The Young OKC Thunder Are On The Rise 

OKC Thunder./SLAM Magazine

By Sean Markisic

 

   The Oklahoma City Thunder currently hold a 41-18 record and are the second seed in the Western Conference. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is a key player on the team, averaging 31.2 points per game along with five rebounds and six assists. Every game, Shai is putting up 25-30 points while making sure his teammates have opportunities to contribute as well. 

     Shai’s teammate and rookie Chet Holmgren has taken the league by storm with his ability to shoot the ball from a great deal of distance. Throughout the season, Chet has been averaging 17.2 points per game along with seven rebounds and three assists. Even though that is a great stat line for a rookie, it does not tell the complete story of what makes Chet special. The rim protection that Chet provides for the Thunder is significant. He averages around two to three blocks a game, which is rare for a rookie, goes to show that Chet already understands how opposing NBA teams operate on offense. The sky’s the limit for the potential of Chet, and it’s promising to see that he’s a top defensive player. Given how young he is, it’s fair to say he will contribute to the offensive greatly.

   Going into the season everyone expected the Thunder to take things slow and assess at what level all their young talent is at, but instead, they’ve exceeded all expectations and are way ahead of schedule. This season for the Thunder is now about the team gaining playoff experience. The two teams right below the Thunder in the standings are the Denver Nuggets, who are defending champions, and the Los Angeles Clippers. 

   The Nuggets and Clippers have star players who have a plethora of playoff experience. Therefore, it’ll be interesting to see how the media will view the Thunder’s playoff chances, because even though they are a top team during this regular season, playoff basketball is a completely different beast. If the playoffs began today, the OKC Thunder would be the number two seed, and with the play-in tournament being used to determine the seventh and eighth seeds, there’s a high chance that the Thunder would either play the Golden State Warriors or Los Angeles Lakers. 

   It would be difficult for people to believe that the Thunder could beat the Warriors since they are a team with championship pedigree, but the Thunder have been consistently good all year, whereas the Warriors started poorly and have just started to get back onto their feet the last couple of weeks. In addition, Stephen Curry–highly contested as the greatest shooter of all time–is someone that any team wants to avoid in a playoff series. If Curry is present in the game, there is not much that opposing teams could do. By that same token, playing against the Lakers is another team the Thunder would like to avoid because of the duo consisting of Lebron James and Anthony Davis, two renowned players. 

   The Thunder were supposed to be in another year of their continuing rebuild, but the emergence of Alexander as a superstar-level player has placed the Thunder ahead of schedule. Fans are excited to see their performance for the rest of the season. The Thunder used to be viewed as one of the best teams when the team used to be led by Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook in the mid-2010s. Once that fell apart, the organization didn’t make any panic decisions. Instead, they were patient and acquired Alexander in a trade with the Clippers, which allowed Alexander  to take his time for personal development. The majority of their other star players were drafted by the Thunder themselves, and the improvement will likely continue for years to come.

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