul shoots 53 percent from the field when the game is in its most critical moments. Time and time again he has shown that he will rise to the occasion. 

With the NBA season gearing towards a restart, the jury is still out on how CP3 will end the year. Yet, what I have seen so far, has been nothing short of spectacular.

The Final Verdict

In the end, each individual season was a spectacle that captivated Thunder fans worldwide. Yet, in this exercise, much like sports, there has to be a winner. 

The single most impressive season still is Durant’s. When you look at the weight of expectations on his shoulders: first regular season without Westbrook, limited offensive roster, no go-to secondary ball-handler and a limited offensive scheme with Scott Brooks. His individual success is magnified. 

He managed to lead a limited Thunder roster to the top of the Western Conference, often willing wins out of the clutches of defeat. 

Durant’s 2013-14 NBA season is one of the most overlooked of all-time. Yes, Westbrook’s triple-doubles were enamoring. Yes, Paul George’s two way abilities were captivating. And yes, Chris Paul defied expectations. However, Durant won more when in similar situations. 

He is the most talented player to ever don a Thunder jersey. His 2013-14 season can’t be forgotten.

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