You’re in your second semester of AP Basketball History, you love really good teams, and you love lists. With precious little drama left in the NBA’s 2015 offseason, why don’t we hit the barroom and/or barbershop, pour ourselves a frosty mug of Barbicide, and get to arguin’ over each franchise’s most formidable starting five-man lineup.
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Because we don’t like making tough decisions, the lineups will reflect the All-NBA line of thinking. There will be no differentiation between separate forward and guard positions, and the squads will be chosen after careful consideration of individual merits only – we don’t really care if your team’s top shooting guard and point guard don’t get along.
These rankings will roll out based on when each franchise began its NBA life. We continue with The Oklahoma City Thunder, who for 41 years were better known as the late and much-missed Seattle SuperSonics.
C: Jack Sikma. Kankakee’s finest was an immediate hit after Seattle took him eighth overall in the 1977 draft, averaging double-figure points as a rookie on the franchise’s 1978 Finals participant and making seven All-Star teams in the years that followed (including the team’s 1979 championship winner). A deft rebounder and pinpoint passer from the high post, Sikma was best known for an accurate perimeter shot that he launched from behind his head, seemingly impossible to alter. The 7-footer averaged 15.6 points, 9.8 rebounds and 3.2 assists in his SuperSonic career.
F: Shawn Kemp. Kemp’s Seattle career (as was the case with each of his other NBA stops) should have ended better. Either unaware or unwilling to accept the fact that he couldn’t re-negotiate his contract within the confines of the new collective bargaining agreement, he sulked and forced a trade to Cleveland in 1997. Prior to that, though, Kemp helped lead the SuperSonics to the best record in the West twice and the NBA Finals in 1996. He averaged 16.2 points and 9.8 rebounds in just 29.8 minutes per game, becoming the first preps-to-pros NBA draft selection to make the All-Star team.
F: Kevin Durant. A SuperSonic for one, sad, season and a member of the Thunder since 2008. Not yet 27, Durant has led the NBA in total points scored in a single season five times, and his too-wily-for-his-years ways have already forced the NBA to enforce a rule change that would prevent Durant from baiting his way into free throws on the perimeter. KD just shrugged and responded with a trip to the Finals in 2012 and the NBA’s MVP in 2013-14.
G: Gary Payton. The lead dog – and if you could ever call an NBA point guard “a lead dog” it would be this cat – on several championship contenders in Seattle, GP set the tone for his franchise during its 1990s heyday. Unless some rule changes shift, he will probably be the last Defensive Player of the Year at the point guard position that we’ll see for ages. Made nine All-Star teams with the club before being traded away in 2003. Averaged 18.2 points, 7.4 assists, just 2.5 turnovers and 2.1 steals. Routinely averaged over 40 minutes per game in his prime because, well, you go ask that guy to come out of the game.
G: Russell Westbrook. Had the team stayed in Seattle, the comparisons between Gary Payton and Russell Westbrook would have already resulted in several Sports Illustrated covers touting the two’s similarities. It may seem like a bit of a jump to place Westbrook on a list that features a roster of players that dates back to 1967, but it’s just impossible to ignore what he’s done so far. On a team with Kevin Durant taking up much of the scoring load, Westbrook has averaged 21.1 points, 7.1 assists and 5.1 rebounds in only 34 minutes a night, including a 28.1-8.6-7.3 turn in a mostly Durant-less 2014-15.
Westbrook’s induction into the starting lineup after just seven seasons with the Thunder might surprise a few, but what also might surprise is this: Gary Payton isn’t even the franchise’s all-time steals per game leader.
Slick Watts, too often known for his use of a headband accoutrement and never enough known for his nasty defense and wily offense, paces the record books in that category. Nate McMillan was the opposite when it came to flash, but he was also a fiendish pickpocket and ran a great offense. Meanwhile, Lenny Wilkens averaged 19 points, nine rebounds and five assists in four seasons with the fledgling SuperSonics.
Three other scorers, Fred Brown, Rashard Lewis and Ray Allen also merited consideration. Allen only played 296 games in Seattle, so that takes him down a peg, and Brown and Lewis unleashed for years with the franchise. Dale Ellis and Xavier McDaniel also set the tone on both ends for several very good SuperSonics teams in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Spencer Hayword, as was always the case with his career, flamed out too quickly in a SuperSonics uniform even after several good years.
Gus Williams (who sat out an entire season due to a contract dispute) and Dennis Johnson (who clashed with teammates and coaches, in stark contrast to his time spent with Boston) weren’t always beloved in Seattle, but they did help lead the team to its 1978 title. No other Thunder player has played long enough with the franchise to truly make a strong bid for inclusion.
That’s our five. Who would you take?
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