I gotta do something to get my mind off that Dallas Cowboys playoff loss. So to feel better after experiencing my #3 seed favorite NFL team’s disappointing present, let’s talk about my #14 seed favorite NBA team’s exciting future.
OKC vs. the (Bottom of the) Field
Any Thunder fan worth their blue and orange salt became well acquainted with lottery odds, pick protections and Tankathon simulations last season. And unfortunately, every Thunder fan became emotionally wrecked on NBA Draft Lottery night when that 76% chance to land a top 5 pick, or even better 24% chance to land two top 5 picks, nosedived to a big goose egg percent.
Who’s ready to be hurt again?
If the season ended today, OKC would have a 57.5% chance to land a top 4 player. As much as last year’s percentage points popped, Presti never had that big an opportunity to pull a prized ping pong pick.
The Thunder are currently in the #4 position, a 48.1% top 4 proposition.
Orlando has a firm grasp of the #1 spot, but Detroit at #2 has won five of their last 10 and Houston (#3) only has one less win than OKC. The (good) problem is that the Thunder has a cap on how many games they can lose because Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Josh Giddey, Lu Dort, Kenrich Williams and Mike Muscala is a fivesome better than any teams ahead (behind?) them in the reverse standings.
Ultimately, OKC may be too good to finish in the bottom 3, but the fourth spot is still a victory. It’s the final position that is still mostly a coin flip in the lottery. The worry is if the teams stacked from 5-9 activate Tank Mode to end this season.
The Pacers are supposedly shopping Domantas Sabonis and Myles Turner. The Spurs had lost nine of their last 10 before their clutch win over the Clippers (
thanks tanks, Pop!). The Pelicans are without Zion Williamson until the Paris Summer Olympics. The Kings, well, enough said. And the Blazers may have lost Damian Lillard for the rest of the season.
If OKC wants to have a 50-50 lottery shot from their own pick, Williams may have to Kenny Hustle his way to a playoff team and the Thunder may have to set the Moose loose to join a contender. The organization and fans love both players, and those two plus/minus kings feel the same way about the team and the community. But trading them or benching them in plus matchups may be the best way to turn the tank tide in the second half of the season.
Meanwhile in Los Angeles…
The Clippers are currently in the #11 position, a 9.4% top 4 proposition.
(Reminder for Thunder fans living under a rose rock: OKC owns LA’s 2022 first rounder.)
LAC may or may not be without Kawhi Leonard and Paul George for the remainder of the season, depending on which report you believe. In their absence, Reggie Jackson and Co have lost two straight and five of their last seven. After playing the Pacers today (go, Domas!), the Clippers have an eight game road trip. Six of the eight opponents have a winning record.
According to old Thunder Twitter friend Jake Fischer, the Clippers may throw the towel and become sellers at the trade deadline. If the organization thinks it’s a lost season, they may look to save half a hundred million in luxury tax, try to recoup some draft picks and reposition the team for a championship run next year when Kawhi and PG13 are fully healthy. If LA’s front office is basing their decision on whether or not the team looks like a play-in possibility by the February 10th trade deadline, one look at the Clippers’ schedule from now to then is a huge spoiler alert.
Now anything in this strange Covid protocols riddled season may happen with players out, but on paper, that’s a grueling gauntlet of games. And if the Clippers decide to trade away the likes of Marcus Morris, Nicolas Batum and Air Congo, the odds for OKC to land two lottery picks (or two top 10 picks… or two top, nope, I’m not gonna say it…) increases dramatically.
Oh and this isn’t a repeat of the Rockets first rounder last season. There will be no lottery draft night shenanigans. A Clippers pick at #9 can’t all of a sudden David Copperfield into pick #24. The pick is unprotected, so OKC keeps the pick no matter how high it ends up.
So go ahead and take Tankathon for a few spins, Thunder fans. After one or two, your favorite basketball team will be adding Paolo Banchero or Jaden Ivey to the squad. After three or four spins, they may be adding Jabari Smith, Jr. or Chet Holmgren. After about 40 or so, they may be adding Smith AND Holmgren. As a matter of fact, I know what I’m gonna be doing for the rest of the day.
