Everybody knows that the Oklahoma City Thunder are loaded with talent, but consistency has been the issue that has plagued them all year long. Some nights the offense looks like one of the ten best in the NBA, and other nights the defense looks elite, but rarely are the Thunder able to put forth dominating performances on both sides of the court even when playing lesser competition.
However, the few instances when Oklahoma City looked locked in on both offense and defense, shows the potential of this group. The Thunder have been fantastic against some of the toughest competition in the league. They dismantled the Golden State Warriors, won a battle against the Houston Rockets, beat the Toronto Raptors by 17, and got enough key stops early in the game against the Cleveland Cavaliers to win by 24 points.
Overall, they are only 6-5 against the top 4 in the Western Conference and the top 3 of the Eastern Conference, but this record is deceiving. The Minnesota Timberwolves have given the Thunder problems all year and three of Oklahoma City’s losses have come against Minnesota including Andrew Wiggins’ banked in heave at the end of regulation the first time the two teams met. The other two losses came against the San Antonio Spurs and Boston Celtics, two games where the Thunder were up by 15 plus points at one point in the game.
If not for a few Thunder choke jobs and bad luck, the Thunder could be 9-2 against this stiff competition. Obviously, this is not the case, but the fact that they have played these teams tough is promising.
Recently as Carmelo Anthony, Russell Westbrook, and Paul George have started to mesh, it has become clear that they have one of the best starting lineups in the NBA right now. George is shooting the lights out of the ball from three-point range this year, and teams have to respect his jumper along with Anthony’s which has opened up the driving lanes for Westbrook. Speaking of Anthony, he has played less isolation ball, so there is more flow to the offense, and he has been more efficient as well.
The issue here is the bench. The Thunder have been susceptible to blowing big leads this year because Oklahoma City’s second unit cannot keep up with other second units in the NBA. It is not a terrible group, but it is a relatively young one. Backup point guard Raymond Felton has been the most consistent player, but rookie Terrance Ferguson and second year player Josh Huestis have struggled to play at a steady level. They have both shown flashes of greatness, especially Ferguson of late, but the Thunder need more from them than just flashes.
Backup big man Patrick Patterson was brought in to space the floor with his shooting, and early in the year he was really struggling to find his shot, but during the past month his shooting percentage from long distance is returning closer and closer to the 40% mark that Thunder fans were expecting from him. If his shot continues to improve, and the younger bench players can become more consistent this unit should be ready for the playoffs.
With all of this being said, the Thunder can absolutely make some noise in the postseason. If they played in the East, I would even consider picking them to make it to the Finals, but because of their struggles early in the year it will be tough for them to even earn a top 4 seed in the West. Their daunting path to the Finals would likely have to go through Minnesota, Golden State, and Houston, but this team is starting to get hot at the right time, and I think they are only going to get hotter as we get closer to playoff time.