Tank watch is a series, measuring Oklahoma City Thunder up against the worst teams to see who has the best chance of grabbing the top draft-picks.
Since last week, the Thunder have lost two in a row to the Los Angeles Clippers, who are sitting at the top of the standings with their big brother. This puts OKC’s record to 6-9 and the Thunder slide further down to the 12th spot in the standings. Continuing their road trip, the Thunder will face the Trail Blazers and the Suns before returning to Chesapeake to welcome back Thunder alumni James Harden and Kevin Durant. A 5-game road trip and a ‘welcome home’ banner being held by Kevin Durant? It could be tough to see the Thunder grab a win out of this stretch of games, they are already 0-3. But this season is for development not for wins, and what better way to grow as a team than playing on the road against solid Western Conference competition.
The double-header against the Clippers displayed the difference in team quality and showed that the Thunder still have a long way to go before they can compete with the elite NBA teams. Kawhi Leonard barely changed facial expression between both games and dropped over 30 points in both, and you really felt the dominance of the championship contender who kept OKC at arm’s length throughout the contests. Hopefully, the Thunder can learn from these contests moving forward and perform better against some softer competition coming up. The Suns’ matchup on Wednesday night will be one to watch as student SGA takes on his old sensei Chris Paul. Be sure to read the recap of that match here on Bricktown Buckets.
Hallelujah, the Sacramento Kings (6-10) finally won a game. Beating the New York Knicks 103-94, the Kings have finally held a team to under 100 points this season. The big man Marvin Bagley III recorded a double-double of 10 points and 11 rebounds and even recorded a team-high +16 in the plus-minus. A turning point for their season perhaps? We will have to see if they have figured something out in Sacramento long-term or if it is a case of a bad team beating another bad team (sorry Knicks fans, I’m not buying big Julz just yet). For the sake of Luke Walton’s job, let’s hope they have turned a corner.
Washington Wizards (3-9) had not played in what felt like months, but are finally back to playing basketball, if that is a good thing or not remains to be seen. With the second-worst record in the NBA ahead of Detroit, starting center Thomas Bryant out for the year and a limping Russell Westbrook, it looks like the Wizards are out for the count this year. It will be a tall order to expect Bradley Beal to carry this team anywhere near the 10th seed, let alone a solid playoff spot. The Bradley Beal trade whispers will only grow louder as the weeks progress.
The Minnesota Timberwolves (4-11) season so far could be summed up by the final minute of their contest with the Orlando Magic last Wednesday. If you have not seen it, just search on Youtube ‘Cole Anthony Timberwolves’ to see the most heart-breaking sequence of basketball in 2021. Until KAT returns from his COVID-19 diagnosis, expect to see the Timberwolves moping at the bottom of the conference. But look at the bright side, at least they can expect another high lottery pick this off-season.
Detroit Pistons (3-13) may have a candidate for the most improved player this year in Jerami Grant, but outside of Grant’s growth, there is not too much to write home about with this team. Being bottom ten for both offensive and defensive rating means that the Pistons will be locked into a high lottery pick. They appear happy with their new franchise player Grant though; he is averaging career-highs across the board and is enjoying a large uptick in his usage rate. A high draft pick next year could help bring in a new era of Detroit basketball revolving around Jerami Grant, Killian Hayes, and whoever they draft. Once the old guard (Blake Griffin and Derrick Rose) move on to greener pastures in the future we will be able to see what the new Pistons look like. Until then, Detroit is cannon fodder for their division counterparts like the Bucks and the Pacers.
The New Orleans Pelicans (4-11) believers grow quieter by the minute. It feels like just yesterday that the Zion led Pelicans were touted as the second coming, and you could not turn on your news feeds without ESPN and Bleacher Report spamming Williamson’s dunks in your face. Zion Williamson is still looking very good offensively, unstoppable once he gets going, but the Pelicans are struggling to find their rhythm. The court can look cramped with both Steven Adams and Zion out there and it is hurting their perimeter play. They are in the bottom five for three-point percentage and three-point attempts. The Pels are still a very young team in the unforgiving Western Conference, and another year of learning each other and a top draft prospect would help this team in the long run. Unless Van Gundy figures a way to play Zion and Adams together successfully, it will be difficult to see New Orleans making the play-in tournament.
To Panic, or not to Panic? That is the question. (Houston Rockets, Miami Heat, Orlando Magic)
Houston, Miami, and Orlando are all outside of the playoff picture looking in at the time of this article. The Houston Rockets (6-9) have their new look with Victor Oladipo on the roster. They have also finalized a deal to receive Kevin Porter Jr from the Cleveland Cavaliers. Debilitated with injuries and COVID-19 protocols, the Rockets have barely been at full strength all year. The new big 3 of John Wall, Christian Wood, and Victor Oladipo have not played together yet and their season will hinge on how effective these three can play together.
The same can be said for the Miami Heat (6-9), who seems to have a revolving cast of players available from one night to the next. I am starting to forget what Jimmy Butler looks like, it feels like he has not played in that long. Despite availability issues, they are not being blown out often in a season that feels like there is a blow out every night. If the Heat continues to weather the storm or… handle the Heat, you could say… expect to see Miami with a resurgence into the playoff picture.
The Orlando Magic (7-10) on the other hand, have a more difficult outlook than their Floridian brothers. Losing Markelle Fultz mid-season to an ACL tear is a big blow to the Magic’s season, and his absence is going to be felt more and more the further into the season we go. It is Cole Anthony’s opportunity to get experience running a starter unit alongside Aaron Gordon and Nikola Vucevic, but this season’s injury report might be a little too long for the perennial 8th seed to overcome.
The Oklahoma City Thunder (7-9) currently sits at 11 on Tankathon after a thrilling win against the short-handed Portland Trailblazers. Monday’s win snapped a three-game losing streak for OKC. If the season ended today, and the Lottery did not shift anything about the current standings, the Thunder would own picks 5 (Heat) and 7 (Rockets). Safe to say, there is still a long way to go this season. With tough games against the Suns on the road, and hosting the Nets, this week will surely get interesting. Depending on what happens around the league, the Thunder are one loss from catapulting into the top five of the Lottery.
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