The plan was to tank. The plan was to win around 20 games through the regular season, as many NBA experts predicted. The plan was for the Thunder to be in the conversation to acquire the No. 1 pick in the 2021 draft, and with that pick, the plan was to draft Oklahoma State phenom, Cade Cunningham.
Well, through 43 games, the Thunder have 19 wins, and despite Sam Presti seemingly doing everything possible for this team not to succeed, OKC’s winning culture has fueled a young, scrappy team, led by a young, intellectual coach, to overachieve at all costs.
After defeating a true tanker, AKA the worst team in the NBA, the Minnesota Timberwolves 112-103, the Thunder are (19-24) on the season. They have been getting increased contributions from an unlikely cast of characters, including three guys who’ve spent significant time on the Thunder’s G-League affiliate, the OKC Blue. Ty Jerome, Aleksej Pokusevski, and Moses Brown have stepped up in their own way since the All-Star break and have made a huge impact in a short amount of time.
Poku has gone through some growing pains in the NBA, which is why he got sent down to the Blue earlier in the season. While he’s still raw and needs significant work, his confidence has improved and he’ll have random big games where he’ll flash his potential, like Monday night against the Timbs, where he scored 13 points on 5-of-13 shooting and pulled down 10 rebounds.
Jerome has shown supreme confidence since getting recalled from the Blue, but Monday was his most dominant performance by not missing a shot beyond the arc. Jerome was 5-of-5 from three, scored 15 points, and tallied six assists and four rebounds.
We’ve talked enough about Moses Brown, but he continues to show an abundance of promise as a dominant force in OKC’s frontcourt if developed correctly.
Without prating, the Thunder aren’t successfully tanking, and everyone should understand that by now. I know Oklahoma City is new to the idea, considering they haven’t watched a losing team play basketball in more than a decade, but this isn’t how you tank your way through a top pick.
Of the 30 NBA teams, there are nine with a worse record than the Thunder. If you know basic math and like to do nerdy things like breaking the NBA up into a three-tier system, the Thunder are on the verge of being in the NBA’s second tier, which I like to consider the middle-of-the-road teams. When looking at the Western Conference standings, you’ll find OKC not as one of the bottom two teams in the conference but sitting in the 11th spot, just a couple of games behind the Memphis Grizzlies for the 10th and final play-in spot for the playoffs.
Sam Presti instituted a winning and hard-working culture in the Thunder organization, and that’s exactly what has thrown a wrench in his attempt to tank this season away. Despite sitting healthy starters and key role players every game and doing so more aggressively post All-Star break, the Thunder are 3-3.
OKC simply continues to win despite having a young, unproven lineup game-after-game, and while they’ll probably have a depleted roster on Wednesday, whoever’s on the court against the Memphis Grizzlies will give them a run for their money. Especially with that 10th spot within arms reach. Presti has one plan, but the youngest collection of players in the league have another.