Kevin Arnovitz is an NBA writer for ESPN.com, the editor of the TrueHoop Network and a former editor and contributor at National Public Radio.
He covered Games 1 and 2 of the OKC Thunder-Memphis Grizzlies playoff series and granted some time for a brief Q&A before Tuesday night's game at Chesapeake Energy Arena.
Q: Did the Thunder's ascent happen more quickly than you envisioned?
Arnovitz: “I think when they made that jump from the darling 8-seed (in 2010) to that next season, that was a quicker ascent than most of us expected. Once they established that baseline, now I think they're on that trajectory.”
Some viewed the Seattle SuperSonics as perhaps being worse than an expansion franchise when it moved to OKC because general manager Sam Presti inherited so many bad contracts. Is it fair to compare the Thunder to an expansion franchise when it moved here in 2008?
“I don't think so. It's very similar to what the Spurs built coming out of that (1996-97) season when David Robinson was injured. I guess in the sense they had a No. 2 pick (Kevin Durant), a No. 3 pick (James Harden), a No. 4 pick (Russell Westbrook) and a No. 5 pick (Jeff Green) is very expansionlike, but an expansion franchise is a blank slate. Sam had already laid the foundation for a culture, and to some extent, that's half your grade.”
Q: How do you view the Thunder today compared to when it had Westbrook in the lineup? Has OKC gone from the top seed to an underdog?
“They're not so much an underdog as an unknown quantity, and not just to the rest of the league or to a team like Memphis that's trying to scout them, but I think even to themselves. There's this period where you have to search for an identity. So I don't think it's so much as an underdog as we're all trying to figure out who they are minus Westbrook, because it's just not the same team.”
Q: Your thoughts on Durant's play without Westbrook?
“He might be the most natural scorer we've seen since George Gervin? Alex English? Dominique Wilkins? He (Durant) scores so effortlessly in so many different ways. It's this exhibition every time you get to see him.”