Thunder: 3 Pros and cons to potentially playing Mavericks in semifinals

Dec 2, 2023; Dallas, Texas, USA; Oklahoma City Thunder guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (2) and Dallas
Dec 2, 2023; Dallas, Texas, USA; Oklahoma City Thunder guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (2) and Dallas / Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports
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Pros to Thunder playing Mavericks

1. Depth Advantage

By no means do the Mavericks have a bad bench. Dereck Lively has been exceptional as a rookie, Josh Green plays his role perfectly and Dante Exum has had a major comeback season.

On the other hand, the Thunder’s bench gives them extreme depth. Cason Wallace has been a rookie sensation and managed to play in all 82 games; Isaiah Joe shot the lights out this season, cashing in on 41.6 percent from three-point range this season; Even Gordon Hayward, while he hasn’t fit in with the team as well as general manager Sam Presti would’ve hoped, he still adds a strong veteran presence.

Oklahoma City’s backup center Jaylin Williams is one of the most underrated players in the NBA. Over the course of the 2023-2024 season, he appeared in 69 games. During that span, he averaged just 13 minutes per game. Despite his limited action, he managed to rank fifth in charges drawn per game (0.28) and first in the category when looking at per 36 statistics.

To the casual fan, a small statistic like that might be meager, but it really is crucial. The NBA playoffs is the highest level of basketball in the world. With many games coming down to the final possession, a bench player putting his body on the line to force a turnover can change the entire game. When the Larry O’Brien is in sight, dotting your I’s and crossing your T’s matters more than ever.

The Mavericks' primary scorer off the bench, Tim Hardaway Jr., has also been a liability in the playoffs up to this point. Before going down with a minor ankle injury, he’d been playing some of the worst basketball of his career.

During the regular season, he averaged 14.4 points per game and shot 40.2 percent from the field. Since the playoffs began, he has been shooting 33 percent and is averaging just three points per game.

If the Mavericks can’t get their bench play together, it could derail their entire season, especially against a team like the Thunder with such talented depth.

2. Defense

The Oklahoma City Thunder defense has been out of this world since the end of the season. In their first-round sweep over the Pelicans, they didn’t allow 100 or more points to be scored once.

The highlight of the Thunder’s first-round matchup against New Orleans was the defense of Luguentz Dort. Since debuting as a two-way player for OKC during the 2019-2020 NBA season, Dort has been known for his play on the less glamorous side of the ball.

Dort was the primary defender on Brandon Ingram during round one. Though the All-Star wing managed to average 20.8 points, 5.1 rebounds, and 5.7 assists during the regular season, when squaring up against Dort during this year's playoffs he was limited to 14.3 points, 4.5 rebounds, and 3.3 assists.

There is a reason fans have coined the phrase “The Dorture Chamber.”

While Dort might have led the charge in round one, the Thunder have a handful of great defenders on their roster. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander was tied for the league lead in steals (150) and steals per game (2.0) this season.

Rookies Chet Holmgren and Cason Wallace have also made their marks defensively, as Holmgren finished with the second most blocks in the NBA this season at 190 while Wallace, on the other hand, finished fourth in steals among rookies.

While Dallas isn't incapable on the defensive end, Oklahoma City would much rather see their defense in round two than the Clippers.

Dallas ranked 20th in total points allowed this season, while the Clippers gave up the 10th fewest points.

Without question, the Thunder would love their defensive match against the Mavericks far more than if the Clippers were to advance.

3. Lacking playoff experience compared to LAC

Whether the Thunder end up playing Dallas or Los Angeles, they will have a distinct disadvantage in the experience department. The youngest number one-seed in NBA history will definitely be challenged by these more experienced clubs.

Both of these teams have a good bit of playoff experience, but the Clippers have more. Two time Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard leads the charge, but many players on the Clips have had big moments under the bright lights.

Former MVP and Thunder centerpiece, Russell Westbrook, played in the 2012 NBA Finals and Paul George has reached the conference finals multiple times in his career.

The Clippers host five of the league's top 20 in playoff games played. That’s just naming a few team members -- safe to say the Clippers have been around the block.

In comparison, the Mavericks seem inexperienced. While the team did make the conference finals back in 2022, that’s the farthest many of the teams players have gone.

With the exclusion of 2016 NBA Champion Kyrie Irving and 2020 champ Markieff Morris, the Mavs don’t have nearly as much playoff experience.

Any team the Thunder faces will have more playoff games under their belt, but Dallas offers a far more even playing field.

Many wanted to count this young OKC squad out because of their age, but time and time again they’ve proven that the lights are not too bright.