There are exactly 10 games remaining on the Thunder’s 2021-2022 season, Oklahoma City fans. But somehow for a team with half their roster injured and with the fourth worst record in the NBA, there are still plenty of intriguing storylines to follow down the stretch. Let’s get to them.
The Tank Race is heating up
As the Rockets, Pistons, Magic and Thunder tanks trudge toward the finish line, OKC fans finally have reason to believe in a late rally. Just over the past few days, the Pacers have bowed out of the race, the Magic beat the Thunder, the Rockets beat the Wizards and the Magic–amazingly–beat the Warriors. The Pistons blowing it against the Blazers in savvy tank fashion was the only recent letdown. Still, as it stands now, the Rockets have 18 wins, the Pistons have 19 wins, and the Magic and Thunder have 20 wins apiece. OKC will finish with the #4 lottery odds spot at worst. But they could now climb to #3, #2 or possibly even #1. So every mock draft you read from now until Draft Lottery night will have OKC selecting Chet Holmgren, Jabari Smith Jr, Jaden Ivey or Paolo Banchero.
Tre Mann’s career game
How good was the Thunder’s #18 overall pick against the Celtics? Let us count the ways.
- OKC rookie record for points in a game.
- OKC rookie record for points in a quarter.
- OKC rookie record for threes in a game (tie).
- Most points by an NBA rookie in a quarter this season.
- Second most points by an NBA rookie in a game this season.
- Most consecutive made threes by a rookie in NBA history.
- Most “he was a steal” tweets by OKC fans and media in Thunder history.
Lu Dort is extension eligible today
The Thunder can now offer Luguentz a contract in the neighborhood of four years and $56 million. That raises a lot of questions. Does Dort want to sign for that amount? Do the Thunder want to extend him for that amount? Is Dort a no-brainer young core member? Is Dort a starter or would slotting him there cap OKC’s ceiling? Does OKC hesitate to extend now because an extension means the Thunder wouldn’t be able to trade him on draft night to move up? Did you know the McCallisters are going to France? Do you know if it’s cold there? Do these vans get good gas mileage?
SGA’s ongoing questionable status
Mark Daigneault had a potentially revealing quote after the Thunder’s close loss to the Celtics. “We have to evaluate him game by game.” The Thunder’s next game when he said this? The fighting-OKC-for-the-three-spot Orlando Magic. If OKC doesn’t want to shut Shai down for the year but also don’t want to pick up any damaging wins, there’s a perfect solution: rest him every other game. The process potentially could have already started. Check this out: Orlando (rest), Boston (play), Orlando (rest), Nuggets (play), Blazers (rest), Hawks (play), Pistons (rest), Suns (play), Blazers (rest), Jazz (play), Lakers (rest lol), Clippers (well, maybe he should sit this one out too so we don’t get Daniel Oturu’d again).
The Thunder have officially been eliminated from the playoffs
That sound you hear is the Suns and Grizzlies letting out a huge sigh of relief. They didn’t want that Shai & Tre postseason smoke.
Josh Giddey injury update
Mark Daigneault told the OKC media to expect an update on the four-time Western Conference Rookie of the Month’s status at the end of this week. Spoiler alert: the next time you see Giddey playing, he’ll be throwing up oops to Chet Holmgren.
Clippers pick clarity
If LAC wins the play-in tourney, the Thunder will get either the 15th or 16th pick. The Clippers’ first opponent will be on the road against either the red-hot Timberwolves or the Nikola Nuggets. If they lose that one, they’ll play at home, either versus a potentially fully healthy Lakers squad or a rejuvenated Pelicans team. Here’s the fun part: if LAC loses the play-in tourney and the Hawks and Hornets finish with a better record than them, that 2022 pick falls to #12. That’s another 7.1% chance to land Chet, Jabari, Paolo or Ivey.
Thunder vs. Magic, part II
OKC sans SGA just barely won the Orlando matchup on Sunday when they lost 90-85. After last night’s shocking Magic win over the Warriors (thanks Klay, for once!), both Orlando and OKC have 20 wins. It sounds completely ridiculous to type this out loud, but tonight’s tank-off feels like the biggest game of the year. OKC will have to get creative with lineups to overcome their home-court disadvantage. Shai should have a career night… in a t-shirt and jeans leading the bench mob in applause, fist pumps and cheer.
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Another round of bolts, another mixed analogy for this version of the rebuilding Thunder. The shiny new tank is more fun to watch than last year’s model, and lately it’s been just as effective as a losing machine. Oklahoma City isn’t shutting Shai Gilgeous-Alexander all the way down, but the resting patterns for his nicked up ankle have started to line up beautifully with the Thunder’s worst opponents.
Shai sat as OKC lost to the Magic on Sunday, which, as Brandon Rahbar explained, was crucial to their hopes of catching Orlando in the reverse standings. He played in last night’s loss to the Celtics, a contender unlikely to lose to the Thunder regardless of them playing at full strength. Round 2 with the Magic comes tomorrow night, and Team Tank are hoping the chess game within the basketball game proceeds with Gilgeous-Alexander sitting once more. If Orlando beats Oklahoma City once more, the Thunder will have lost 11 straight to arrive within a half-game of the Magic at 20-53 on the season.
Half of the team’s remaining team games come with direct implications for the Thunder’s 2023 draft picks, the other half are against playoff hopefuls. While I’ve invoked three-dimensional chess here, the strategy to keep both Shai and the Thunder’s lottery hopes fresh is as easy as checkers: have him skip about every other game on the board.
Mark Daigneault is characterizing Shai’s status as day-to-day. Obviously, they’ll be nursing his ankle with extreme care the rest of the way.
Dan Devine (The Ringer) on SGA’s excellence: “The list of players who have scored and facilitated as much as Gilgeous-Alexander has this season, while shouldering as large a workload as he has, is small—and every name on it belongs to an All-Star.”
ICYMI: Patrick Beverley was reckless enough to rile up one of the most mild mannered players in the league–former Thunder George Hill–into earning his first career ejection. Beverley has five ejections and counting.