What NBA return format is best option for OKC Thunder?

JANUARY 22: Shai Gilgeous-Alexander #2 of the OKC Thunder facing off with Nikola Vucevic #9 and Evan Fournier #10 of the Orlando Magic (Photo by Harry Aaron/Getty Images)
JANUARY 22: Shai Gilgeous-Alexander #2 of the OKC Thunder facing off with Nikola Vucevic #9 and Evan Fournier #10 of the Orlando Magic (Photo by Harry Aaron/Getty Images) /
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OKC Thunder
OKC Thunder (Photo by Ron Jenkins/Getty Images) /

With the NBA set to cement what format they’ll utilize when gameplay resumes which format is the best-case scenario for the OKC Thunder?

The big news from the NBA this past week was the expectation for a return to action at the end of July. As for the format, this coming Thursday the Board of Governors will vote on the plan Adam Silver suggests. Although there are four options only three are being considered seriously. The OKC Thunder have a vested interest in a specific format (more on that below).

Throughout the hiatus, the league considered various formats they could employ to finish the season and playoffs. Although the COVID-19 pandemic isn’t raging with the same intensity it isn’t completely wiped away.

For that reason, the league needs to be cautious in terms of how they proceed and how many teams they bring back. This created the need for using only one or two venues in a campus-style bubble environment. Las Vegas, Houston, and Orlando were considered but Walt Disney World in Orlando appears to be the site with the big edge to host.

In terms of the four formats, the one option which is off the table is bringing back all 30 teams. It doesn’t make sense to expose extra players if they have no shot of reaching the finals. Moreover, fewer teams reduce the number of tests required and lessen the number of people being consistently exposed to each other.

On the opposite side of the equation only bringing back the 16 playoff squads presents its own set of issues. The season suspension began March 11th shortly after the OKC Thunder – Utah Jazz game was postponed. Therefore, next week will mark three months of inactivity for players and teams.  Projected start dates for the 2020-21 season are late December. That means any teams who don’t participate in the return would be off the court for more than nine months. Certainly not an ideal situation so the league needs to find a balance between these two options.

That leaves the two options of bringing back 20 teams or 22 teams. Both scenarios include the 16 current seeds and the four Western clubs within four games of the Grizzlies (Blazers, Pelicans, Kings, Spurs). The second option of 22 teams includes teams within six games of the eighth seed which would include the Wizards in the East and the Suns in the West.

The big difference in the two scenarios is how the season would play out. The 20 team format would employ the round-robin group bracket format whereas the 22 team format would play a certain number of games and then have a play-in tournament to determine the final seeds.

Again, health becomes a determining factor. Teams have indicated they are worried about getting in enough games prior to the playoffs while also avoiding unnecessary injuries. Shaking off the rust is a part of this but more important is easing players back and slowly increasing their minutes. Plus it behooves the league to have exciting, quality games and that’s not what we’ll get initially after this long of a hiatus.

The final part of the decision is whether the playoff teams are seeded by league rank or conference rank.

The big question is what direction will Adam Silver take? And, more importantly…

What is the best format for the OKC Thunder?

As each day passed each of the four options seemingly became the preferred option of teams and media analysts. In the early days, bringing back the 16 seeds was the preferred option. In truth, that’s the best option for the OKC Thunder because it would mean facing the Utah Jazz.

The reason that’s desirable (as we’ve previously noted) is the Jazz is the perfect matchup for OKC. That thinking only gained momentum given the potential drama and rift between Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert which could affect the team’s chemistry. Then factor in the loss of Bojan Bogdanovic who is a core offensive contributor and floor spacer. But, as per above, that’s unlikely to be the choice of Silver.