Bill Haisten's Thunder Insider: Season in Review
BY BILL HAISTEN World Sports Writer
Sunday, June 24, 2012
6/24/12 at 8:25 AM
Read stories and blogs
and watch slideshows from the Thunder’s playoff run.
1. Strong enough to become NBA's best offensive player
During a combine that preceded the 2007 NBA draft, 78 prospects convened for testing. Vertical leap was measured. There were agility drills and timed sprints. There was a 185-pound bench press. How did Texas' Kevin Durant rank overall? He was 78th. He was unable to do even one bench-press lift, which resulted in debate about Durant's ability to become an effective NBA player.
"If people question his strength, they're stupid," Longhorn coach Rick Barnes told the Dallas Morning News. "... There are a lot of guys who can bench press 300 pounds in the NBA who couldn't play dead in a cowboy movie. Kevin's the best player in the draft - period, at any position."
Barnes was correct. Taken by the Seattle SuperSonics (who ultimately became the Oklahoma City Thunder) with the second pick overall, Durant became the best player of the 2007 draft - and the NBA's best offensive player since Michael Jordan's final Chicago season in 1997-98.
While he couldn't press a 185-pound weight, Durant does beautifully with a 20-ounce basketball. During the 2011-12 season, the 23-year-old Thunder forward averaged 28 points and became only the seventh player in NBA history to record three consecutive scoring titles. On Feb. 19, he scored 51 points against Denver. During the NBA Finals, he averaged 30.6.
Durant is a three-time All-Star and a two-time Western Conference starter. And considering that he is appreciated both by OU fans and OSU fans, he also may be the most popular athlete in Oklahoma history.
2. Westbrook's season: an All-Star fashion statement
On Dec. 28, in Oklahoma City's third game of the season, the Thunder prevailed 98-95 at Memphis. It was a typical night for Kevin Durant (32 points) and James Harden (20), but not for Russell Westbrook. He attempted 13 shots from the field. He converted on none. A grisly 0-of-13. He finished with as many turnovers (four) as points. Subsequent to that bleak performance, there were many more that would qualify as dazzling.
While making his second consecutive All-Star Game appearance, Westbrook scored 21 points. By the end of the regular season, Westbrook averaged 23.6 points - ranking fifth in the NBA. During the NBA Finals, he averaged 27. In Game 4 at Miami, there was a masterpiece - 43 points on 20-of-32 shooting. For the second consecutive season, he was an All-NBA second-team selection. With his splashy shirts and loud, red eyeglasses, he was noticed by people who don't usually pay attention to basketball. During the Finals, Westbrook was the subject of a Tulsa World style feature.
Because he isn't the prototypical pass-first point guard, the fourth-year veteran from UCLA frequently is the target of criticism. Westbrook's response: "The style of play that I play with - that's not changing."
3. Thunder Mania phenomenon evident throughout entire state
On Tuesday, at Miami's American Airlines Arena, a mother and daughter from Woodward were seated on the second row behind the Oklahoma City Thunder bench. For two prime tickets to Game 4 of the NBA Finals, they paid a total of $3,000.
On Friday, a few hours after the Oklahoma City season ended with a Game 5 defeat at Miami, Thunder players and coaches were greeted by 4,000 fans at OKC's Will Rogers World Airport.
On Saturday, a street-corner merchant was selling Thunder items at 91st Street and Memorial Drive in Tulsa. And he wasn't just open for business. He was doing business. He had customers. It was one of countless examples of Thunder Mania having extended beyond Oklahoma City and throughout the state.
In advance of the 2012-13 season, only three NBA teams - the Heat, the Los Angeles Lakers and the Thunder - have had a season-ticket renewal rate of 99 percent. "Just a remarkable metric of how loyal our fans are," said Brian Byrnes, a Thunder senior vice president.
Including the playoffs, the Thunder played 43 times at Chesapeake Energy Arena this season. Each game attracted a capacity crowd of 18,203. Entering the upcoming season, OKC has a streak of 65 consecutive home sellouts.
