The Oklahoma City Thunder are off to a 2-4 start in a year in which many hope they will tank to better their odds at landing the top pick in the loaded 2021 NBA Draft. The Thunder’s 2-4 record is tied for the third-worst winning percentage in the entire NBA in this still-young season. Teams with worse or equal records to OKC that will in all likelihood right their wrongs: Toronto Raptors, Denver Nuggets, Memphis Grizzlies, and the Brooklyn Nets. Taking them out of the equation obviously would change the Thunder’s standings in the lottery realm. Still, despite what the team has done on the floor, there is a constant talking point any time the team has any semblance of success circles back to “This team is too good to tank!” I am going to put that narrative to bed in this article, and tell you what you really should be watching for the rest of the way!
The first, and easiest way, to put this talking point to be is to use the say it out loud test. What exactly has the Thunder done to this point? The OKC Thunder have the worst offensive production in the NBA, despite generating good looks, they only average 100.5 points per game. The Thunder are 27th in field goal-percentage on fewer attempts per game than those that rank 28th, 29th, and 30th. OKC also slots in at dead last in 3-point percentage despite taking the third most three’s per game in the NBA. The teams scoring struggles do not stop at the line as they shoot a lowly 68.8-percent from the stripe only ranking ahead of the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Defensively the rank 16th in defensive rating, with the big consequence to the team’s defense being point in the paint, allowing 52.7-points per game inside which is the second-worst mark in the league. The Thunder also turn in a -10.6 net rating, which places the team 29th in that category.
With a 16.9-percent turnover-percentage, this team just is not good enough to overcome their own deficiencies. When the dust settled on the first six games of the year, the Thunder were able to beat the Charolette Hornets at the buzzer and surged to beat the Orlando Magic after losing to the Magic in their first meeting.
These are two teams, who at best, will finish in the play-in games in the Eastern Conference (7-10 seed). Not exactly an impressive resume. The only impressive performance the Thunder have put on paper to date is their great game against the Utah Jazz. At the time though, the Jazz were struggling at the time, but it was still an impressive fight put up by the Thunder.
That is what you should be celebrating right now, the fight in this team. The fact that all but one game has been entertaining this season. The Miami Heat game was just dreadful, but even in the team’s first matchup with the Pelicans as the score got out of hand, it was a competitive game until the seven-minute mark.
The biggest sense of joy fans get watching this team is when the starting lineup is on the floor. Not only do you have three building blocks, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Lu Dort, and Darius Bazley mixed with a pair of nice veterans in Al Horford and George Hill.
The main problem with that is, first of all, the team has little to no depth which has been the downfall thus far. Furthermore, George Hill is absolutely getting traded by the March deadline no matter how good this team is record-wise. Even if the 2020-21 Thunder team has a 2019-20 style turnaround, George Hill is absolutely getting dealt. A lot of fans like to hold up Danilo Gallinari as the example of a pathway for the Thunder not to sell. I would just remind those folks, that the Thunder literally traded Gallo at the deadline last season. Their deal only fell through due to the fact Gallo and the Heat could not agree to terms on a contract extension.
This Thunder team is not too good to tank, in fact, they are perfectly constructed to tank. They are built around a ton of young players that all have interesting storylines surrounding their games while fighting and clawing until the end. You will not see this team get blown out from start-to-finish very many nights, allowing this team to remain “watchable” especially as Lu Dort, Darius Bazley, and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander continue to make improvements to their game.
Not to mention following along with Theo Maledon, Aleksej Pokusevski, and Ty Jerome as they all try to develop into foundational pieces to the core of this rebuild in Bricktown.
Everyone understands the desire to have the team compete, but do let slideshow websites fool you, the team taking a step back this year and losing games due to poor roster construction, will not impact the team’s culture moving forward. The only thing that would impact the team moving forward, is missing on these top picks. Which, you have to trust Sam Presti not to do. What plays into the chance of missing on a plethora of draft picks? Falling closer and closer to the middle of the lottery. The Thunder should, and do, want the best odds at the top pick. That is part of Presti’s favorite phrase: “Shifting the odds.”
The culture is in good hands with Mark Daigneault. The team is giving effort, and competing every night, as his offensive systems and schemes are generating open looks. The organization just needs to put better players in said system, and landing high enough to grab a player the like of Cade Cunningham goes a long way for this team to return to its once elite level.
So sit back, relax, and enjoy the youth movement in Oklahoma City. This will not take 20-years, this will not even take 10-years, OKC has the chance to make this a two or three-year process if they hit on their picks. Especially given the fact, that if the season ended today, they would have three first-round picks in a loaded 2020 NBA Draft with the endless possibilities until the ping-pong balls fell. It will be over before you know it and playoff basketball will be back in Loud City!
For more coverage on the 201 NBA Draft class check out today’s episode of Locked on Thunder anywhere you get your podcasts!