1. Chris Paul
John Napier: Chris Paul’s Bubble play wasn’t anything notable, but he and the Thunder did enough to offer CP3 a revenge and redemption tour. Cast aside, and blamed as the reason for Houston’s shortcomings in the playoffs, Paul has the opportunity to lead a Thunder team that wasn’t even expected to make the playoffs past the team that thought he was holding them back.
2. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander
Brandon Rahbar: On the surface, Shai had an up and down Disney Bubble ride. If I wanted to make a lame roller coaster connection, and I do, I would say Shai’s seeding game play was like Space Mountain. The great thing with SGA is that even when he has a bad offensive game, he tends to still make an impact. And his final Bubble per game numbers are pretty good for being kinda bad: 16.4 points, 45% shooting, 34.6% from three, 4 rebounds, 3.4 assists, and 1.3 steals in 30.5 minutes. The encouraging news for Thunder fans is SGA’s two best games were his last two games. Shai is Bubble peaking at playoff time.
3. Steven Adams
Cray Allred: He’s healthy. We think. He can’t play two games straight without picking up some minor ailment he’ll play through, but just how nicked up he is doesn’t become clear until he’s on the court, feasting or faltering. He feasted against the undersized Celtics front court during scrimmage play, and looked fresh and effective against Rudy Gobert and Anthony Davis in seeding play before mostly resting the rest of the way.
4. Dennis Schröder
Allred: Schröder’s absence during Bubble play told us more than his presence did in the seeding games: the Thunder really do need the third cog in their most effective lineup to be effective. OKC sunk to the bottom rungs of offensive efficiency as a team without the Menace around. With two bookend games conveniently played around the birth of his child, he was flames (55.0 FG%, 60.0 3P%).
5. Danilo Gallinari
Allred: Should we be concerned? In what turned out to be a more lukewarm market than expected for Gallinari this trade deadline, the assumption that he’s capable of being a key playoff contributor on a contender was poked a bit. He shot okay in the seeding games, but looked sluggish–not a good sign for someone who is a candidate to get picked on in isolation when the postseason scheming ratchets up.
6. Billy Donovan
Ryan Woods: Donovan has done a lot of tinkering in the absence of Schröder through the eight seeding games, trying different wing options heading into the playoffs. Now with a matchup against essentially an all-guard roster, who will he trust to put in the rotation if OKC needs to go smaller? Will he choose to stay big for rebounding’s sake? Houston requires you to answer different questions than any other team in the league, and doing so calls for a coach who isn’t stuck in his ways. Billy has proven to be an awesome mid-series adjuster. There’s no doubt OKC is in good hands heading into an epic series.
7. Luguentz Dort
Allred: While expectations he would lock up James Harden are probably unfair to place on the undrafted rookie, it’s still important for OKC to get back a professional wing to throw at Houston’s phenom ASAP. He’s still not a shooter (he hit a few early treys in Bubble play, only to crash back down to 28.6% during seeding play), but he adds capable defense and has a pulse on offense, things the Thunder aren’t assured of when players like Ferguson or Diallo are relied on.
8. Darius Bazley
Olivia Panchal: Bazley has done everything right in the Bubble so far. He averaged 13 points and 6.3 rebounds in the final eight games, but even more impressive, his basketball IQ has skyrocketed. With fewer rotation minutes for Baze, we probably won’t see him put up 15-20 points off the bench, but his smart playmaking and defensive acuity will certainly carry over to the first round. Apologies to Uncle Jeff Green, but the 33-year-old doesn’t stand a chance against this rookie’s athleticism.
9. Andre Roberson
Aidan Elrod: I thought the return of Roberson in the bubble was a successful one. I wish he was able to play more minutes (it’s a shame Ferguson started over him in the second half of the Clipper game) but it’s understandable that Donovan wanted to hold him back a little coming off his multiple injuries. These eight games are incredibly noisy statistically so there isn’t much to take away from that perspective, but I thought his defense looked solid despite not being what it previously was. I also thought that his shooting form looked decent even though he went 0-6 from three in his final game. Even his only two free throw attempts looked better than in years past. I would like to see him start games this series versus Houston, but we’ll just have to see how much Billy trusts him to handle more minutes.
10. Nerlens Noel
Allred: Obviously, he’s had a much better season than some of the players ahead of him. But it seems very unlikely that he will be playing much against the super-small Rockets. If OKC discovers some traditional center magic, it will surely be due in large part to Noel, and he’ll shoot up the rankings accordingly.
11. Mike Muscala
Alex Mcewen: After a quiet regular season leading up to the shutdown, Muscala came alive in Orlando. Although the sample size was somewhat small thanks to a concussion, Musky raised his 3-point percentage from 35.8 over 41 games, to an impressive 47.8 percent over six games in Orlando. Perhaps Muscala can build off his game-winner versus the Heat to help match Houston’s elite firepower.
12. Hamidou Diallo
Shea Vassar: Diallo has officially proved himself an important part of this Thunder team. His intense competitiveness that comes alive each time he steps on the court is so fun to watch. As if these exciting spurts of energy weren’t enough, Diallo’s performance in the final game of the regular season against the Clippers resulted in a career high of 27 points and 11 rebounds. This kid is a vital part of the bench and could be a secret weapon heading into the postseason.
13. Abdel Nader / 14. Terrance Ferguson / 15. Deonte Burton
Allred: There are glimmers of hope (Nader) and excuses for why those hopes haven’t been realized (Ferguson) this season, but it’s the playoffs. Time to get real. We won’t feel great about the Thunder’s chances during the minutes these players are getting outside of garbage time.