The Thunder's sixth NBA season arrives Wednesday night, and just like always, the show stars Kevin Durant and, soon enough, Russell Westbrook.
Seems like they've been here forever. Of course, they haven't been on Planet Earth very long, much less Planet Thunder. Durant turned 25 last month; Westbrook turns 25 next month.
But for a big chunk of their lives, they've been balling for dollars. Superstars are getting younger, I guess you know.
LeBron James was NBA Most Valuable Player at age 24. Derrick Rose was MVP at 22. Durant already is a two-time MVP runner-up.
Patrick Ewing, Robert Parish and Jerry Lucas didn't even debut in the NBA until they were 23. Westbrook was a two-time all-star by age 23 and had to fight through two seasons of skepticism to get there.
So as the Thunder enters a season in which the talents of their dynamic duo will be needed more than ever, the question becomes, how much more can Durant and Westbrook produce? Basketball players' prime age historically has been around 27. But does that apply to stars who are grizzled veterans at 25?
“I've always said between 27 and 33, you're at your best physically, mentally,” said Scotty Brooks. “I think they're definitely approaching it. Both of 'em will be better players. Statistically, it's going to be hard to improve.”
Of course, that's the problem. No Kevin Martin (or James Harden) means the scoring load could fall even more upon the shoulders of Durant and Westbrook, who the last three seasons have combined for 51.3, 51.6 and 49.6 points a game.
Will the Thunder need even more production out of their superstars? That's asking a lot. Planning on Durant and Westbrook to combine for more than 51 points a game seems like a bad plan.
“We've relied on those guys to do a lot individually,” said Nick Collison, the only other charter member of the Thunder remaining. “If they can embrace, if we can embrace, really trying to execute our offense better, they're going to get a lot more things that are going to come a lot more easily.
“Then they're still going to have the ability to use their talents to take guys one-on-one.”
Good advice, as always, from Collison, who preaches team basketball at every whistle-stop.
Durant and Westbrook should be better than ever — provided the latter's recovery from knee surgery goes smoothly — but that doesn't mean their production will go up.
I studied 33 of the most prominent perimeter players in NBA history and identified their peak statistical year. The mean for that group was 26. So there's a good chance Durant or Westbrook or even both could improve on their amazing numbers.
They also could be like LeBron and Michael Jordan and Rick Barry, who peaked statistically at age 24.
Durant and Westbrook could be better players with slightly decreased numbers. Which means other Boomers will have to take up the slack, else the Thunder will slip slightly in its title quest.
Brooks said the game is coming easier and easier to Durant and Westbrook.
“I think the biggest sign is, you see the game at a slower pace,” Brooks said. “The game doesn't slow down. But your thinking slows down.
“I think the main thing is, it's happened the last three years and they have to continue, is make their teammates better. That's what the great ones do and that's that the special players do. Those two guys are special players, and they make our team better.”
Durant and Westbrook are more than special. They are historically special. But that doesn't mean their numbers will continue to rise. Even at the pristine age of 25, Durant and Westbrook are going to need some help.
Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at (405) 760-8080 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. He can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including FM-98.1. You can also view his personality page at newsok.com/berrytramel.