At 33-22 on the season the Oklahoma City eclipsed its 2019-20 win total before that All-Star break. I’m pretty confident that I can say none of us saw that coming either. A summer exodus of all-stars Paul George (LA Clippers) and Russell Westbrook (Houston), along with key role players like Jerami Grant (Denver) had even the most ardent of fans thinking the Thunder were dead in the water this season. Yet, here we are.
With the second half of the season starting up OKC isn’t just competing for a playoff seed in the West. The Thunder are actually in contention for a top-4 seed and their odds to make the playoffs are listed at -2500 right now. Oklahoma City currently sits at the 6th seed but is just three-and-a-half games back of Utah for the 4th seed.
Before you say it’s too far fetched to even think about OKC locking up home court advantage for the first round of the playoffs consider this. The Thunder went from a 33-game win total on July 25th to an increased win total of 39.5 in December, to 46.5 on February 17th. Did you ever think that would be possible? I know I didn’t.
In fact, Oklahoma City is on pace to be well in the neighborhood of the 48 wins they’ve averaged over the last three years. That’s why when you find yourself looking at the NBA odds you typically end up thinking there isn’t a team they can’t cover against. They’ve already scored a wins over the Clippers, Jazz, and twice against the Rockets. Keep in mind this is a team that started the season by losing four of the first five games.
The increase in win totals only raises fan expectations and with every passing day the pain of losing super stars during the summer gets eased all the more. There are multiple factors that play into Oklahoma City exceeding preseason projections but here the three major ones.
- It just wasn’t working with Russell Westbrook and Paul George. Say what you want about the Brodie you’ll probably find an equal number of people to agree and disagree with you. He left Oklahoma City with his legacy in place and pretty much became the only player to leave the Thunder while still retaining close to 100% fan support. That said, it just wasn’t working here. Perhaps it was chemistry. Maybe it was coaching. It could have been fate. Possibly it was a combination of all three. If you pick the reason it wasn’t working with Westbrook then you’ll have a 33.3% chance of being correct.
- Chris Paul is paying off bigger dividends than anyone expected. I’ve never seen a player go from being loathed to loved by a fanbase quicker than what we’ve witnessed with Paul in OKC. He went from being a washed up has been to an All-Star showing out on All-Star Weekend. The rejuvenated point guard is averaging 17.4 points, 5 rebounds, and 6.7 assists per game. The real difference though is what he’s doing as a mentor to the younger guys. Paul arrived to OKC as potential trade bait and is now the unquestioned leader of a squad that is contending for a high playoff seed.
- It looks like Billy Donovan really can coach. Lets not forget he was a national champion coach at Florida. He didn’t just suddenly lose the ability to game plan when he stepped up to the professional level. Perhaps the one thing he did lose was the ability to effectively motivate his team to implement that game plan. That was until this season when he has taken (on paper) the worst team he’s ever had to the best results he’s ever produced in the NBA.
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