Anything to get that Dak draw play with 13 seconds left versus the 49ers out of my mind.
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No, Thunder fans don’t need to feel bad about benefiting from the Clippers’ injury-caused downfall this season (see the Bolts for an update there). Injuries suck, and health misfortune has takeneth as much it has giveneth to Oklahoma City over the years. So if one of OKC’s many rebuilding bets (the Paul George blockbuster built around SGA, players, and LA picks) pays off thanks to someone else’s misfortune, we can celebrate the ends without reveling in the means.
But there’s one thing we could adjust in the interest of being good-natured about the arrangement: revisiting the Paul George narrative. Playoff P has been somewhat of a scapegoat for the Russ Era Thunder (RIP 2016-2019). Thunder fans have tended to downplay the role injuries played in his lackluster postseason efforts, and emphasized his disloyalty for bolting the franchise after two disappointing seasons.
Since nagging health issues for PG are coming up Thunder now, maybe we can acknowledge they were a bigger part of the story then. And while Sam Presti is still due the lion’s share of credit for leveraging George’s exit (and subsequently, Westbrook’s exit) for maximum long-term value, maybe we can acknowledge we assigned more of the “franchise detonator” credit to him than was reasonable (myself included).
And no, I’m not suggesting we diminish Russ’s legacy by removing some of the blame from George. Rather, let’s pick a new target on which to consolidate our ire: Mr. Bad Shot himself–Dame Lillard–whose greatest, over-hyped accomplishment has been fool’s gold for the Blazers and found gold for the Thunder ever since.
– Cray Allred
Bench Bazley and a double-digit lead wasn’t enough to keep the mighty Cavs at bay yesterday. Clevelend beat Oklahoma City 107-102.
Some routine shuffling between the Thunder and Blue: Theo Maledon, Aleksej Pokusevski, and Isaiah Roby have been assigned to the G League, while still-rehabbing Vit Krejci has been called up but not to play to the big club.
Jake Fischer (B/R) says the sense around the league is that the Clippers, thanks to pessimism on the return of Paul George and Kawhi Leonard this season, could shift into a developmental mode and offload veteran minutes and contracts. There wouldn’t be incentive for them to tank, since the Thunder own their first rounder. But an extra unprotected lottery pick would still be a huge, early windfall for Oklahoma City this summer.
Michael Scotto (HoopsHype) has OKC as a potential landing spot for Juancho Hernangomez.
Scotto adds that Aaron Wiggins is likely to be converted from his two-way contract to a standard deal, per his sources and common sense.
Joe Mussatto (The Oklahoman) digs into Josh Giddey’s stellar rookie season. “Giddey is on pace to become the fourth rookie in NBA history to average at least 11 points, seven rebounds and six assists per game. The others? Oscar Robertson, Magic Johnson and Ben Simmons.”
Chris Paul tells The Athletic that he’s most proud of his year in Oklahoma City. “That year I played in Oklahoma City is something I’ll never forget,” Paul said. “That was my first year living away from my family. The relationship I got with my teammates and fans. The fans were amazing. I always hate that that season got cut short because of COVID-19. That was a big season, big summer for me, going through things I hadn’t gone through since I’d been in the league.”
Sam Lane (SI) pours some cold water on the legend of Lu Dort, the James Harden Slayer.
Arnav Anand (Boomtown Hoops) assigns mid-season grades to the Thunder players.
ICYMI @ Daily Thunder:The DT Podcast dives deep on the Thunder at the season’s halfway point, Brandon Rahbar went through the mailbag, we hearkened to Thunder zoo field trips for Saturday Morning Cartoons, and Jayden Rule examined Shai Gilgeous-Alexander’s scoring struggles.
Around the league: Russell Westbrook on Magic Johnson’s criticism and the Lakers’ lack of effort… Kevin Durant will be out for a couple months with a sprained MCL… Auburn’s Jabari Smith is shooting up draft boards