Did the NBA hiatus benefit OKC, or stunt their growth?

The NBA bubble has finally come to fruition in Orlando, FL, with 22 NBA teams occupying Disney World for a three-month extravaganza of basketball that we’ve never witnessed before. The Oklahoma City Thunder flew into Orlando on Wednesday afternoon, and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander inked his first shoe deal with Converse.

Sorry, I had to sneak in Shai’s big day. It’s a beautiful thing to see OKC’s future star grow up right before our eyes. But back to the bubble.

There are so many variables that come into play when thinking about the NBA bubble. While the Los Angeles Lakers, Clippers, and Milwaukee Bucks are still the clear-cut favorites to win the NBA title, there are a handful of other teams that can surprise us all and make things interesting.

Everything is different now. The NBA has been at a stand-still, mid-season for over four months. Players will have had 141 days in between games to get out of shape, duck-and-dodge COVID-19, protest racial injustice, the government, and more. That affects players differently. Some positively, some negatively, and that in itself could have positive or negative effects on teams.

For example, players like LeBron James and Anthony Davis surely benefitted from the extended break where they did nothing but chill. That’s beneficial for James, who’s inching closer to being 36 years old. He usually enters the playoffs banged up from the regular season (and somehow still dominates). The same goes for Davis, who’s still young, but has a long history of nagging injuries. This break ensures that both of those guys are healthy and ready to go.

As for the Lakers, they’ve lost their lead perimeter defender in Avery Bradley and could suffer from that, although they signed J.R. Smith. Let’s be real, Smith isn’t a defender, and I believe he’d attest to that.

As for the Thunder, the break benefited players like Chris Paul, Steven Adams, and potentially, Andre Roberson, but may hurt their young core, who found a rhythm between Feb. 13 and March 11.

Paul has rekindled a lot this season, but that doesn’t change the fact that he’s 35 years old and injury-prone. He needed a 142-day rest before a playoff run. Adams never seemed at full-strength this season. He’s also dealt with plenty of nagging injuries, so this break will serve as beneficial for him too. Roberson has sat on the bench in a suit since January 2018, after several obstacles stemming from an injury. I don’t think I have to mention how much this break helped him.

The Thunder went 7-2 after the all-star break with wins over the Denver Nuggets, Sacramento Kings, and Boston Celtics. All of those wins came after they only had one day of rest in between the games. When they have more than a couple of days to cool off, they literally cool off and can’t throw a penny into an ocean.

So the question is, are the Thunder essentially starting a new season fresh and healthy, or did this 4.5-month rest disband the chemistry they’ve developed over the season? We’ll get an answer soon, as they’ll hit the ground running against the Utah Jazz on Aug. 1, the Nuggets on Aug. 3, and the Lakers on Aug. 5.

Addam M. Francisco

Founder & Editor-in-Chief. National Association of Black Journalists. University of Central Oklahoma.

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