The time has come to ask the question.
Is this Thunder team better or worse than last year?
The most elementary evidence — the team's record and statistical output — says it is better. But beyond basic metrics, there is a growing list of concerns that have either long been present or recently crept up on this campaign, issues that bring about trepidation on the part of scores of Thunder fans with how this team ultimately might perform in the playoffs.
Entering the 66th game of this season Friday against Orlando, the Thunder is 48-17. Regardless of what happens against the Magic, it's a record that already guarantees the Thunder to have a better winning percentage through 66 games than last year, when it went 47-19 through the lockout-shortened 66-game season.
But what are we to make of it?
We've arrived at the point where the only true measure of success for this Thunder team is postseason results. The regular season no longer matters. For better or worse, that's what a trip to the Finals, even one that ends in defeat, brings.
To some, a popular predictor of future playoff success can be found in a team's scoring differential. After the team's winning percentage, it's the next best basic indicator of what we can expect from a team in a playoff run. To that extent, OKC is outscoring opponents on average by 3.4 points more than last season. It's the best scoring margin in basketball.
Many other metrics suggest the Thunder is a sounder team.
The team's scoring is up, both in raw averages and efficiency. The Thunder has evolved into a better defensive team, both in points yielded relative to the rest of the league and per 100 possessions.
Oklahoma City also has gotten better in the categories of assists, steals and turnovers, historically some of the Thunder's biggest bugaboos.
Many, however, fear that the Thunder isn't as well-equipped for a title run.
“I'm a fan and therefore hoping for some sort of magical run in the playoffs, which has been known to happen — where everyone gets and stays hot,” NewsOK.com commenter Chris Sullivan wrote on Feb. 20. “But I sense trouble ahead for this team this year as far as going deep goes.”