The Oklahoma City Thunder Are Still Championship-Caliber Without James Harden

12/15/12 in NBA   |   Jnewman482   |   135 respect

Dec 4, 2012; Houston, TX, USA; Houston Rockets shooting guard James Harden (13) brings the ball up the court during the fourth quarter against the Los Angeles Lakers at Toyota Center. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY SportsWhen the Oklahoma City Thunder traded James Harden to the Houston Rockets before the 2012-13 NBA season started, it seemed as though the Thunder organization had decided that Sam Presti needed to trade away its chances of winning the title this season in order to save money and protect the team’s future.

However, 23 games into the season, the Thunder are 19-4 and have the best record in the NBA. It looks like they are still a championship-caliber team and it looks like Sam Presti is an even bigger genius than we had thought.

As great as Harden is, the Thunder have found ways to replace his efficient production and his ability to create. Westbrook has become more of a distributor, Serge Ibaka has contributed five more points a game and Kevin Martin has been the sixth-best shooter in the NBA from behind the three-point line.

Last season when Westbrook was on the floor with Harden, there was less of an onus on the star point guard to create offense for his teammates and he was often criticized for taking too many shots a game.

However, despite the fact that Westbrook averaged just 5.5 assists last season, he posted at least eight assists a game in the 2009-10 and 2010-11 seasons. Thus, it should be no surprise that he is currently fourth this season in the NBA in assists per game.

As for Harden, he has proven to be worthy of his five-year, $80 million contract, averaging 24.8 points a game for the Rockets.

The one down-side for Houston is that Harden's field-goal percentage has dropped by six percent this season, but that should be expected since he spent a lot of time going up against second units and benefited from playing against defenses that prioritized guarding Westbrook and Durant when he was with Oklahoma City. 

Yet, for the same reasons that Harden had an advantage when he was with the Thunder, Kevin Martin has been able to score at a much more efficient rate with Oklahoma City. Thus, Martin hasn't been as much of a downgrade as it might have seemed like he would be, which has been the most determining factor in the Thunder's ability to remain an elite team.
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