OKC Thunder off-season additions will dictate playoff success

OKC Thunder Dennis Schroder, Nerlens Noel (Photo by Zach Beeker/NBAE via Getty Images)
OKC Thunder Dennis Schroder, Nerlens Noel (Photo by Zach Beeker/NBAE via Getty Images) /

The OKC Thunder’s offseason additions are paying dividends in keeping them in the mix for the top seed and the deepest playoff run since the Durant era

With over one-third of the season wrapped up, the OKC Thunder have looked like legitimate contenders thanks to the impressive career-best play from Paul George and surging production from the supporting cast.

The overall bench production is still a glaring issue: they only jumped from dead last to 26th in bench scoring this season (32.5 points per game), with the primary contributor being Dennis Schroder.

Regardless, the OKC Thunder have, for the first time since their relocation to Oklahoma City, two 16 plus points per game scorers in Steven Adams and Schroder. They now have the improved offensive output of Adams and Schroder’s spark-plug scoring to complement the All-Star play of George and Russell Westbrook. Consistent reliability to produce and carry the offense for short stretches aside from the top two stars is something that has always evaded the OKC Thunder, but it seems they finally have it.

The other acquisition this offseason, Nerlens Noel, has proved valuable despite limited playing time. Despite only playing 14.2 minutes per game (career-low), Noel is a clear positive on the defensive end, averaging a career-high in defensive box plus/minus (+6.1).

His per-36 numbers (14.5 points, 12.9 rebounds) indicate he can sustain his productivity with heavier minutes, but that remains to be seen.

One thing is for certain – the 25-year-old is a shot blocking machine.

Jerami Grant, their second-most significant free agency retainer, is averaging career-highs in points per game (11.8), three-point shooting percentage (37.1), all while being a positive in the box plus/minus (+0.7) for the first time in his career.

Sustaining the success of the starters

The OKC Thunder were primed for continued success thanks to the continuity of their starting lineup (particularly with three solidified stars), and the Carmelo Anthony trade which netted a stud in Schroder. Most importantly, the team has shown so far they have withstood the loss of one of

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the best NBA defenders in Andre Roberson, and responded by sustaining a league-leading defense (102.1 rating, 103.2 points per 100 possessions) thanks to the team’s oozing athleticism.

Unfortunately, offense continues to be a glaring hole of this team, as they rank 20th in the league in points per game and offensive rating, and last in three-point percentage (32.1%). In order to reliably win games and keep their stars fresh for the playoffs,  the OKC Thunder need more from their bench.

So far, Alex Abrines, Patrick Patterson, Terrance Ferguson, and Raymond Felton have been far from helpful. They each average less than 5.3 points per game, offering little to no help in spacing the floor, finishing shots, or creating their own looks.

Rookie Hamidou Diallo has been a relevance so far, as his explosiveness and grit has translated perfectly to the NBA and the OKC Thunder’s identity. However, there is only so much a rookie, who is still very raw on offense, can do to patch up the broken bench.

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The OKC Thunder’s starters need help, and fast, from its current second unit (or via trades) to continue their surprising run.