Had the COVID-19 virus not interrupted the now-suspended 2019-20 NBA season, how would the Thunder have fared in what was up until that point a surprisingly impressive campaign? Daliy Thunder’s Brandon Rahbar, Olivia Panchal, Ryan Woods, John Napier, and Cray Allred weigh in.
Where would the Thunder have finished in the standings?
Brandon Rahbar: I fully believe the Thunder were going to thump a Gobert-less Jazz squad on the night that shall live in infamy before Dr. Donnie Strack jumped off the Thunder bench, dashed into a phone booth, threw on a cape and tights, and charged to center court mere milliseconds before tipoff.
OKC would have snatched 4th place. From there, it was going to be a three team race for the 4-5-6 spots. The remaining strength of schedule for each of those squads: OKC .501, Houston .492, Utah .515. The Thunder were 8-2 in their last 10, the Rockets were 6-4 and the Jazz were 5-5. Combining schedule strength with recent trends, I’ll say OKC finishes 4, just two spots below Paul George and one spot ahead of Russell Westbrook and James Harden. If I were Sam Presti, put that sentence on a banner and hang it from The Peake’s rafters.
Olivia Panchal: 5th. Behind the Nuggets and Jazz, but ahead of the Rockets.
Ryan Woods: 4th. OKC was headed for its fourth-straight win vs. the Jazz without Gobert. The next four games were Minnesota, @Washington, @Memphis and @Atlanta. An 8-game winning streak was in play. Utah was 5-5 over its last 10 games with its two best players at odds with one another. The door was wide open.
John Napier: Sixth. Though the Thunder demonstrated that they were far more talented than early prognostications, they were in a battle with Utah, Houston, and Dallas for the fourth, fifth, and sixth seeds, respectively. Of that group, I just think at least two of those teams will finish above OKC.
How would the Thunder have performed in the playoffs?
Panchal: They win the first round against the Jazz, but get 2012 Thunder vs. Miami’ed by LeBron… again.
Woods: Assuming OKC finished 4th, the two most likely first round scenarios would’ve been Houston or Utah. I think Oklahoma City beats either team in 6 or 7 games before losing to the Lakers in 5.
Allred: In the Closure Bowl, the Thunder lose in 7 to the Rockets and Russ, who out-performs James Harden and gets an ovation from the OKC crowd after a magical finish. Everyone feels good about this, a vibe that fades for Houston in the next round when they get booted and Tilman Fertitta immediately cleans house (players and personnel alike).
Rahbar: Did Cray just call an NBA playoff series a “Bowl”? Does he know what sport the site he owns covers? This is like when Jerry Jones gets down on the sidelines and tries to coach my Dallas Cowboys. Stay up in the press box, Cray!
In the ultimate bittersweet series for Thunder fans, OKC beats Houston 4-2 despite Russell Westbrook balling out. The Rockets can’t check Steven Adams, Nerlens Noel and Danilo Gallinari with PJ bless his 6’5” heart Tucker for a full round. Huge hurrah for OKC, big bummer for Russ.
It’s by far the most buzzed about first round series and puts the Thunder in the national spotlight in a season intended to be tank driven. OKC loses 4-1 to the Lakers in the next round, but again, lots of LeBron-loaned lights, cameras and action. And a big bow and curtsy for a season well done.
Napier: In the first round of the playoffs, the Thunder line up against the Denver Nuggets. After dropping Game 1 on the road, OKC takes Game 2 on the road and optimism abounds, followed by another win in OKC to take Game 3. Game 4 goes Denver’s way, and Denver holds home court in Game 5 to take a 3-2 series lead. The Thunder, with heroics from Chris Paul, edge the Nuggets in Oklahoma City to force a Game 7. Game 7 goes down to the wire, and after CP3 drops his patented mid-range fadeaway to tie the game at 103 with 10 seconds remaining, Jamal Murray hoists a prayer over the outstretched arms of Paul at the buzzer. From the comfort of his home (being out of the playoffs and all), Damien Lillard pats himself on the back.
What is the saddest ‘what if’ lost from the season?
Woods: I think Billy Donovan’s season gets lost. From rotations and schemes, to adapting to a roster with players all at different points in their careers, Donovan aced this year. Chris Paul will justifiably get the majority of credit for this Thunder season, but Billy put to bed doubts of his ability at the NBA level.
Rahbar: Andre Roberson’s injury. Both for Dre personally and for this Thunder team. This squad’s chemistry is already off the charts and Robes is All-Chemistry First Team, so he would have just added to the infectious camaraderie. The biggest weakness for the team on the court just happens to be the lack of one other solid rotation wing player. Think a full strength Dre could’ve helped? Absolutely. And because Roberson is the sweetest, most down to earth NBA player you’ll ever meet, I just hate it for him that he’s tried to come back over and over again but his body just refuses to cooperate with his heart, mind and soul.
Napier: The Thunder defied expectations all season. I’m really disappointed that we won’t get to see if they could defy expectations in the postseason. Even if the league returns for an abbreviated season or playoffs, the momentum that the team had would be lost, and we’ll just never know how things could’ve turned out in that alternate universe where Covid-19 doesn’t exist.
Panchal: Lu Dort not getting the NBA contract he deserves.
Allred: I honestly can’t think of one that I would distinguish from the general loss of NBA fun across the board. As Austin Fogt put it at DT, the Thunder were playing (and winning) with house money all season. The rosiest outcome from the season–a conference finals or title round appearance–would have depended on catastrophic luck for other teams, which doesn’t feel right to count.
What is the brightest silver lining from the suspended season?
Panchal: None of the Thunder players have coronavirus?
Rahbar: I haven’t received a single notification on my phone that Zion Williamson made a simple chest pass that resulted in a Pelicans midrange jumper in over two weeks.
Allred: Fewer miles on Chris Paul, with trading the last leg of his contract in view (which is totally counteracted by likely cap shrinkage but 🤷♀️).
Napier: This means we get to run it back with the exact same team and no cap implications, right?
Woods: The NBA has been given a massive opportunity to smoothly adjust its annual schedule. It’s time to move the start of the NBA season to Christmas Day and play into late summer. Draft right before the NFL season begins, with Free Agency in late September/early October. Do it Adam!