OKC Thunder on cusp to become first team to match last year’s win total

OKC Thunder guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (2) drives to the basket as Nuggets guard Jamal Murray (27) defends: John Leyba-USA TODAY Sports
OKC Thunder guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (2) drives to the basket as Nuggets guard Jamal Murray (27) defends: John Leyba-USA TODAY Sports /

It’s sort of funny how much shade the OKC Thunder took early in the season for what many national pundits cited as the main tanking franchise.

Considering how many seasons the 76ers under Sam Hinkie were committed to tanking it felt like unfair negatively from the scribes. In fact, Philly was so committed to that endeavor they titled their open objective of tanking ‘The Process’!

Joel Embiid frequently was seen on TV regaling in ‘The Process’ and how it was going to set the Sixers up for future success.

Consider the fact that the Kings have missed the postseason for 16 consecutive years.  I don’t recall hearing the same level of vitriol aimed at the Kings despite their repeated trips to the lottery.

Never mind they had 16 years of lottery picks! Good thing they finally have what appears to be a solid front office making moves that have them positioned in the upper echelon of the West currently (and to be fair – they are a very fun team to catch on NBA League Pass.

OKC Thunder is set to be the first team to match last season’s win total

But with the league just recently passing the halfway mark it’s the OKC Thunder who are on the precipice of being the first team to match last season’s win total.

Let’s stop and ponder that for a second. Last year the Thunder finished the season with 24 wins and 58 losses. Their next win will equal the total from last year and could occur as early as this evening against the Atlanta Hawks!

Preseason, the oddsmakers predicted the Thunder would equal the same amount of wins at season end. So, with 35 matches still to play fans who invested in the over should be very happy!

Some of the national pundits who jumped on the OKC Thunder saying they were an eye sore to the league have backtracked on their comments. Zach Lowe even copped to being wrong and gave his apologies for what has become an exciting young squad in the NBA. In Lowe’s weekly 10-things column in late January, he puts things into perspective noting how the league switched the way the lottery would work because of the ‘Process’ 76ers.

The most intriguing part of the equation? The OKC Thunder were the ONLY team who voted against lottery reform! Ironic, considering, they stand to be one of the greatest benefactors of the new system.

"After all the shrieking over Oklahoma City’s allegedly brazen tanking — I was guilty, too — the Thunder were bad for all of two seasons. The Houston Rockets, who owe the Thunder a top-four-protected 2024 pick, are awful for the third straight year with no immediate end in sight. The Philadelphia 76ers were terrible four seasons in a row, nudging the league toward lottery reform only one franchise — the Thunder — voted against."

In hindsight, the pundits likely expected OKC to tank just based on the copious draft picks they have in the closet. The funny thing is the teams with the most draft picks are predominantly performing well — the Thunder, Pelicans, Jazz, Spurs, and Grizzlies possess the majority of extra draft picks.

Of that group, only the Spurs are truly tanking, and again RC Buford’s draft closet pales in comparison to Sam Presti’s.

Scan the REAL tanking teams and another interesting fact arises… the Pistons don’t own any extra first-round picks (just five extra second-round picks). Ditto for the Hornets who also possess the Nuggets’ first-round pick although it’s lottery protected – not that it matters because it’ll likely fall in the bottom five picks this season.

Of the other tanking clubs the Magic and Rockets have a few extra first-round picks but nothing on the same level as the Thunder. Plus let’s not forget unless the Rockets keep tanking and finishing in the bottom four they’ll have to convey picks to OKC.

Ultimately, the OKC Thunder are positioned well for years to come and in truth, it’s not this year but 2024 when multiple picks roll in. Next year the OKC Thunder will have their own pick, the Clippers’ UNPROTECTED first-round pick, as well as the Rockets (top four protected), and the Jazz (top 10 protected). That could equate to four lottery picks depending on where that trio of clubs and the Thunder finish next season.

And as Lowe so succinctly noted, the Thunder only spent two seasons truly tanking as they played in the postseason just three years ago. Combine that with the potential for the OKC Thunder to be among the play-in teams this season. All while Chet Holmgren is sitting on the bench healing from his Lisfranc fracture.

Bottom line – the future doesn’t just look exciting — it would give the Kings’ beam a run for the money in terms of how positively bright things are in OKC!

dark. Next. A cautionary tale for the OKC Thunder and developing teams