Not much has gone well for the Thunder in the past 12 months.
Injuries and overall team chemistry have hurt them since the start of 2014. It started with a lingering injury to Russell Westbrook that caused the Thunder to fall to the second seed in the Western Conference playoffs and face a tough Grizzlies team.
After fighting through that series and the next one against the Clippers, they were facing the Spurs without home court advantage. An injury to power forward Serge Ibaka left them undermanned in the conference finals as they lost the series in six games.
That leads to this season. Injuries to Kevin Durant and Westbrook again put OKC in a big hole in a ridiculously competitive Western Conference. With other teams like Golden State and Memphis emerging as front-runners, the Thunder will have the rest of the season to fight for the eighth and final seed.
After their two superstars returned, OKC’s season still hadn’t bounced back the way it was expected. The attitudes and inconsistent play of some bench players like Reggie Jackson and Dion Waiters have hurt the chemistry and flow of the team.
This team disarray opens doors for others like the Suns and Pelicans to take the lead for the eighth spot.
Enter rookie and team savior Mitch McGary.
The Thunder’s newest rotation member was called up for the Sunday afternoon game last week against the Clippers because of Kendrick Perkins’ suspension.
In just his third real NBA game and first that wasn’t at the end of a blowout, McGary posted a 19-point, 10-rebound performance in a 23 point win. The performance earned him a standing ovation from the home crowd for their new favorite player. He followed that up with a 17-point, 10-rebound game the next night in a road win over the Denver Nuggets.
The first thing you notice about McGary’s game is that he sprints from end to end of the court on every change of possession. With explosive players like Durant and Westbrook on the court with him, that kind of effort can really pay off.
The most important thing about McGary though is his confidence. He plays like prime Tebow the way he smiles at everyone and makes everything a bit more fun.
Ever since the James Harden trade in 2012, it seems like there has been a black cloud over the Thunder in every thing that they do. Every draft pick is critiqued differently and every loss has people criticizing the front office.
Even McGary’s draft selection was criticized by how the Thunder could have gotten a better player late in the draft, when finding contributing players is basically a crapshoot. OKC had faith in McGary and what they saw in the offseason made them really think that he could be a key to their bench.
After several injuries to his foot and shin at the beginning of the season, he was considered an afterthought but now with his contributions, he could be the main turnaround for a Thunder team that could still be a legitimate contender.