The Oklahoma City Thunder weren’t expected to be much of a factor in the West this season after shipping its two top stars in Paul George and Russell Westbrook out of town in a shocking summer. The most talked about part of those trades was all of assets the Thunder got in return, with numerous future first round picks and a young, rising star in Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. Still, this was a roster with plenty of talent on it, at least for this season, with Chris Paul and Danilo Gallinari on board, but few expected both of those players to still be in Thunder blue by the time the trade deadline came and went.
Sam Presti made the decision to keep this group intact after a surprising run to what is currently a tie for the fifth spot in the West with Houston, and while questions remain on the horizon about what this roster will look like for the next few years, right now this team is far from a pushover as the season gets set to restart.
Saturday, Aug. 1 – 3:30 pm ET – vs. Utah Jazz
Monday, Aug. 3 – 4:00 pm ET – vs. Denver Nuggets
Wednesday, Aug. 5 – 6:00 pm ET – vs. Los Angeles Lakers
Friday, Aug. 7 – 4:00 pm ET – vs. Memphis Grizzlies
Sunday, Aug. 9 – 12:30 pm ET – vs. Washington Wizards
Monday, Aug. 10 – 2:30 pm ET – vs. Phoenix Suns
Wednesday, Aug. 12 – 8:00 pm ET – vs. Miami Heat
Friday, Aug. 14 – TBD – vs. Los Angeles Clippers
1. Los Angeles Lakers: 49-14
2. Los Angeles Clippers: 44-20 (5.5)
3. Denver Nuggets: 43-22 (7.0)
4. Utah Jazz: 41-23 (8.5)
5. OKC Thunder: 40-24 (9.5)
6. Houston Rockets: 40-24 (9.5)
7. Dallas Mavericks: 40-27 (11.0)
8. Memphis Grizzlies: 32-33 (18.0)
9. Portland Trail Blazers: 29-37 (21.5)
10. New Orleans Pelicans: 28-36 (21.5)
11. Sacramento Kings: 28-36 (21.5)
12. San Antonio Spurs: 27-36 (22.0)
13. Phoenix Suns: 26-39 (24.0)
This will depend on the perspective. For the front office, success is likely defined by seeing Shai Gilgeous-Alexander getting key reps in a playoff setting and finding out if Dennis Schröder continues to look like the sixth-man of the year candidate he was prior to the hiatus. I think in the locker room, they’ll be setting their sights on getting to the conference semifinals and trying to stun one of the L.A. squads. Wherever they end up in the standings, they’ll likely be underdogs in a playoff series, but I think it’s reasonable to say they won’t be happy just to make it and be competitive in the first round. A trip to the second round is a fair expectation on the optimistic side, particularly given the presence of Paul and Gallinari.
It has to be Schröder, who has been a revelation this season after a summer that seemingly pushed him to the fringes with the addition of two new point guards in Paul and SGA. Instead, Billy Donovan has managed to make his three-guard rotation into one of the league’s most formidable backcourts, and Schröder suddenly looks like the player the Hawks hoped he could become when they made him their starter and traded Jeff Teague away. Schröder is having, by far, his best offensive season as a pro, as he averages 19 points per game on the best efficiency of his career — his 38.1 three-point percentage is a full three points higher than his previous career best mark. Schröder maintaining that form through the hiatus would not just be a huge lift for a Thunder team looking to get out of the first round, but would further indicate to the Thunder front office that this transformation is real as he enters a contract year next season.
Biggest On Court Question
Can they cobble together a wing rotation that can let them compete in the playoffs? That has been the weakness for this team, as they’ve leaned on some combination of Terrance Ferguson, Abdel Nader, Lugentz Dort, and Hamidou Diallo to make it work at the three spot (and some three-guard lineups that have been almost shockingly good), but against top teams in the postseason they’ll need more. Andre Roberson’s return might bring them some of that stability they need, as he’s looked solid in scrimmage action as he returns from a two-year layoff after complications during recovery from knee surgery. Roberson was once one of the league’s best defensive wing players and in scrimmage games he’s shown a revamped jump shot. He’s the other “x-factor” with Schröder, and if he can give them real minutes at a high level, they’re suddenly a much more competitive group.