OKC Thunder: Preseason Afterthought To Deadline Buyers?

They've surpassed their preseason expectations and now they have a major opportunity to become a true contender

verndogs, Flickr
  • The Oklahoma City Thunder enter their matchup against the Cleveland Cavaliers on Wednesday with the following records: 30-20 overall, 33-17 ATS, 15-10 overall (14-11 ATS) at home and 18-4 overall (13-9 ATS) as a favorite.

  • OKC has gone 7-1 ATS in their last eight games and the Thunder own the NBA’s top cover rate.

  • The trio of Chris Paul, Shai-Gilgeous Alexander and Dennis Schroder makes up one of the most productive backcourt trios in the NBA. 

  • Danilo Gallinari is healthy again and the combination of Steven Adams and Nerlens Noel at center has worked out nicely for coach Billy Donovan

  • Despite their unexpected success, this team should not sell at the deadline since they’re firmly in the playoff mix with identifiable areas for improvement and draft capital to use to their advantage. In fact, there are a couple of low-key improvements that they should make, as highlighted below.

Surpassing Expectations

After the Oklahoma City Thunder traded away Russell Westbrook to the Houston Rockets in exchange for Chris Paul, first-round picks in 2024 and 2026 and the right to swap first-rounders in 2021 and 2025 last offseason, they were fully expected to enter a full rebuild. After all, earlier in the summer, Oklahoma City’s general manager Sam Presti sent Paul George to the Los Angeles Clippers in exchange for Danilo Gallinari, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and five first-round picks. Since Gilgeous-Alexander was anointed as the team’s new point guard of the future, it was assumed that the team would look to move Chris Paul and his massive multi-year contract. But, that didn’t happen.

Whether or not it was an unwillingness from other teams to take on his contract or OKC’s comfort with CP3 leading their backcourt, it’s safe to say that things have worked out. The Thunder are firmly in the Western Conference playoff picture and are currently in the seventh spot. Most importantly to us, they also have gone 33-17 against the spread and have covered at the highest rate in the NBA. Let’s take a look at their current squad as well as some potential pre-deadline deals that could vault them to the next level.

A Dynamic Backcourt

It’s clear that Paul felt disrespected after being kicked to the curb and flipped for Westbrook. The 34-year-old floor general earned an All-Star selection and is averaging 17.1 points, 3.9 rebounds and 6.6 assists over 31.6 minutes per contest. He’s also shooting an impressive 47.7% from the field, his highest mark since the 2014-2015 season. Starting alongside the veteran, Gilgeous-Alexander has taken a massive leap forward in his new role and leads OKC in scoring (19.4 points per game) and minutes (35.5 per contest). The 21-year-old combo guard has also contributed on the glass, where he’s pulled down 6.2 boards per game, and as a distributor, as indicated by his 3.2 assists per contest. Not only have Paul (22.2%) and Gilgeous-Alexander (24.0%) soaked up a lot of usage, but it’s actually been sixth man Dennis Schroder who leads the team in that category (26.0%). 

All season long, Schroder has victimized opposing second units and has put up an impressive 19.1 points, 3.9 rebounds and 4.1 assists over 31.1 minutes per contest. In all, the aforementioned guards average 55.9 points, 15.1 rebounds and 13.9 assists per contest and have been the driving force that’s resulted in the team’s unexpected start.

A Solid Frontcourt

Although Steven Adams’ minutes have been limited lately, the New Zealander is still nearly averaging a double-double, with 10.8 points and 9.3 boards over 26.7 minutes per game. Nerlens Noel has backed him up all season long and has been particularly effective on the defensive end of the floor, where he’s averaging 1.5 blocks in just 19.1 minutes per contest to go along with 8.3 points and 5.3 boards. Combined, the two have operated at essentially a league-average level on both ends of the floor and have been serviceable. Gallinari, who has dealt with a couple nagging injuries this season, is averaging 19.2 points per contest and is the team’s best long-range shooter (41.0%) by a wide margin. If he stays healthy, Gallinari should continue to be one of the top options in OKC’s concentrated offensive attack (along with the three guards above). 

Room For Improvement

While the Thunder have clearly over-performed so far, it’s clear that they need to add some depth before Thursday’s Trade Deadline. While Hamidou Diallo, Luguentz Dort, Abdel Nader, Terrance Ferguson and Darius Bazley might emerge as productive players down the line, they’ve been unable to produce consistently on either end of the court. That’s why Paul, Gilgeous-Alexander, Schroder and Gallinari (in particular) have produced most of the scoring in an overwhelmingly-concentrated fashion. Adding a piece or two to complement Schroder and Noel on the second unit, along with a three-point specialist, would make a lot of sense. Here are a couple low-profile options that would make sense for both sides. 

In the first mock trade, flipping Andre Roberson’s expiring contract and a future first-round pick to the Sacramento Kings for Nemanja Bjelica, who is shooting 43.9% from three-point range (7th in the NBA) and averaging 12.2 points and 6.2 rebounds in 28.2 minutes per contest, makes a lot of sense. The Kings are not a contender, are outside of the playoff picture entirely and do not view the 31-year-old as a long-term part of their future due to the presence of Marvin Bagley III. Due to Roberson’s troubling injury history, the Thunder are likely open to moving him, despite his status as one of the league’s top perimeter defenders (when healthy). Outside of Gallinari, Paul and Schroder, OKC currently doesn’t have any reliable three-point shooting and have converted just 10.6 per game (the sixth-lowest mark in the NBA). Robert Covington, Kent Bazemore, Tony Snell are also likely on the trading block and could represent other options for Presti.

In the second mock trade, flipping Diallo and a future first-round pick to the Golden State Warriors in exchange for Alec Burks, who is currently averaging 16.1 points, 4.7 rebounds and 3.1 assists in 29.0 minutes per game, would be a dynamite deal for OKC and likely something that would interest the Warriors, who are likely interested in acquiring as many draft assets as possible in preparation for next year when Steph Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green are back together. If these two realistic deals were made, OKC’s outlook and the threat they pose in a loaded Western Conference would be exponentially improved. 

Regardless of whether they make moves or not, it’s clear that this Thunder team is not going to back down, regardless of who they’re taking the court against. 

Wednesday’s Matchup Against The Cavs

  • The Oklahoma City Thunder will host the Cleveland Cavaliers on Wednesday February 5th, 2020 at 8:05pm EST.

  • The Cavaliers enter this matchup with the following records: 13-38 overall, 21-28-2 ATS, 7-17 overall (12-11-1 ATS) on the road and 12-32 overall (21-21 ATS) as an underdog. 

  • The Thunder enter this matchup with the following records: 30-20 overall, 33-17 ATS, 15-10 overall (14-11 ATS) at home and 18-4 overall (13-9 ATS) as a favorite.

  • The OVER has gone 30-21 in Cleveland’s games and 24-26 in Oklahoma City’s contests.

  • OKC has gone 7-1 ATS in their last eight games and the Thunder own the NBA’s top cover rate.

  • Cleveland has gone 1-11 straight-up (4-8 ATS) in their last eight games and own a bottom-five cover rate. Their -8.9 +/- is the second-worst mark in the NBA and they’ve consistently had a difficult time keeping games within striking distance.

  • CLICK HERE to check out BetQL’s game page featuring live odds, trends, lineups, injuries and more! Or, click below to Subscribe and instantly unlock all of today's best bets!