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Oklahoma City Thunder and San Antonio Spurs are similarly dissimilar

Sure, San Antonio's success is something Oklahoma City would like to emulate, but there are plenty of differences between these two small market teams.
by Berry Tramel and Darnell Mayberry Published: December 17, 2012


Perhaps no dynasty in NBA history has been considered boring like San Antonio. The Spurs, for whatever reason, just haven't moved the needle in America's heart despite fielding some of the best and brightest players the league has ever seen. Meanwhile, in Oklahoma City, the Thunder is a league darling and seemingly America's sweetheart. No matter how you judge it, be it jersey sales or ticket sales, television viewers or butts in the seats, the Thunder is one of the most popular teams today. And the admiration is only growing. It's a surprising development coming from such a small market.


San Antonio's most valuable player plays the post position and the offense seems to involve him at one point or another nearly every possession. The Thunder's most valuable players wreak havoc on the perimeter and work their way inside from there. The Spurs tend to beat you inside-out, while the Thunder tries to beat you outside-in. From an offensive standpoint, no two centers are more diametrically opposite than Tim Duncan and Kendrick Perkins. San Antonio has had a Hall of Fame post player every season since 1989. The Thunder, well, not so much. Not even in the Seattle days.


In an era of self-indulgent overexposure, San Antonio's Tim Duncan somehow has been able to go virtually unnoticed. He rarely speaks or draws attention to himself and couldn't be happier. Meanwhile, Thunder Kevin Durant inexplicably remains humble while diving headfirst into anything that offers a phone app. Duncan has been in the league 16 seasons and we barely know who he is. Duncan doesn't even have a Twitter account, fercryinoutloud. Meanwhile, Durant is in his sixth season, has more than 3.2 million Twitter followers and had a movie made in his honor at the tender age of 23.


On Nov. 29, with his team playing its sixth road game in a span of eight days, San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich had starters Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, Tony Parker and Danny Green fly home rather than play against the world champion Miami Heat. Under the exact same circumstances, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook would handcuff themselves to the team bus if Thunder coach Scott Brooks ever asked them to go home early. Durant led the NBA in total minutes (2,546) last season while Westbrook has played in 335 consecutive games, the longest active streak in the league.


San Antonio habitually ranks among the NBA leaders in team assists and leads the league again this season (25.4). The Thunder finished last in assists last season (18.3), but has taken a huge stride this season (22.4) to rank 10th. While the Spurs often seem to play by osmosis, the Thunder runs isolation plays to take advantage of its athleticism. “We relied on our talent, probably too much at times (in the past),” OKC veteran forward Nick Collison explained. “So we're trying to get away from that and get more to where we're executing, sharing the ball, getting easier shots.”


The most blatant similarity between San Antonio and OKC was having two of the league's premier sixth men, and both left-handed guards at that. Alas, that is now history with James Harden being traded from the Thunder to the Houston Rockets on Oct. 27. The Spurs' Manu Ginobili brought an international flair while Harden brought a world-class beard. Ginobili popularized the Euro-step move, but Harden is on the verge of perfecting it. Now the Thunder offers right-handed, clean-shaven sixth man Kevin Martin, who will either rain in long-range jumpers, or get to the free-throw line by drawing a foul.

by Berry Tramel
Berry Tramel, a lifelong Oklahoman, sports fan and newspaper reader, joined The Oklahoman in 1991 and has served as beat writer, assistant sports editor, sports editor and columnist. Tramel grew up reading four daily newspapers — The Oklahoman,...
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by Darnell Mayberry
OKC Thunder Senior Reporter
Darnell Mayberry grew up in Langston, Okla. and is now in his third stint in the Sooner state. After a year and a half at Bishop McGuinness High, he finished his prep years in Falls Church, Va., before graduating from Norfolk State University in...
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