Post-All-Star Break, everything is in front of OKC Thunder in West

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander #2 of the Oklahoma City Thunder (Photo by Ian Maule/Getty Images)
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander #2 of the Oklahoma City Thunder (Photo by Ian Maule/Getty Images) /

The Oklahoma City Thunder currently sit at 28-29, the tenth seed in the NBA Western Conference. Despite their preseason expectations, the OKC Thunder would be in the NBA postseason via the Play-in tournament if the season ended today.

The Thunder still represent the youngest team in the NBA and the second-youngest team in the history of the NBA while showing impressive improvement in every area. Since January 1st, the Thunder rank first in points per game (123), 3-point percentage (41%), offensive rating (121), field goals made per game (45.8), and points off turnovers (22).

The OKC Thunder have everything in front of them as they enter their post-All-Star Break stretch; which direction will this season take?

While the Oklahoma City Thunder are in control of an NBA Play-in spot, a game out of the seventh seed, and a game and a half out from the sixth seed to avoid the play-in tournament altogether, the team is not far from juiced lottery odds.

The Thunder are three games back of the seventh-worst record in the league, three and a half back of the sixth-worst record in the association, and five games back of the fifth-worst record. While the bottom three are unrealistic to chase down in the final 25 games of the season, it is well within the realm of possibility to be around the sixth-worst record in the NBA.

The sixth worst record would present a 37.2 percent chance at a top-four pick while holding a nine percent chance to cash in on the first overall pick to land prized prospect Victor Wembanyama. So even if the scrappy Oklahoma City Thunder fell off a cliff during these final 25 games, would this really be a bad outcome?

Of course, the team wants to win games, and despite the standings, they are not letting their mindset change. As Shai Gilgeous-Alexander tells me, “we need every game.”

The Oklahoma City Thunder own one of the five easiest schedules heading into the “second half” of the NBA season (despite this not being even close to the mathematical second half, this is how NBA teams view it).

They are playing their best basketball at the moment and have a schedule where they get four cracks at the 11th-placed Jazz. They already own the tiebreaker over the 12th-seeded Portland Trail Blazers, two more tilts with the 13th-placed Lakers, and four games against the New-Look Suns, although Kevin Durant has already been ruled out for Friday’s matchup.

Over the next 25 games, only four of them are against Eastern Conference teams. Only 12 games are against teams higher than them, and one of those 12 games is a matchup with the Grizzlies on the final day of the regular season when Memphis might already be locked into the second seed and resting for the postseason.

The bottom line is the Oklahoma City Thunder have to take care of business against this schedule of hungry teams to reach the postseason to get in. But, if they wind up in the play-in tournament, it will prove that this young core is ahead of schedule and has earned their right to additional games.

Suppose the Thunder slips out of their current tenth-place finish and into the NBA lottery standings; that gives them more ammo to improve this roster, especially with Chet Holmgren still waiting in the wings—a fascinating outcome for the OKC Thunder fanbase. The team is truly in a no-lose position.

So how will this season end? While I do not have a crystal ball, if you strip away these teams’ preseason expectations and history, the Thunder have the best resume of the teams chasing down those final NBA play-in spots to get in. OKC has a half a season sample of being a play-in caliber team, can this young team bust into the dance? I think so.

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