The Oklahoma City Thunder Are… Good?


London Hayes, Reporter

Following a win over the Houston Rockets on Wednesday night, the Thunder improved to 9-11 in a season in which not many people, if any at all expected them to be good. The first 20 games are similar to last season when the Thunder were given a less than a 1% chance to make the playoffs, yet went on to win 44 of 72 games played, and made it the furthest they had in the playoffs since the 2015-2016 season.

That team though, had the veteran leadership of guys like Chris Paul, Danilo Gallinari, and Steven Adams. Now with all of those guys gone, the Thunder are still proving to be a very competitive team in the Western Conference. Despite being 12th in the West at the moment, they are only two games below a winning record and 1.5 games back of the 10th seed to be eligible for the play-in game to make the playoffs. How are they doing this with their current team in a loaded Western Conference?

Opening Up The Offensive Game

The Thunder currently lead the league in drives per game with 59.2, led by young star Shai Gilegous-Alexander with 23.4 drives per game, which is second most in the league behind Mavericks superstar, Luka Dončić. The Thunder’s consistent ability to get to the rim not only makes for many easy baskets, but opens up the three point shot. The Thunder rank 1st in passes after a drive to the basket, and rank 10th in points off of catch and shoots, which have mostly been coming from drives this year. Despite them ranking 25th in both field goal percentage and three point percentage off of catch and shoot shots, this shows that even though they are not making a great amount of these shots, they are still taking them and scoring over 30 points per game off of those alone. 

Balanced Scoring

The Thunder currently have six players averaging over 11.5 points per game, which is a theme translating from last season. The Thunder’s ability to get everyone involved in the offense is a big reason why they have been so successful through 20 games this season. Second year players Luguentz Dort and Darius Bazley have done well with their minutes in the starting lineup. Dort specifically has exceeded expectations so far this season averaging 11.8 points per game while shooting 37% from three. Dort has had a few bad shooting games recently, resulting in his three point percentage taking a dip. For most of the season he has stayed above 40%, showing that he can be an elite shooter and that he for sure has a place in the NBA. Bazley is averaging 11.5 points per game and 7.2 rebounds. Bazley hasn’t shot well, but throughout the past few games with extended minutes he has been putting up good numbers on efficient shooting, as well as keeping up his terrific rebounding. Veterans George Hill and Al Horford have played their roles perfectly, and it is evident that Horford fits much better with this current Thunder team than the team he was on in Philadelphia. George Hill has been a dependable shooter from three, shooting 38%, but unfortunately he will miss the next 3-4 weeks after undergoing thumb surgery.

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander

Shai Gilgeous Alexander has been such a vital aspect of the Thunder being competitive to begin the season. The things you could say about this guy are endless. The Thunder acquired the 22 year old guard in the trade that sent Paul George to the Clippers in 2019, and it is looking like the best return the Thunder could’ve gotten. Along with a boatload of draft picks, the Thunder got their young star to rebuild around, and he has proven that he is the guy for the job. Shai this season is averaging a career high 21.8 points, 5.3 rebounds, and 6.3 assists. Shai has also drastically improved his efficiency not only from three point land, but around the rim. He is second in the league in drives per game, and has shown that he can handle carrying a bulk of the offensive load. Shai is 10th in isolation points, ranking him with the likes of players like James Harden, Kyrie, KD, Damian Lillard, Kawhi Leonard, and LeBron. Shai is confident in his abilities to lead an offense, saying before the season Obviously it’s something I’m excited about. I’m ready to take advantage of the opportunity.” It’s obvious to tell that being under the wing of future hall of famer Chris Paul helped Shai’s development tremendously, and this is only the beginning of what is destined to be a fantastic career for the young Thunder star.

There is still a lot of season left to go so there’s no telling what will happen with the team from now to the end of the season. Despite being expected to be one of the worst teams in the league, the Thunder have proven themselves to be very competitive, even against some expected playoff teams. Regardless of a final record, the Thunder have seen great improvement from their young players, and at the end of the day, that’s what you want to see out of a team that’s rebuilding. No one knows exactly what the future holds, but the Thunder sure have a bright one ahead of them.