Despite a tough loss Thursday night, the NBA's Oklahoma City Thunder are only three wins away from an NBA title. That's quite an accomplishment for one of the youngest teams in the entire league. While watching them play during the postseason, I began to ask myself this question:
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Who is the NFL's version of the Thunder?
In order to find a perfect match, I set up two specific criteria that needed to be met. First of all, the top three players on the team have to be young and dynamic. Secondly, the team must employ an up-tempo, attacking style of play on both offense and defense.
The NFL has several talented young teams, but there was one team that fit that description perfectly. In my opinion, the Detroit Lions are the NFL's version of the OKC Thunder. Here's how they met both criteria.
The top three players are young and dynamic.
The top player on the Lions is clearly All-Pro WR Calvin Johnson. He is the Lions' version of Kevin Durant. They are very similar players and people. Durant is 23 years old and finishing his fifth NBA season; Johnson is 26 years old and entering his sixth NFL season. On the field/court, both players are extremely explosive, productive and clutch. Both guys take their game to another level in the fourth quarter. Off the field/court, both guys are incredibly bright, humble and exude class.
The second-best player in Detroit is QB Matthew Stafford. He is the Lions' version of Russell Westbrook. Westbrook is 23 years old and finishing up his fourth NBA season; Stafford is 24 years old and heading into his fourth NFL season. Both players are dynamic young talents who are capable of taking over games. Westbrook relies on his explosive lower body, while Stafford relies on his explosive right arm. Both guys can be streaky at times, but they are each extremely tough and full of energy and confidence.
Despite suffering a bit of a sophomore slump, Ndamukong Suh is still the Lions' third-best player. He is Detroit's version of James Harden. Harden is 22 years old and finishing up his third NBA season; Suh is 25 years old and heading into his third NFL season. Both players are very aggressive, explosive and tough to be controlled by a single opponent. Ironically, they were both involved in ugly incidents during games this past season. Suh was suspended two games for stomping on a Packers offensive lineman, while Harden was on the receiving end of a devastating elbow from Metta World Peace that resulted in a seven-game suspension for the Lakers forward.
An up-tempo, attacking style of play is featured.
The Thunder employ an attacking offense that is both productive and fun to watch. They finished the regular season as the NBA's third-highest scoring team. Individually, Durant led the league in scoring average. The Lions' style of offense is very similar to that of the Thunder. They play very up-tempo and pile up points in bunches. In 2011, the Lions were the NFL's fourth-highest scoring offense. Individually, Johnson led the league in receiving yards and finished second in touchdown catches.
These two teams are also very similar on defense. They are both aggressive and take risks. They each allow a lot of points, but they create just enough big plays to help produce victories. The Thunder finished the regular season with the NBA's 17th-best scoring defense, but they led the league in blocked shots. The Lions ended last season with the NFL's 23rd-ranked scoring defense, but they finished fifth in interceptions and 10th in sacks.
As you can see, the Lions have a lot in common with the Thunder. Both teams are young, explosive and entertaining. While there are many similarities, there's also one major difference: They play different sports! Having three young superstars is enough to bring home a championship in basketball, but it isn't nearly enough to carry a football team to the Super Bowl. The Lions have done a fantastic job of building a solid, young talent base, but they are still a few pieces away from being a championship-caliber team like the Thunder.