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Comparing the current Thunder to LeBron's 2009 Cavaliers team

by Anthony Slater Modified: May 6, 2013 at 4:25 pm •  Published: May 3, 2013

You’ve probably heard the comparison more than once the past week.

With Russell Westbrook done for the playoffs and Kevin Durant left to navigate through hounding triple-teams for the slimmest of offensive airspace, maybe you’ve seen a tweet, heard a comment or even thought to yourself: “Man, this Thunder squad sure reminds me of those LeBron-led Cleveland Cavaliers teams.”

On the surface, it seems like a fair comparison — a rising megastar battling his tail off for the full 48, surrounded by well-intentioned role players lacking championship-level talent.

But let’s dig a little deeper into this fun-to-talk-about but meaningless-in-reality comparison.

There’s plenty of Cavs team to chose from in the last decade, most namely the 2007 team that LeBron somehow willed to the Finals, but I’m going with the 2009 squad for a simple reason: LeBron was 24 then and KD is 24 now.

Star

2009 Cavs: LeBron James – 28.4 ppg, 7.6 rpg, 7.2 apg
2013 Thunder: Kevin Durant (in three games) – 38.3 ppg, 9.6 rpg, 5.6 apg

-Durant (115 points on 69 shots) has been on a prolific and efficient scoring tear since Westbrook’s injury, sensing the current series and season slipping away. But if he played a full season without his All-Star point guard, KD’s numbers would likely level out to to near LeBron’s output. KD is a far better shooter than 2009 LeBron, but LeBron has always been a better natural playmaker (not a knock on Durant). Either way, both are transcendent stars that make this comparison possible.

Other starters

2009 Cavs: Mo Williams, Delonte West, Anderson Varajao, Zydrunas Ilgauskus
2013 Thunder: 
Reggie Jackson, Thabo Sefolosha, Serge Ibaka, Kendrick Perkins

-A combined three All-Star selections between these eight starters, all coming from the Cavaliers side. Mo Williams made one and Zydrunas Ilgauskus made two. But really, you can attribute that to playing with LeBron. I feel safe saying neither of these two were ever among the top 30 players in the league. It’s near impossible to win a title without two stars. And these rosters (post-Westbrook) don’t have compatible running mates for their superstars.

Bench players

2009 Cavs: Wally Szczerbiak, Daniel (Boobie) Gibson, Ben Wallace, Joe Smith, Sasha Pavlovic
2013 Thunder: 
Kevin Martin, Nick Collison, Derek Fisher, DeAndre Liggins

-Woof. That Cavs bench is rough. Boobie Gibson could randomly toss in a pair of threes, but he was just as likely to put up a 1-of-7 night from downtown. And the rest of that second-unit, even in 2009, was far past its prime (Ben Wallace’s only useful days were spent in Detroit). Kevin Martin is probably the best NBA player of these nine, but the way he’s playing, I’d trust a blindfolded Anderson Varajao just as much with a 25-footer right now.

Eventual finish

2009 Cavs: Lost in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals
2013 Thunder: 
To be determined…

-I’d say Durant is working with a bit more talent, but LeBron had the luxury of learning and gelling with his underwhelming roster for a number of seasons. Cleveland knew its deficiencies and could plan accordingly. Scott Brooks and company are trying to adjust on the fly, losing Westbrook a little more than 24 hours before Game 3. There’s plenty to be said about that.

While doing research for this post, another relatively similar team popped into my head. Remember the post-Shaq, pre-Gasol Lakers, with Kobe jacking up 35 shots a night, while Smush Parker wandered aimlessly around the perimeter?

Because why not, let’s compare those rosters:

Star

2006 Lakers: Kobe Bryant – 35.4 ppg, 5.3 rpg, 4.5 apg
2013 Thunder: Kevin Durant (in three games) – 38.3 ppg, 9.6 rpg, 5.6 apg

-That version of the Lakers could probably benefit from Kobe playing a bit more like Durant, involving others at a higher rate. And this version of the Thunder could probably use Durant playing a bit more like that Kobe, shoot first, ask questions later. But regardless, both were and are great in their own ways.

Other starters

2006 Lakers: Smush Parker, Luke Walton, Lamar Odom, Kwame Brown
2013 Thunder: 
Reggie Jackson, Thabo Sefolosha, Serge Ibaka, Kendrick Perkins

-Luke Walton and Kwame Brown started on this team. That’s pretty much all you need to know. And even though Lamar Odom is probably the third-best talent on either of these rosters, OKC is much deeper two through eight. Much deeper.

Bench players

2006 Lakers: Devean George, Ronny Turiaf, Brian Cook, Sasha Vujacic
2013 Thunder: 
Kevin Martin, Nick Collison, Derek Fisher, DeAndre Liggins

-Andrew Bynum was actually on this Lakers bench. But he was a 19-year-old rookie far away from receiving significant NBA minutes. So LA went with this duct-taped together second-unit. Just four extra players to go out there, play a little defense and try to grab an occasional rebound, so they could throw it back to Kobe and get out of the way.

Eventual finish

2006 Lakers: Went up 3-1 on Phoenix in the first round, blew the series
2013 Thunder: 
To be determined…

-Forget the talent, OKC is a far better stitched-together team than that awkwardly assembled Lakers bunch. Just read about this after-the-fact Kobe-Smush Parker feud as evidence. It’s a miracle that Kobe had them on the brink of getting out of the first round. Meanwhile, it’ll be an all-time collapse if Durant doesn’t get OKC to the second (although not really his fault).

by Anthony Slater
Thunder Beat Writer
Anthony Slater started on the Thunder beat in the summer of 2013, joining after two years as NewsOK.com's lead sports blogger and web editor. A native Californian, Slater attended Sonoma State for two years before transferring to Oklahoma State in...
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