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This offseason, after the Oklahoma City Thunder acquired Paul George and Carmelo Anthony, there was a lot of talk about this team possibly challenging the Golden State Warriors. The Thunder are struggling a bit to start the season, and we really shouldn’t be surprised. It’s early, of course, but it’s already becoming apparent that in our zeal to find a worthy challenger to Golden State, we missed something that should have been obvious from the start. The Oklahoma City Thunder aren’t really close to the Warriors, and they aren’t likely to get there this season.
It’s easy to look at the Golden State Warriors and think, “they have Kevin Durant, Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green, that’s why they win.” While this is true, it’s not the whole picture. The big four is the main course but not the whole meal. When the Thunder assembled their own big four with Westbrook, George, Anthony, and the underrated Steven Adams, many thought that using the Warrior’s model would result in a legitimate challenge.
Unfortunately, the big four is not the only part of the formula, which the Thunder are going to discover to their dismay.
When comparing the big four of each team, they really don’t seem that far apart. The Warriors get the better of the comparison, but not by a wide margin. It’s the rest of the roster where the Warriors separate themselves. The rest of the Warrior’s roster is averaging 49.8 points per game. The Thunder on the other hand, only get 37.6 points per game from outside their big four. The Warriors hold the edge in assists per game (12.5 to 9.2) and rebounds per game (26.2 to 17.2). Simply put, the Warriors’ role players are better than the Thunder’s by a mile.
This has been happening since the start of this Golden State dominant run. We get so enamored with the gaudy numbers of Durant, the long range bombs of the Splash Brothers, and the versatility of Draymond Green that we forget about everyone else. The unselfishness and high basketball I.Q.s of Andre Iguodala, Shaun Livingston and David West are the perfect compliment to the Warrior’s stars. The energy of Patrick McCaw, JaVale McGee, and Kevon Looney overwhelms teams when they’re reeling from a barrage of threes from the Splash Brothers. New additions Omri Casspi and Nick Young add yet another gear to a finely tuned machine.
Assuming that the Thunder, with Westbrook, George, Anthony, and Adams could truly challenge Golden State is missing the forest for the trees. Outside of their big four, the Thunder just are not going to get anywhere near the contributions that the Warriors do. Andre Roberson is a great defensive player, but gives them nothing offensively. Jerami Grant and Raymond Felton are giving them some contributions, but that’s about it.
The Thunder will get better this season and could very well wind up playing the Warriors in the Western Conference Finals. That does not mean they will actually challenge them. Barring a quantum leap from the Thunder’s role players, the Warriors should have no actual trouble with them. The big fours may play to a draw, but that’s not where the game will be decided. The Warriors will win the ends of first quarters and the beginnings of seconds, and do the same thing in the second half. They’ll get a big play from Iguodala here, a timely three from Nick Young there, and they will be fine. When the Thunder need contributions outside of their stars, they’ll come up short enough times that the Warriors will take advantage.
If the Warriors and Thunder do meet in the playoffs, it will be touted as matchup of superstars. Don’t let that fool you. It’s the battle of the non-stars that’s going to matter.