I was one of the many people that said before the season started that believed the Oklahoma City Thunder would be a bad team. I remember putting them in the conversation for one of the worst teams in the west. The Thunder are now sitting with a 39-24 record, and they are in the 6th seed in the loaded western conference. As one who wrote them off in October, I have certainly been surprised by their performance as well as many other NBA fans.
After losing both Paul George and Russell Westbrook via trade in the off-season, it was expected that a rebuilding period in OKC was about to commence after several years of being a conference powerhouse, so what has led to them remaining afloat?
Chris Paul is a huge reason for the Thunder’s shocking success. The 34-year-old point guard was expected to regress this season, but he has established himself as a player that still deserves to be in the star conversation. Paul was named an All-Star this year and is averaging 17.5 points and 6.8 assists per game this year. He has also shown that he can still be a great leader, as he is helping guide such a young team to success.
Paul has also been able to play alongside Shai Gilegous-Alexander in the backcourt. Shai has flourished in his second season and will have his name in All-Star conversations very soon. These two guards play very well together and can share the workload in a balanced offense.
Danilo Gallinari was acquired along with Shai in return for Paul George this summer. Gallinari is finally becoming more consistently healthy and is helping the team stretch the floor and be a player that can knock down the open shot, and still work to get a bucket every now and then.
The Thunder have a bunch of solid role players on their roster that all play their part and fit into the puzzle of success. As a backup point guard, Dennis Shroder has been one of the best bench players in the league. Center Steven Adams is continuing to be a dominant force inside, and Nerlens Noel is also finding a good place in OKC, and he is getting comfortable in this system. Young wings like Luguentz Dort, Terrance Ferguson, Hamidou Diallo, and Abdel Nader have all played significant minutes this season and help the team gel on both sides of the ball.
So the Thunder are really good, but they have no superstar talent. Maybe a loaded roster isn’t the modern recipe for success as much as we think. Solid players in a good system can be equally as dangerous.
- Kevin Barnett
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