Are the OKC Thunder really Tanking?

Going into the 2021-22 season it was no secret that the OKC Thunder were looking at a multi-season rebuild.

Some news outlets had been particularly damning of the Thunder’s efforts to improve their draft pick last season, especially when the Al Horford shutdown occurred. But now with this year’s no. six pick Josh Giddey showing he is NBA ready and after the promising start to the season, the question has to be asked…are the Thunder even tanking?

With a record of 6-11 after the loss to the Hawks last night, there have been exciting games in both the win and loss column for the Thunder.  At this stage in the season, OKC must be categorized as one of the ‘best bad teams’ in the league.

Whether it is Darius Bazley’s multiple blocks on the NBA Finals MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo last Friday. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander’s step-back 3-pointers, or even the multiple eyebrow-raising dimes from the rookie Giddey every game. OKC Thunder fans are having a ball with this so-called tanking team so far.

If you look to the south at the Houston Rockets, however, the tanking story is completely different. With only one win under their belt in 17 games, if the Rockets carry on at this rate, they are actually on course for the worst NBA season in history. Curiously they are having the worst season while a healthy $43M John Wall sits inactive on the bench.

OKC is currently 15th in defensive rating in the league which is an insane feat for the youngest team in the league. This is largely due to a relatively balanced defensive scheme implemented by coach Daigneault, as well as the natural improvements from this young core.

Key contributions from players such as rookie Jeremiah Robinson-Earl and Darius Bazley have been instrumental in shoring up what looked like a gaping hole in the middle of the paint.

While the defense looks good, the Thunder are 29th in offense. If the Thunder truly does wish to tank, we may see a repeat of last year’s losing streak phenomenon after the All-Star break. The Thunder’s defense will have to try to match their offense, but with the likes of Lu Dort and Robinson-Earl around, it may be difficult.

It’s hard to say if the OKC Thunder are really tanking right now. If Derrick Favors or Mike Muscala, the only two 30 plus year-old players on the roster are dealt before the All-Star break, this would signify how serious OKC wishes to try tank this season.

For now, the Thunder are sniffing at a play-in spot. We shall see if this continued run of form continues or if they will sink to the bottom of the standings with a Rockets-esque losing streak.