Thunder Journal: How Low Can Thunder U Go?
Come on y’all, check it out y’all
How low can you go?
Can you go down low?
All the way to the floor?
How low can you go?
If you recognize the lyrics above, congratulations, you’ve been to an American wedding sometime in the past 20 years.
I propose DJ Casper’s words be repurposed from a dance directive to a rhythmic rhetorical to inspire the Oklahoma City Thunder’s cha cha slide down the standings in the second half of the season.
By now, unless you’ve been living under a rose rock, every Thunder fan realizes the team is doing everything in their power to secure the highest 2021 draft pick possible. The players who misinterpreted the season’s theme as #Win4Cade and have been messing Mission Mobley up have either been traded or have had their loads managed until infinity plus one. Now that not a single opening night starter will be suited up for the foreseeable future, OKC may finally have fixed their tank’s engine issues.
The question for those hoping for the best alliterative OSU Cowboy since Thurman Thomas becomes: is it too late? With only 27 games remaining on the schedule, the Thunder currently sit alone in the #8 draft slot.
The #9 team is old friend Billy Donovan’s Bulls, knowing a new Nikola helps the hope of a playoff push. The #10 team is old friend Steven Adams’ Pelicans, boasting a Ball, a Brandon and a Blue Devil and the belief they may make the play-in game. The #11 Kings have won four in a row and were adamant at the trade deadline about trying to compete for the postseason, God bless their hearts. The #12-14 slots are taken by the Pacers, Warriors and Grizzlies, all of whom will continue fighting to keep their play-in spots alive, or better.
OKC shouldn’t have to stress a single squad sitting below them jumping ahead for either Jalen. The absolute worst case scenario seems to be the eighth spot, which would give Sam Presti a 6% chance of drafting #1 overall and a 26.3% chance of landing a top-4 pick. But how low can they go, can they go down low, all the way to the floor? Disappointingly doubtful, DJ.
The bottom four spots look locked up by tanking technicians–the Timberwolves, Pistons, Rockets and Magic. OKC is 8.5 games behind Minnesota for the #1 slot and Detroit, Houston and Orlando each have gone 2-8 in their last 10 while selling off major pieces at the deadline for a trio of top shelf tanking. While the top four slots give teams a coin flip shot at a top four pick, Thunder fans can get heads or tails out of their heads.
The #5 Washington Wizards feature All-Star Bradley Beal and King of the Prairie Russell Westbrook, who has been back to his decade long All Star ways again lately. Scott Brooks will never be confused with a Hogwarts professor, but the Wizards still plan on pulling a playoff berth out of a hat. While Beal & The Brodie have struggled thus far, the Wiz have the second easiest remaining schedule. Star power plus postseason pipe dreams plus cupcakes on the calendar should result in a standings swap.
That puts OKC at #7.
The seventh spot right now is resided by the Raptors of Toronto. Amazingly, a team with Pascal Siakam, Kyle Lowry, Fred VanVleet, OG Anunoby and the ghost of Normal Powell is 1.5 games worse than a team that’s been starting 19 year olds and G Leaguers for the past month. There’s also only a one spot difference in the two teams’ remaining schedule strengths. But while OKC has no desire to push for the play-in in the West, Toronto is only 2 games out of the East play-in tourney. And surely they didn’t hold onto Lowry at the deadline just to tank away their franchise GOAT’s likely last season. The Raptors should try and that should be enough.
(Side note: Mark Daigneault has done more than Nick Nurse with less than Nick Nurse this season. As Perk would say, carry on…)
That puts OKC at #6.
The final top five hurdle to cross is the Cleveland Cavaliers, currently in the sixth spot. On one hand, it seems wise to continue developing their young talent in Collin Sexton, Darius Garland, Isaac Okoro and Jarrett Allen. Allow them to try their hardest and let the chips fall where they may. On the other hand, LeBron ain’t walking through that door. In probably the most important bit of info in this entire article, the Thunder have the eighth toughest schedule remaining and the Cavs have the eighth easiest. OKC has 2.5 games to make up and an April 8 showdown looms large between these two teams. My gut says the OKC Toddlers can finish in the 5 spot, but my head says never doubt the Cavs’ mastery of badness.
Ultimately, the Thunder’s draft position should wind up #5 or #6 at the end of the season. The fifth spot has a 42.1% chance for a top 4 pick and a 10.5% chance for Cade. The sixth spot has a 37.2% chance for a top 4 pick and a 9% chance for Cade.
And if against all odds Adam Silver pulls a Thunder ping pong ball and OKC selects Cunningham, Mobley, Suggs, Green or Kuminga to add to SGA, Dort and Moses, then we’ll have to revisit those “Cha Cha Slide” lyrics. DJ Casper wants you to get back up after getting down so low. A move directly tanken from the Daigneault driver’s manual:
Can you bring it to the top?
Like it never never stop?
Can you bring it to the top?