As the lockout was winding down, a lot was made of the idea that the old guard (Celtics, Lakers, and Spurs) had an advantage in a shortened season because of their experience and the benefit of not having to endure an extra three weeks of games. This logic is totally flawed. The schedule is now packed and brutal. It's full of stretches where teams will be playing back-to-backs, four games in five nights, and even back-to-back-to-backs. This lack of rest will wear down teams and brutally punish franchises that find themselves facing injuries. The Thunder's youth is a huge advantage. An even bigger one? Having three different guys that can carry you on any given night.
This fact is why we have to get past the whole "Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook are Avon and Stringer from 'The Wire'" thing? Look I love "The Wire," but the metaphor misses the point. Namely, the Thunder may actually have a third star on their hands. James Edward Harden Jr, longtime owner of the best beard in the NBA, came on strong late last season, and went on to give a pretty stellar performance in last year's playoffs. So far this year he's averaging over 17 points per game through their first four contests, and though it's early, he looks like a prime candidate to make the leap.
If that happens, the Thunder might be raising a banner next October. Hell even if Harden doesn't take the next step, these guys might be our champs, because they still have this guy: