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Friday Bolts: December to Remember

Friday Bolts: December to Remember

With two games remaining in 2023, the Oklahoma City Thunder is in the midst of its best season in 5 years. 2018 was the last time the team won 20+ games before the calendar year turned. With a three-headed monster of Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Chet Holmgren, and Jalen Williams, it truly has been a December to remember.

Via NBA.com and John Schuhmann, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is making the biggest impact when he's in the court (vs. off).

The differential for Shai Gilgeous-Alexander has been about even on both ends of the floor, with the Thunder 10.1 points per 100 possessions better on offense and 9.4 per 100 better on defense. And that defensive differential is huge for a starter, as opposing offenses will generally be better when there are better players on the floor.
NBA Storylines: Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Nikola Jokic among top players making huge impact
Breaking down the largest point differentials when a player is on or off the floor.

In The Bounce newsletter (The Athletic), Zach Harper examines ether the Thunder can truly contend.

However, this team is so young. And young teams don’t generally contend for the NBA championship, let alone win it. The top nine guys getting minutes have an average age of 22.5 years. That’s insanely young. Since the 2005-06 season, the youngest average age of an NBA champion is 26.1 years old. That was the 2008-09 Lakers. And even then, their average age for the top nine guys getting minutes was 27 years old.
Can Chet Holmgren, Thunder contend? Could the Hawks kick off trade season?
Zach Harper and Shams Charania catch you up on leaguewide news.

Also in The Athletic, Law Harper ranks the best shooting teams so far, and Oklahoma City comes in at ... no. 1. (Insert Mind Blown Emoji.)

By the end of the 2021-22 season, Oklahoma City ranked dead last in field goal percentage and 3-point percentage and only 24th in free-throw percentage. Renowned shooting coach Chip Engelland was hired to join Mark Daigneault’s staff in the 2022 offseason, and now the Thunder are the only NBA team that ranks in the top five in field goal percentage (third), 3-point percentage (fourth) and free-throw percentage (second).
NBA shooting rankings: From Thunder to Magic, each team’s greatest strength and weakness
Through Christmas Eve, 3-point attempts and makes are up across the league. But remember, shooting isn’t everything.

A tale as old as time. Losses and frustration about the officiating go hand in hand. This time, it's the Knicks whining about a lack of calls in their loss to the Thunder.

Knicks frustrated with lack of foul calls against Thunder: ‘A lot of contact’
Julius Randle showed his frustration with the officiating several times during the Knicks’ loss to the Thunder on Wednesday night.

The Rookie of the Year race has been headlined by Victor Wembanyama and Chet Holmgren. Joe Mussatto (The Oklahoman) says Chet is starting to run away with it.

Mussatto: Chet Holmgren is running away in NBA Rookie of the Year race. It’s no shock.
The NBA Rookie of the Year race has a runaway leader through the first two months of the season. Just as we all predicted, right?

Bleacher Report did a re-draft of the 2022 NBA Draft. As you may recall, the Thunder had three first-round selections, picking Holmgren at no. 2, Ousmane Dieng at no. 11, and Jalen Williams at no. 12.

In the re-draft, Dieng was no longer a lottery pick, Holmgren stayed at no. 2, but JDub vaulted into the third overall pick.

Thunder draft picks 2022: Who did Oklahoma City pick? Full list of NBA Draft selections | Sporting News
Where does Oklahoma City land in the draft order? Here is everything you need to know ahead of the 2022 NBA Draft.

Speaking of Chet and JDub, Nick Craine (Forbes) wrote an excellent piece on the two Robins to SGA as Batman.

While finding and developing that face of franchise is the first step for any rebuilding NBA team, the next phase in the process is putting the right pieces around that individual. The Thunder has surrounded Gilgeous-Alexander with a roster full of versatile pieces that can shoot the ball from the perimeter and play multiple positions.
Breaking Down Shai Gilgeous-Alexander’s Pair Of Sidekicks In OKC
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is the clear face of the franchise in Oklahoma City, but the Thunder also now has a pair of sidekicks alongside him.

ICYMI, Brazilian soccer player Vinicius Jr. visited Oklahoma City to watch the Thunder take on the Clippers. Patrick Redford (Defector) drops plenty of digs at OKC and Sacramento in the piece. But I mean, Vini Jr. sitting courtside in OKC is actually a pretty cool thing, and this is coming from someone who only watches soccer once every four years. It's a testament to the star power that SGA has.

Vinicius Jr. Pays Visit To Best Cities In America, Also Los Angeles | Defector
When the 22 million-odd tourists who visit the United States every year come to our shores, there are a few destinations on everyone’s mind: Oklahoma City, Sacramento, maybe a few other places, but mostly the capital cities of Oklahoma and California. Certainly nothing east of the Mississippi. Case in point: Brazilian soccer megastar Vinicius Jr. […]