Does OKC Have Next or Now?
It’s safe to say that there are a few young teams that many NBA fans are excited about for their future. They may not look like a contender now but in a couple of years, they will be off to the races. However, when I look at the Oklahoma City Thunder this season, I’m not sure where I can place them with the younger teams. Sure, they have a lot of young talent with a lot of draft picks for the future. However, the Thunder are a team that I believe could take over now as a Western Conference Contender.
Now, keep in mind, the Thunder are currently one spot out of a play-in seed. However, they are currently ahead of the Portland Trail Blazers and Los Angeles Lakers as well. This season, it has been tremendous watching the young players come into their own. The team competes hard on both ends of the floor and brings their best effort against contending teams. While many were questioning the hiring of head coach Mark Daigneault a few years ago, he’s making his case as one of the best young coaches in the NBA.
First, let’s discuss the continued emergence of Shai Gilegeous-Alexander. While many consider him a Most Improved Player candidate, people like me understood that he was an All-Star in the making since his rookie season. Alexander has played with a chip on his shoulder this season and looked to establish himself as one of the NBA’s best young point guards. So far, his terrific season has rubbed off on the rest of the young roster.
Then there’s Josh Giddey, the passing Wizard. Giddey being placed alongside Alexander in the backcourt is the perfect match. The two are terrific scorers and can take pressure off one another by being great set-up men. For Giddey, he has impacted the Thunder in numerous ways. He continues to be a triple-double machine, which allows him to show his value tremendously.
Other role players who continue to develop into tremendous talent include Aaron Wiggins, Jalen and Jaylin Williams, Isaiah Joe, and many others. No, there isn’t necessarily a veteran besides SGA that’s a voice in the locker room for the Thunder. However, they come together with their youthful energy and compete at the highest level.
The Thunder have competed and defeated some of the NBA’s premier teams. One game for instance is a January matchup against the Philadelphia 76ers. How can a young Thunder overpower a dynamic duo of Joel Embiid and James Harden? Well, with Alexander leading the charge, anything is possible. The Thunder went into Philadelphia with a chip on their shoulder and came out on top in a 133-114 victory. While Alexander led the way with 37 points, the biggest key to the Thunder win was the defensive end, where they forced 17 turnovers and allowed Philly to shoot 30 percent from three. It was a well-rounded effort for Oklahoma City to get a win against a championship contender.
Another impressive performance took place in Brooklyn a few nights later against the Nets. Keep in mind that Kevin Durant was out as he was dealing with a knee injury. However, Kyrie Irving was still available as he’s a player that has the team's hands full. While Irving struggled offensively with a 7/20 shooting night, the Thunder took advantage of the opportunity and exploited Brooklyn defensively. Led by Giddey, the ball movement was spectacular as it led to quality shots down the stretch of the contest. With Oklahoma City closing out a road trip, they were able to win their third in a row and capture a big win in Brooklyn.
Looking at the Thunder, they’re a team to watch out for if they sneak into the Play-In Tournament. They would have a shot at shocking the world and making things difficult for a playoff team. The rest of their schedule will not get any easier. However, they’ve shown that they are battle tested as a unit and are looking for more success. Are the Thunder a contender this year? Of course not! However, a play-in appearance can spark momentum for the franchise moving forward.