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May 11, 2021
Let’s start the week off with a question: Is this rock-bottom for the Thunder’s tank?
Unless OKC gets shut out of the top-5 in the 2021 NBA Draft, I think it’s reasonable to expect things will never be worse than they are right now in terms of night-to-night competitiveness.
I say that for a number of reasons: Shai Gilgeous-Alexander isn’t likely to miss as much time next season, and neither is Lu Dort. Aleksej Pokusevski will never be as bad — efficiency-wise — as he’s been this season. Darius Bazley is showing growth and Ty Jerome might be a diamond-in-the-rough. Plus, the Thunder are likely to add at least one, if not two, blue-chip prospects in this summer’s NBA draft.
The circumstances of this losing stretch are also unlikely to be repeated. Right now, we’re watching this ship sink as fast as it can because 1) Shai got hurt and 2) The Thunder procrastinated its tanking efforts in the first half of the season so recklessly that they’re now trying to do the equivalent of pulling an all-nighter before an 8 a.m. exam.
So yes, I think potentially losing 24-of-25 games (thanks, Boston) to end the season represents a firm rock bottom for this journey. Does that mean OKC will be a playoff team next season? Or even challenge for it? No, I don’t think that’s in the cards — even if lottery night goes perfectly for the Thunder.
For one thing, rookies typically don’t impact winning. So while Jalen Green would represent a tremendous upgrade over Josh Hall, roster moves like that aren’t going to move the needle to a playoff berth in 2021-22. There’s also the matter of OKC’s lottery-protected 1st round pick in 2022, which I assume the Thunder would like to hang on to.
But there has to be a middle ground, right? Somewhere between challenging for the play-in tournament and racing to the bottom. This is more of a prediction than an advice column, but I expect OKC to find that middle ground next season. Fans will be back in the building. Shai should be healthy. Dort might level up again. Poku will have had a summer in an NBA strength-and-conditioning program. Year 2 under Daigneault. It should be a lot of fun.
But then again, this is rock bottom, so it can’t get much worse.
– Spenser Davis
Aleksej Pokusevski made his return to the lineup on Sunday night vs. the Kings after briefly battling a knee injury. He produced 13 points, 5 assists and 2 rebounds in the loss to Sacramento.
Poku shared his thoughts on OKC’s rebuilding on Monday. “Nobody likes to lose but we’re there for each other.”
Oklahoma City enters Tuesday’s slate tied with the Cavs for the No. 3 lottery odds. The Thunder, Cavs, Magic and T-Wolves all currently have 21 wins.
In terms of point differential, the Thunder are currently in the midst of the worst 25-game stretch in NBA history.
Bad news for the Celtics, as star guard Jaylen Brown is out for the season with a torn ligament in his left wrist.
May 13, 2021
Oklahoma City received a major gift on Wednesday night. Cleveland defeated Boston, thanks to 30 points from Kevin Love and 28 points from Collin Sexton.
That means OKC controls at least a two-way share to the No. 3 lottery odds, assuming the Thunder don’t upset the Jazz or Clippers in the final two games. If Orlando wins a game — which could happen if the 76ers rest starters in the final game of the regular season — Oklahoma City would be alone with the No. 3 lottery odds.
Regardless, Oklahoma City is now looking at having at least a 12 percent chance of landing the No. 1 overall pick and at least a 50 percent chance of being in the top-4. If Orlando wins a game, those odds would improve slightly.
While this stretch of games has been painful, no one thought anything like this was possible at the All-Star Break. In the long run, losing most of the last 30 games is a small price to pay for a chance at a franchise-changing superstar.
– Spenser Davis
With Cleveland’s win over Boston, OKC now controls its own destiny — to a degree — in lottery odds. If OKC loses out, the worst it can be is in a two-way tie with Orlando for the 3rd best lottery odds.
ESPN’s Kevin Pelton has Lu Dort on his second team All-Defense. The media’s annual NBA awards ballots are due this week.
Kenrich Williams made Zach Lowe’s annual “Luke Walton All-Star Team” column. This list celebrates players who took longer than normal to establish themselves as NBA mainstays.
Speaking of Williams, he played point guard against the Kings on Tuesday night. He scored 20 points and dished out 4 assists in the loss.
LeBron James is still missing time as the regular season winds down. It’s looking increasingly likely the Lakers will take part in the play-in tournament next week.
The Atlanta Hawks clinched a playoff berth on Wednesday night with a big win over the Wizards. Trae Young scored 33 points. It’s Atlanta’s first playoff appearance since 2017.