Thunder

3 Reasons Why OKC is This Year’s Dark Horse Playoff Team

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The Oklahoma City Thunder have not won a playoff series since the 2015-16 NBA season.

This year, however, is different. OKC has the pieces in place to make a playoff run, contrary to what most believed back in October of last year. This statement probably sounds crazy considering the Thunder were unable to get past the first round with superstars Russell Westbrook and Paul George, but this year’s team is completely different and better built for the playoffs.

Here are three reasons why this year’s Thunder team is built to make a playoff run:

1. Depth

The problem that haunted Oklahoma City in the playoffs during the Westbrook-George era was the team relied solely on Russ and PG– failing to surround their superstars with the help they needed. As a result, the Thunder’s success entirely depended on how Westbrook and George played. Instead of a superstar duo, this year’s team has a group of talented players who play together.

Point Guards

The Thunder have a three-headed monster at point guard in veteran Chris Paul, rising star Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, and leading Sixth Man of the Year candidate Dennis Schröder. These three combine to average 56 points, 14.7 rebounds and 14.2 assists per game.

Each guard brings a little something different to the table while complimenting one another at the same time. All three are leaders on the court and at least one of them is on the court at all times.

Shooting Guards

Averaging 19.2 points and 5.5 rebounds this season, Danilo Gallinari has been a vital asset to this year’s Thunder team. The six-foot-ten Gallinari provides much-needed versatility, as he can be flexed from any of the 2-4 positions on the floor. Gallo is an elite three-point shooter– something OKC has lacked in recent years — shooting 40.9 percent from three-point range this season. Lastly, he’s a big part of the team’s leadership.

Luguentz Dort, an undrafted rookie who had spent most of the season a two-way contract before recently signing a four-year contract with Oklahoma City, has unexpectedly played a huge role for the Thunder this season. Dort is a true two-way player and brings a high level of energy to the floor. After being called up from the G-League in December, Dort provided a spark off the bench which later led to him earning a spot in the starting lineup. In the 21 games Dort has started, Oklahoma City is 16-5.

Big Men

The Thunder have two amazing big men in Steven Adams and Nerlens Noel. Both are productive on the offensive end with Adams and Noel averaging 10.9 and 7.7 points per game, respectively. Adams is also an elite offensive rebounder — averaging 3.4 offensive boards per game — giving the Thunder plenty of second-chance opportunities to score. Defensively, both are tremendous rim protectors and effectively pull down defensive rebounds to limit opponents’ second-chance opportunities.

Because of their depth, OKC will not have to heavily rely on one guy to be successful in the playoffs like they have in the past. Instead, the Thunder have a group of guys who are unselfish and play well together. This gives the team a much-better chance at finally overcoming their recent playoff woes and making a run in this year’s playoffs.

2. NBA’s Best Lineup

The lineup of Chris Paul, Dennis Schröder, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Danilo Gallinari, and Steven Adams statistically ranks as the NBA’s best lineup. This group of five scores at will, boasting a league-high 127.9 offensive rating. They also put together strings of stops on the defensive end, posting a 98.0 defensive rating. As a result, this lineup has the league’s best net rating of +29.9. To put into perspective how impressive this lineup has been, only two other lineups in the NBA have a net rating of +20 or higher.

If this five-man lineup is able to carry over their production from the regular season into the playoffs, then Oklahoma City is at a huge advantage and will be in a great position to — potentially — finally get past the first round of the playoffs.

3. Ability to close out games

OKC has consistently been able to score big-time buckets as well as play lockdown defense down the stretch. The Thunder are ranked the NBA’s number one clutch team, with a 29-13 record in close games– all with a net rating of +30.2 in those games, which is nearly eight points higher than the next closest team.

The Thunder also have the league’s number one ranked clutch player in the “Point God”, Chris Paul. Paul is averaging a league-high 3.5 points on 53.5 percent shooting in the clutch. CP3’s production in crunch time, along with the help he gets from his supporting cast, has helped the Thunder become the NBA’s most dangerous close-game team.

While no one knows how the nearly four-month hiatus from basketball will affect the Thunder when the season resumes, it is safe to say that this year’s Oklahoma City Thunder team is built for the playoffs. If they’re able to pick up where they left off, then it shouldn’t be surprising if they finally surpass their recent playoff struggles and make a run.

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About James Mueller

James Mueller is a current student at the University of Houston who is majoring in both Sports Administration and Journalism. James has been passionate about sports his entire life and has extensive knowledge about all the major sports.

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