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Pieces fall into place for the Thunder

COMMENTARY — Even though we won't exactly how good this team is until the playoffs, it's evident that OKC has a well-oiled machine on the court.
by Jenni Carlson Published: December 22, 2012

The Thunder has never started a season better than this.

Twenty-one wins to only five losses.

Not bad, especially for a team plenty of pundits said would slip from the elite ranks after the James Harden trade.

Some of those same prognosticators are now calling the Thunder the best team in the NBA. That remains to be seen, of course. The playoffs will provide that answer, though Tuesday's game against the Heat will be a fun barometer.

Even though we will have to wait until this summer to know exactly how good this Thunder squad is, one thing is already clear.

The Thunder has never had a better fit.

And it all goes back to that end-of-the-world trade.

The Beard is a fantastic player. His combination of offensive skills is rare and lethal.

But removing him from this particular group of players has actually made it better.

It starts with Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. Doesn't everything with this team? The Thunder superstars played great when Harden was on the team, but we're learning that both of them had playmaking abilities that they weren't using.

Because Harden was such a great playmaker, they often deferred to him.

No harm in that.

But now, we're seeing that both KD and Russ have plenty of playmaking skills of their own. Durant's assists are up almost one per game, from 3.5 a game last season to 4.2 this season, while Westbrook's are up more than three a game. He has gone from 5.5 assists to a whopping 8.8, which is a career high.

Not surprisingly, the team's assists have jumped, too, from 18.5 and ranking 30th during the regular season a year ago to 22.1 and ranking seventh this year.

It's obvious that Durant and Westbrook are working harder at getting other guys involved. The numbers bear it out, but so does the eye test.

This team is just more fluid and better spaced.

Before, there was a lot of standing around, waiting for someone to make move to the basket. At times, it was infuriating to watch.

You know how KD would get position, call for the ball, then catch it, bend a bit at the waist and hold out his arms to keep the ball away the defender?

It was the look of a stagnant offense.

You don't see that so much any more.

There's a lot less standing around and calling for the ball. Now, there's a lot more ball movement, which makes defenders chase and creates wide-open shots.

It's so much more fun to watch.

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by Jenni Carlson
Jenni Carlson, a sports columnist at The Oklahoman since 1999, came by her love of sports honestly. She grew up in a sports-loving family in Kansas. Her dad coached baseball and did color commentary on the radio for the high school football...
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