Obviously, a (14-19) record is very atypical of an Oklahoma City Thunder team, but considering this season’s circumstances, it’s a welcomed surprise. Based on many expert’s predictions and Forbes specifically, the Thunder are already nearing their projected win total for the entire season, and we’re not quite done with the first half of the season.
To make things even more intriguing and promising for this young Thunder team is that instead of being at rock bottom of the Western Conference, they’re actually the best of the worst. As hard as it is to internalize that fact when talking about the Thunder, who have been relatively dominant over the last decade, taking this roster into account, that’s a huge accomplishment.
Through 33 games, more than half of those (17) have been against the NBA’s top-third. Top-third meaning Philly, Brooklyn, Milwaukee, Toronto, Utah, L.A. Clippers, L.A. Lakers, Phoenix, Portland, and San Antonio. That’s where the bulk of their losses have come from (12).
The Thunder are 5-12 against top-tier NBA teams, 2-3 against the middle-of-the-road teams, and 7-4 against the bottom group. Their (14-19) record is certainly deceiving because what isn’t included is how many games they’ve played against the NBA’s best. Not to mention, of those losses, five of them were by less than 10 points, including two overtime games against the defending champion Los Angeles Lakers.
First and foremost, that’s a testament to first-year head coach Mark Daigneault’s coaching style. Many were skeptical of his hire, expecting bigger names to lead OKC through a rebuilding phase, but it turns out “coach Daggy” was the perfect young, developing coach for this young, developing team.
Oklahoma City has achieved this season by leading with their defense because they lack offensive firepower minus Shai Gilgeous-Alexander’s 23.5 points per game. In February, the Thunder have the second-best defensive rating in the NBA, and in all but three or four games, this team always plays with the supreme defensive effort. There are just times where an overabundance of talent trumps good defense by a young team.
Everyone expected SGA to take another step towards greatness, but no one expected a 19-year-old rookie in Theo Maledon to take the massive steps that he’s taken. Hamidou Diallo’s growth has been welcomed but unexpected, and it’s been refreshing to see that the Luguentz Dort show in last season’s bubble wasn’t a fluke. He’s only upped his production and his importance to this team. Also, Isaiah Roby, a guy with zero expectations going into the season and was close to getting cut during the preseason, has turned out to be a vital part of the Thunder’s gameplan and a viable starting option if OKC trades Al Horford before the trade deadline.
The Thunder are (14-19) through 33 games. The Thunder are closer to qualifying for a playoff play-in position (currently two games out) than finishing last in the Western Conference (seven games ahead of the Minnesota Timberwolves). Nobody saw that coming.