Community Shootaround: Oklahoma City Thunder

The Thunder are often pointed to as an example of a team boldly and blatantly tanking, yet they were in the playoffs just three years ago. In the past two seasons, they’ve gone 22-50 (tied for the fourth-worst record) and 24-58 (fourth-worst outright).

Entering 2022/23, external expectations were low. Oddsmakers had their over/under win total at 22.5, and 54.2% of our voters took the over — not exactly a resounding majority, but a majority nonetheless.

As ESPN’s Zach Lowe writes (Insider link), the Oklahoma City has been on fire lately, going 11-5 over the last 16 games. At 22-23, the Thunder are now in a virtual tie for the No. 7 seed in the West with the Timberwolves, Clippers and Warriors, and only trail the Jazz by a half-game for the No. 6 spot.

They are now 12th in the league with a plus-1.1 net rating, per, with the league’s 10th-ranked defense. Lowe believes the Thunder are “in the play-in race to stay,” and thinks they might be a playoff team for years to come if they’re able to slide in this year.

Star guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, a prime candidate to be a first-time All-Star, has led the way. But the Thunder have talented players across the roster, and have found success with a rangy, switchable lineup featuring Gilgeous-Alexander, Josh Giddey, Luguentz Dort, rookie wing Jalen Williams, and Kenrich Williams or Mike Muscala at center.

According to Mike Vorkunov of The Athletic, Giddey’s level of play has been noteworthy during the hot streak — he’s averaging 18.5 PPG, 7.6 RPG and 6.6 APG on .531/.364/.920 shooting over the past 14 games (31.3 MPG) — and his coach has taken notice of the 20-year-old’s improved finishing ability.

He’s definitely physical in driving,” head coach Mark Daigneault said. “That’s definitely showing up. Early in the year, I thought he was just trying to shoot over people, and now he’s taking space up. Then when he creates that kind of space and his size and strength, he’s getting stuff around the basket. He’s getting a lot more lately.”

The Thunder have a treasure trove of draft assets at their disposal, and their recent second overall draft pick, big man Chet Holmgren, hasn’t even played yet (he’s out for the season with foot surgery). Things are definitely trending upward in Oklahoma City.

We want to know what you think. Do you agree with Lowe that the Thunder will be in the West’s play-in hunt for the rest of the season? Or do you think this recent stretch is unsustainable? Head to the comments and share your thoughts on the Thunder’s outlook for the second half of ’22/23.