On Oct. 19 at Tulsa's BOK Center, the Thunder faces Phoenix in a preseason game.
The offseason: What will Presti do?
Harden and Ibaka
After next season, OKC will have the option of attempting to re-sign James Harden and power forward Serge Ibaka. In 2013-14, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook will be paid a combined total of nearly $33 million. The NBA salary cap should be set at about $65 million. Can the Thunder afford to reward both Harden and Ibaka with big contracts? With Ibaka being such a unique talent with the potential to become a much more complete player, OKC might be hesitant to part ways with the NBA's leading shot-blocker. Does that mean that Presti would consider a trade for Harden?
Room for improvement
Minutes after OKC lost at Miami in Game 5 of the NBA Finals, Thunder coach Scott Brooks said, "We definitely have room to improve. That's what the summers are for." Being among the NBA's more tight-lipped general managers, Sam Presti has not discussed what he might do with the roster. However, considering the extent to which the Thunder bench was outplayed by Miami's during the finals, you have to presume that Presti will make some moves.
Injured Thunder guard Eric Maynor watches the action during a Thunder youth basketball
camp in Midwest City earlier this month. SUE OGROCKI/Associated Press
As Eric Maynor continues to recover from January knee surgery, don't expect Presti to re-sign 37-year-old Derek Fisher. Brooks loves what Maynor provides as Russell Westbrook's backup.
Fisher, guard Royal Ivey and 34-year-old big man Nazr Mohammed are OKC's only unrestricted free agents. None is expected to be re-signed. During the Western Conference finals and NBA Finals, Mohammed played an 11-game total of only five minutes. Second-year center Cole Aldrich is being groomed to take Mohammed's backup role.
Draft this week
The NBA draft is set for Thursday. Unless Presti acquires more picks in a trade, Oklahoma City has only one selection - 28th in the first round.
THE 2011-12 SEASON: LOOKING BACK
KT KING/Tulsa World file
Oct. 31: Bored during the
forced inactivity that resulted
from the NBA lockout,
Kevin Durant (above) drives to
Stillwater and plays flag
football with Oklahoma State
Dec. 8: NBA owners and
players finalize a new
Agreement. The lockout ends.
May 10: OKC guard James Harden is voted the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year.
May 24: For the third consecutive season, Durant is voted a first-team member of the All-NBA team.
Westbrook repeats as a second-team selection.
Tulsa TV ratings for Thunder playoff run rise dramatically
David McMillon (left), Joab Somerville, Joanna Craddock and Matt Silies cheer on the
Thunder during an NBA Finals watch party at Fassler Hall in Tulsa. KT KING/Tulsa World
For TNT's telecast of Oklahoma City's May 21 playoff victory over the Los Angeles Lakers, the Tulsa-area audience crested at 97,520 households. At the time, it was the most-watched Thunder game ever in the 22-county Tulsa television market.
As OKC advanced through the postseason, the television audience sizes increased dramatically. For Tuesday's Game 4 of the NBA Finals, Nielsen Media Research reports the overall Tulsa-area rating as having been a 29.4, with a 44.2 share. In Tulsa, a rating point is equal to 5,300 households. The share indicates that 44.2 percent of televisions that were in use were tuned to the Thunder-Miami Heat game.
Between 10:30 and 10:45 p.m. on Tuesday, the local rating peaked at 35.9. The share peaked at 56.1. At that time, Game 4 was seen in an estimated total of 190,270 Tulsa-area households.
Thunder forward Kevin Durant dribbles past Miami's LeBron James during Game 1 of the NBA Finals. CORY YOUNG / Tulsa World
Kevin Durant of Texas leaves a pre-draft camp media interview session in 2007. Associated Press file
Russell Westbrook releases a driving layup over Miami's Shane Battier during Game 2 of the NBA Finals. CORY YOUNG / Tulsa World
Michelle Nixon and her daughter Maggie Nixon, 10, shop for Thunder merchandise at Dillard's in the Promenade mall earlier this month. JAMES GIBBARD / Tulsa World