Thunder

OKC’s Semi-Successful Start Not What it Seems

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On January 15th, 2021, three amazing things happened: The food production company Nestle recalled 762,615 hot pockets, the first two episodes of the Marvel Studios show WandaVision was released on Disney+, and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander led the Oklahoma City Thunder from down 22 in the 3rd quarter to a comeback OT win against the Chicago Bulls.

SGA’s heroics represent a theme for Oklahoma City. It’s one that translates from last season– exceeding expectations.

Entering the season, the Thunder were expected to be the worst team in the West. 12 games into a 72-game slate and the Thunder currently sit at 6-6. This places them ninth in the Western Conference.

This provides a reason for optimism…unless you’re an OKC fan in favor of tanking for a high first-round draft pick in the 2021 class.

The thing is, this 6-6 record is a lie.

The Thunder aren’t a team capable of maintaining this win percentage.

Attitude

It isn’t due to a lack of belief. Head coach Mark Daigneault has this team playing inspired basketball. They play each game with the attitude that they can beat anybody. Any fan of the franchise should be encouraged by this. When OKC has the talent capable of competing with the best teams in the NBA on a night-to-night basis, they are going to be a problem.

Gilgeous-Alexander alone has already hit a game-winning shot this season, and most recently against the Bulls, forced overtime on a turnaround jumper plus the foul.

Before the season began, this belief that OKC can beat anybody was already in motion. SGA was asked what he thought about tanking. His response: every player on this team is in the NBA for a reason. They have the ability to beat anybody on any night.

Ability

Ability is both a positive and negative for this team. Right now, the talent isn’t there yet.

But it’s coming.

SGA is playing like a bonafide All-Star. Luguentz Dort has blossomed into one of the best 3-and-D guards in the league. Darius Bazley shows flashes of Tayshaun Prince. Hamidou Diallo looks like the bench version of DeMar DeRozan.

The average age of those four? 21.

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As far as young cores go in the NBA, Oklahoma City is home to one of the best. And with a seemingly endless supply of draft picks over the next five seasons, the youth and potential is only going to grow.

But it isn’t enough right now.

OKC can beat the bad teams in the NBA, but not the good ones. At least not regularly.

Production

The Thunder’s 12-game schedule up to this point skews the data. Of the 12 teams they’ve played, eight of them have losing records. Of the six games the Thunder have won, only the Brooklyn Nets are above .500.

Diving further into the stats, The Thunder have the third-worst point differential in the league. On average this season, they are getting outscored by opponents by a little over six points a game.

They are 27th in the league in points scored per game and are bottom-20 in every shooting percentage calculable.

When compared to their 6-6 record, it is pretty apparent that their record won’t remain in plus territory.

Schedule

Beyond that, their schedule over the next month is daunting.

Of the 16 games the Thunder play over the next month, only two teams they face have losing records, one of which is the revamped Houston Rockets.

In a month’s time, if we check back with Oklahoma City and they still sit at a .500-or-above record, then it’s time to re-evaluate expectations for this team.

Until then, don’t believe 6-6.

Everything outside of the Thunder’s record point to this season still being a tank job.

Belief

One thing this Thunder team will need moving forward is encouragement.

They are winning basketball games right now. When the flow of incoming W’s slows, this team may struggle, not just on the court, but mentally.

With a new coach and young core, we’ve seen in the past that franchises can get stuck (i.e. New York Knicks, Cleveland Cavaliers, Charlotte Hornets – especially in the Bobcats years) in mediocrity or worse.

And there are no fans in the arenas.

If you are fan of the Thunder and you haven’t already, embrace the tank.

Cheer on successes. Accept failures.

Everything outside of the current record shows there will be a lot more failure moving forward.

Follow us on Twitter @ThunderLead for the latest Thunder news and insight. 

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About Adrian Walker

Graduate from UNC Chapel Hill with a degree in Broadcast Journalism. Been covering sports since I was 14 years old. I have an Emmy nomination to my name and have helped produce two documentaries through UNC Hussman. I Co-Host a podcast called the Flight School Podcast which can be found on Spotify and iTunes. My mind is basically a storage base for every known fact about Russell Westbrook.

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