Don’t look now, but the Oklahoma City Thunder are contenders in the Western Conference.
Many fans before the start of the NBA season would have been shocked to hear this statement.
Fans and NBA experts predicted that the Thunder were going to undergo a large rebuild this season. This notion was largely due to OKC parting ways with superstars Paul George and Russell Westbrook after their first-round exit to the Portland Trailblazers last year in the first round of the playoffs.
From their blockbuster trades of Westbrook and George, the Thunder managed to acquire Chris Paul, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Danilo Gallinari and a whopping six first-round picks.
Sam Presti, president of the Thunder, now looks like a genius after moving the all-world duo. The Thunder have exceeded all expectations this season and sit comfortably at No. 6 in the Western Conference with a record of 37–23.
NBA experts had predicted the Thunder would finish with only 33 wins this season. Even Thunder head coach Billy Donovan had some question marks coming into the season.
“I didn’t know what to expect coming in,” he said. “I thought we could be a very, very good team.”
Clearly Donovan’s squad is playing like a very good team right now as the Thunder have had the second most wins in the NBA since Thanksgiving with 31.
OKC’s success begs the question “why have they been so good?” Westbrook just got off averaging a triple double before he was traded, and George was an MVP candidate before his shoulder injury.
The Thunder won 49 games last year and have a chance to do better this season with 21 games left to go this year. Why have they done better?
Even though Westbrook and George were top-tier talents, the assets they gained in return seem to be paying dividends. Chris Paul has been able to mentor Gilgeous-Alexander, who has shown a freakish amount of potential throughout the season, averaging around 19 points per game.
Danilo Gallinari was a bubble all star with the Clippers last season and is doing more of the same with the Thunder. Chris Paul is back to good health after playing only 58 games with the Rockets last year and has already come back to all-star form this season.
The Thunder have improved even after losing a couple of superstar players. The team chemistry and unselfish level of play has caused the Thunder’s quick ascension in the West.
With their ridiculous number of first round picks from the Rockets, Clippers and themselves, the Thunder will be able to rebuild for quite a while.
Oklahoma City has been a super center for scouting talent, as they were able to draft future MVPs Kevin Durant, James Harden and Russell Westbrook.
What was supposed to be a lost season due to rebuilding has become a fight for supremacy in the NBA Western Conference. So, while the Thunder may not necessarily be consider a title contender, they will be able to draft young talent all while winning and “rebuilding” in style.