One more season. That was the overwhelming expectation for the Oklahoma City Thunder back in October. After No. 2 overall pick Chet Holmgren suffered a foot injury that ended his rookie season before it even began, the plan was to have another shot at acquiring a high draft pick and possibly French phenom Victor Wembenyama.
Imagine adding Holmgren and Wembanyama to the dynamic backcourt of Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Josh Giddey, along with the Thunder’s assortment of other young talents. But after Sunday’s come-from-behind win over the Brooklyn Nets, their third straight win, Oklahoma City is undoubtedly closer to a playoff spot than they are in the Wembanyama sweepstakes.
While it will still take time, the Thunder are positioning themselves to explode as one of the NBA’s best teams sooner rather than later.
The win over the Nets moves the Thunder to 21-23 on the season, and while that’s hardly setting the world on fire, the tight-knit nature of the Western Conference puts them at least in the playoff conversation.
Oklahoma City currently shares 11th place in the conference with the struggling Phoenix Suns, but an incredible 2.5 games separate them from the Dallas Mavericks in fifth place in the West. With the lack of momentum from a host of teams in the logjam, we might have to start taking the Thunder a little more seriously.
It’s frankly difficult to be an uncompetitive team with two incredibly talented, skilled guards who often make the game so much easier for their equally young teammates. In the case of Gilgeous-Alexander, the Thunder also have someone who can carry the scoring load with individual shot-making when the offense stagnates. Even Giddey is showing signs of improved isolation scoring, leading Oklahoma with 28 points to go with his nine rebounds and nine assists in the 112-102 win over Brooklyn.
You’d ultimately be hard-pressed to find a team with a more exciting future than the Thunder. This is a team that will add undeniable talent in Holmgren, plus they could generate $40 million in cap room this offseason. That’s not to mention the ridiculous 15 first-round picks that Sam Presti has compiled over the next five drafts alone.
There’s always the chance that they conveniently put Giddey and particularly Gilgeous-Alexander on ice to ensure a reasonable lottery position. But with 21 wins on the board, over double the worst-placed Houston Rockets, time may have run out for that to take place again. Will the Thunder actually make the playoffs? Probably not. But even a play-in experience would be beneficial to this youthful roster.