The OKC Thunder have found their identity with their pace

Head coach Mark Daigneault of the Oklahoma City Thunder (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)
Head coach Mark Daigneault of the Oklahoma City Thunder (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images) /

the Oklahoma City Thunder are one of the more surprising teams in the NBA with a 20-23 record, currently sitting a half a game out of the Western Conference Play in tournament, and a game and a half out of the sixth seed in the West which would firmly plant themselves in the NBA Playoffs for the time being.

This Thunder team has been fun to watch, cover, and be around. Their recent success has sparked a lot more interest in the organization, and rightfully so. Everyone wants to know the secret to success for the OKC Thunder this year, but their secret is not well kept. They are just playing to the identity they have outlined to anyone who will listen since the day Sam Presti named Mark Daigneault the new head coach.

The OKC Thunder are inching closer to the NBA Playoffs despite the adversity they have faced this season. How has Mark Daigneault pulled this off? By playing to the identity he has preached since his introductory press conference

The Oklahoma City Thunder are well ahead of schedule. They have only been rebuilding for two years, and their best draft pick since the rebuild began (Chet Holmgren) is out for the season along with fellow lottery pick Ousmane Dieng seeing extended time on the shelf, and they have played their best basketball despite navigating a lack of centers as Jeremiah Robinson-Earl and Aleksej Pokusevski have been out for weeks.

While many predicted the Thunder to be right in the thick of the Victor Wembanyama sweepstakes with even the Athletic predicting the OKC Thunder to win only 20 games (a mark they have already reached), they have reversed course and look like a play-in team.

When Sam Presti named the mysterious man Mark Daigneault as the franchise’s next head coach, No one really knew how to feel. There was not much info on Daigneault, even his birthday was wrong on his Wikipedia page.

That quickly changed at his introductory press conference as we found out the new bench boss loved Bruce Springsteen, was pretty charismatic, and already had the plan to reshape this team during the rebuild process with General Manager Sam Presti.

The two talked about the Oklahoma City Thunder focusing on positionless basketball, versatility, every player on the floor being a playmaker, being switchable on defense, and pushing the tempo offensively to keep defenses on their heels.

The Thunder have always had a highly rated defense for the piece on the roster the last two seasons, and this year you are seeing that come to life in a big way with the Thunder ranking top ten in defensive rating this season.

Now, the offense is coming around as well. With the addition of Jalen Williams, Josh Giddey coming into his own, and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander playing at an MVP level, the OKC Thunder have taken what has been a poor offense ranking 29th and 30th the last two seasons in offensive rating, all the way up to 18th this season with a top ten points per game mark.

Over the last 11 games the Oklahoma City Thunder leads the NBA in points per game, turning in 122.2 points per contest dating back to December 23rd.

This recent offensive success has been a simple formula. The OKC Thunder are pushing the pace ranking third in the NBA in pace, only behind the Golden State Warriors and Los Angeles Lakers.

The Thunder offense leads the NBA in drives (65.3 per game) as well as passes per drive at 26.4, tied for first in defensive loose balls recovered (3.0), and is a top half of the league team in points per possession on cuts.

When teams can slow down Oklahoma City and make them play in the half-court, they are electric in the pick-and-roll (scoring 0.896 in such a setting according to synergy) given the success of their guards Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Josh Giddey.

The Oklahoma City Thunder will look to continue their hot streak on the offensive end to compliment their excellent defense which synergy ranks in the 90th percentile.

There are a lot of reasons to be optimistic about the future of this team, especially with the latest trends on the offensive end, namely the unicorn Chet Holmgren returning to the fold next season as a big man that can space the floor, score at all three levels, protect the paint, and rebound. All things this current iteration of the team lacks.

Regardless of if this team finishes in the playoffs or not, the future under head coach Mark Daigneault is very bright and his plan is coming together in Bricktown.

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