Statistics define the world we live in. We use data in everything from predicting the weather to figuring out what you want to buy online even before you know yourself. This rise in analytics has now affected the world of sports as well and helps dictate the moves of coaches and recruitment personnel. ESPN uses a myriad of complex metrics to configure playoff odds before game one of the season and it’s always interesting to see whether the numbers really are psychic oracles by the end of the regular season. The Oklahoma City Thunder, after losing both Russell Westbrook and Paul George in the offseason, was predicted to have a 0.2% chance of making the playoffs. Now, they’re the No.5 seed.
Props have to be given when they are due. This means everyone calling all-star point guard Chis Paul washed or over the hill owes him an apology. His solid play, averaging 17.6 ppg, 5.0 rebounds and 6.7 assists on 48.9% shooting, and leadership while guiding a budding star in Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, speaks volumes to his value as an NBA asset. Veteran leadership and experience are of immense value in today’s NBA market for teams supposedly going through a rebuild, and Chris Paul has provided that and more for the surging Thunder.
With the current Western Conference playoff standings, the Thunder are set to square off against the vaunted Houston Rockets small-ball lineup. However, with the injury to Russell Westbrook, a first-round upset is beginning to look like a legitimate possibility. The Thunder have an excellent offensive option at the power forward position in Danilo Gallinari, an underrated yet dominant center with the strength of Aquaman at the center position in Steven Adams and fantastic depth with athleticism at nearly every position. Rookie Darius Bazley, Dennis Schroder, Hamidou Diallo, Mike Muscala, Abdel Nader and Nerlens Noel all provide valuable depth that will become even more important in the playoffs when the games become more physical.
The Thunder’s versatile lineup allows them to switch up their playstyles to cater to various opponents. This ability to play multidimensionally unlike a team like the Lakers or Rockets makes them very unpredictable and tough to game plan for even in a seven-game series. The Thunder have four players averaging 17 or more points per game so no team knows where the nightly offensive punch is going to come from, limiting opposing defenses’ ability to key on any one of the Thunder’s scoring threats. The league has taken notice and no team wants to have to beat this young, well-coached and confident team. Legendary Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich himself stated that Thunder coach Billy Donovan has done “one of the more masterful jobs in the league this year”.
A team with talents like this year’s Thunder with minimal expectations is always dangerous. Every game with this team will be a battle for one of the Western Conference favorites. Additionally, Chris Paul leads the NBA with 146 clutch points this season which is recorded in the last five minutes of the fourth quarter and overtime when the game is within five points. They also have a 20-11 road record which ranks fourth-best in the league. This team has heart, they play well under pressure and their game travels with them. Homecourt isn’t exactly an advantage in the bubble but we know for sure the lack of fans won’t be an obstacle for this team, who despite everyone counting them out, has become the sleeper threat to teams deemed as the class of the Western Conference. Basketball is a team sport and with a starting five of all All-Star caliber players and one of the best benches in the league, nobody should overlook the rising Oklahoma City Thunder.
Karthik Iyer is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.