In a season that saw the Oklahoma City Thunder surprise the league with their energy and physicality, they have made the NBA’s Play-In Tournament. On Wednesday, April 12th, the Thunder will be in New Orleans to play the Pelicans to hopefully move on for a shot at the No. 1 seed Denver Nuggets. I have some high hopes, but I also have some high doubts. There’s more than enough upside that can be seen in the NBA’s youngest team; however, there are also some concerns that need to be addressed as OKC travels to New Orleans for a matchup that leaves them lacking in height. Here are the Final Five Facts of the 2022-2023 season as the Thunder look to make a splash in the playoffs.
Bench Play will be Critical
In the final regular season game against the Memphis Grizzlies, the Thunder won by a score of 115-100. Sounds great…convincing, right? Wrong. Had it not been for a huge third quarter, Memphis might have run away with a game that can only be described as a Battle of the Benches. Oklahoma City’s reserves, at times, looked lost and in need of a leader. That won’t cut it in the postseason if they expect to make a run.
182 (46) – 173 (39)
Those numbers may not seem like much, but that’s the rebound totals from the season series between the Pelicans and Thunder. The offensive rebound totals are in parentheses. Why is this important?
Rebounding is one of the more critical elements of playoff basketball. The Thunder have to be 100% locked in against a team with a serious height advantage.
So now you must be wondering, what are the positives, right? There happen to be three.
“He’s got his own lane”
That was one of the many comments Paul George gave Shai Gilgeous-Alexander on a recent podcast episode. After a near-perfect individual season that saw him post 31-5-5 on a near 50/40/90 clip, SGA has proven that he is a bonafide star in the NBA, and he is capable of being leaned on heavily by his teammates. His unstoppable scoring abilities and underappreciated defensive abilities make him an instant threat to any defense he faces. But there is one major sparkplug combination that I don’t think NOLA can properly gameplan for…
Next Men Up
Isaiah Joe and Jalen Williams are Oklahoma City’s X-Factors. They play exceptionally well on the floor together and can both score at will from different levels of the floor, which makes guarding the Thunder with both players on the floor a literal matchup nightmare. A key component to a win in New Orleans is putting these two in the best situations on the floor…together.
Inexperience Can Overcome Inexperience
No, that wasn’t a typo. In fact, it was just what I meant. Although the Thunder are young and highly inexperienced, the inexperience, more often than not, inspire a different level of play in the majority of athletes. Case in point? The Thunder rose to the occasion more than once throughout 82 games. Their inexperience has fueled their fight all season. Nobody believed in Oklahoma City except Oklahoma City. This is what could help them advance and shock the world.
The keys to victory on Wednesday night will be bench play, the scoring ability of Jalen Williams and Isaiah Joe, and how well the inexperience of OKC can inspire the same fight we’ve seen all season. Do I want them to win? Absolutely. Do I have faith in the bench and rebounding? Not a lot. More than anything, I want them to prove me wrong, but can it happen? Sometimes inexperience is a major key to propelling a team to victory. Other times, it can be a club’s complete downfall in the postseason. So what needs to happen? What’s needed to secure a Thunder victory? We need to see the same team that beat the Boston Celtics 150-117 back in January…a game where everyone stepped up in Shai’s absence. See everyone for the Play-In and hopefully for the First Round of the Western Playoffs.