OKC Thunder showcase palpable growth through last 15 games

JANUARY 7: Shai Gilgeous-Alexander #2 and Chris Paul #3 of the OKC Thunder looks on during the game (Photo by Zach Beeker/NBAE via Getty Images)
JANUARY 7: Shai Gilgeous-Alexander #2 and Chris Paul #3 of the OKC Thunder looks on during the game (Photo by Zach Beeker/NBAE via Getty Images) /
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On the cusp of the halfway point, the OKC Thunder continues to grow and is firmly in seventh. The last 15 games demonstrate the strides they’ve made.

The game versus the Toronto Raptors this evening represents the 41st game of the OKC Thunder season and the official halfway mark. To say this iteration of the Thunder has surprised pundits, analysts and fans would be a gross understatement.

Even true blue fans didn’t expect this squad would mesh this quickly. A quick scan of teams trying to establish chemistry offers part of the answers to why success isn’t an exact science. Just ask the LA Clippers who are still trying to iron out issues on both sides of the hardwood. Or Mike Conley in Utah whose team performs better without him (albeit with a supremely easy strength of schedule).

That’s not to say teams like the Clippers or Jazz won’t be the favorites in Springtime or that clubs who’ve dealt with ridiculous injury woes (see tonight’s opponent as the prime example) won’t build through the stretch and be greater threats than they are currently considered.

What it does say is this OKC Thunder team has accomplished a very impressive record via a few core tenets and let’s face it some luck.

Injury luck:

Although the injury bug hasn’t completely been avoided it’s not been to a dangerous degree. Of the top eight players on the OKC Thunder none have missed more than six games although Nerlens Noel will be the first to hit that benchmark this evening.

In fact, Shai Gilgeous Alexander, Chris Paul, and rookie Darius Bazley have played in every game. Dennis Schroder (1) and Steven Adams (3) missed four cumulative games.

Terrance FergusonDanilo Gallinari, and Nerlens Noel have each missed six games. Only Hamidou Diallo (20) has reached double figures for games missed due to his hyperextended elbow injury.

Dive deeper and the others on the bench haven’t missed a game either with Abdel Nader set to miss his first tonight due to injury.

That’s a total of 42 man games lost due to injury. Even if we include Andre Roberson in the mix with his 40 games it would be 82 total man games lost to injury and I’m hesitant to state ARob is even considered one of the Thunder top 15 players given the franchise doesn’t seem actively involved in getting him back on the court. Surely, the team is in touch regarding his rehab but seem to have moved on with the ascent of TFerg.

In contrast, tonight’s opponent enters this match having lost 141 games due to injury. OG Anunoby is the lone starter to not miss more than one game, rookie Terence Davis is the ONLY Raptors player who has been healthy and dressed for every game this season.

Fred VanVleet will miss his ninth game tonight and is out for the foreseeable future. Each of Pascal Siakam, Kyle Lowry, Marc Gasol, Serge Ibaka, and Norman Powell missed 10 or more consecutive games and always with another of the top seven/eight players out simultaneously. Other players who missed 20 plus games are Patrick McCaw and Matt Thomas who are considered part of the contributing core.

Suffice to say, luck plays a role for every team and we’ll thank the Basketball Gods it’s shined favorably on the Thunder when it comes to injury.

Growth via chemistry and hard work:

With good health, the OKC Thunder were able to build chemistry and develop their systems on both sides of the hardwood through time spent in real game scenarios.

An obvious factor is an acceptance by each individual to their specific role and clearly hard work has netted tangible benefits. In retrospect, there are stats that showcase the growth of this squad as OKC integrated several new faces into the fold.

All is well in Loud City but the path to get here wasn’t without trial and error.

As the club prepares to meet the defending champions T.I. examines stats from the first 25 games versus the strides made over the last 15 games. Although the numbers may seem minuscule in some areas the truth is games are won or lost on the smallest factors and these stats offer insight into the Thunder continued growth:

First 25 Games:

Record: 11-14

Points: 107.5
Rebounds: 42.7

Points scored off turnovers: 15.4
Second Chance Points Scored: 9.9
Fastbreak Points: 8.8
Points in the Paint:  45.2

Offensive Rating: (107.0)  20th
Defensive Rating: (106.8) 13th
Net Differential: (plus +0.2) 15th

Last 15 Games:

Record: 12-3

Points: 111.9 (an increase of 4.4 points)
Rebounds: 45.5 (an increase of 2.7 rebounds)

Points scored off turnovers: 17.5 (an increase of 2.1 points scored)
Second Chance Points Scored: 13.1 (an increase of 3.2 points)
Fastbreak Points: 10.3 (an increase of 1.8 points)
Points in the Paint:  47.5 (an increase of 2.3 points)

Offensive Rating: (108.5) 20th
Defensive Rating: (107.1) 13th
Net Differential: (plus +1.5) 13th

Although the big three categories don’t show massive shifts on the season as a whole, isolating on the last 15 games does showcase the OKC Thunder improvement:

Offensive Rating: (111.6) 11th
Defensive Rating: (107.4) 8th
Net Differential: (plus +4.2) 8th

The Thunder enters the upper tier in defensive rating and net differential over these 15 games and is on the cusp of entering the top 10 offensively. Because of the sheer number of games played to date, it’s hard to see the changes in the seasonal rankings.

But the Nuggets demonstrated how a stretch of 10 to 15 games can greatly affect positioning as Denver who ranked fourth after 25 games have fallen to 12th defensively due to a 28th ranked defense in the last 15 games.

Closing Thoughts:

More from Thunderous Intentions

The ongoing narrative moving into the second half of the season will be what changes if any Sam Presti will make to this roster.

There are arguments to take advantage of the high value of Danilo Gallinari, Chris Paul, Dennis Schroder, and Steven Adams now. Their value may not ever get higher or if OKC continues to trend upward their value may grow.

Conversely, there are equally compelling arguments to not do any drastic moves before the deadline unless Presti receives another Paul George type package.

Even then, as TI has stated previously there are viable considerations to having “real” assets on your roster who’ve proven they can perform at the varsity level instead of placing value in an unproven prospect. Loading up with youngsters means starting over and unless it’s a generational talent like Luka Doncic or Ja Morant the time involved to build to that level could take years or never translate (see Minnesota and Phoenix).

Whatever choice is made the one fact that is undeniable is the OKC Thunder may not be the biggest story of this season, but they sure do rank among the most entertaining and as one of the feel good teams of the season.

Next. Thunder vs Raptors part deux serves up healthier rosters – preview. dark

Enjoy the game and happy halfway mark Thunder Nation.