The excitement fans have had because of the play of the Oklahoma City Thunder, led by Paul George, during the first half of the 2018-2019 season was misplaced. Yes, we saw a similar OKC team last year thrive and play good basketball. However, it was clear that the team still was not in that upper echelon of teams in the league. Now, with this recent skid, the Thunder’s glaring issues have been exposed and the team has put itself in a bad situation. The team now currently sits at 44-33, 8.5 games back of first place in the Western Conference, and nearly locked in as a bottom four seed in the conference and as of now the eighth seed in the conference.
Now, the Thunder are a better basketball team than we’ve seen since the All-Star Break. They’ve been severely underperforming, which is made clear by the statistics:
Oklahoma City Thunder (since All-Star Break): 109.8 PPG (23rd in NBA), 105.8 Offensive Rating (28th), -3.0 Net Rating (22nd), 51.9 TS% (Last), 45.3 PIE (29th), .350 WIN% (25th), -3.4 +/- (22nd), -1.0 eFG Diff% (eFG% – DeFG%).
The team has been struggling. But, possibly more important, Paul George has been struggling since the All-Star Break as well.
Paul George (since All-Star Break): 32.3 PTS/100 POSS., 10.7 REB/100 POSS., 4.9 AST/100 POSS., + 0.0 Net Rating, 54.4 TS%, 14.3 PIE, -0.5 +/-, -4.7 FG Diff% (FG% – DFG%).
Post All-Star Break – Pre All-Star Break (P. George): -3.5 PTS/100 POSS., +0.7 REB/100 POSS., -0.3 AST/100 POSS., -10.4 Net Rating, -5.4 TS%, -2.5 PIE, -8.8 +/-, -8 FG Diff% (FG% – DFG%).
Now, I do think that OKC can turn it around, at least compared to where they are now. But, I still don’t trust either Westbrook or George during the postseason.
Russell Westbrook (career postseason): 34.9 PTS/100 POSS., 9.4 REB/100 POSS., 10.6 AST/100 POSS., +3.3 On Court/100 POSS., 51.6 TS%, +7.0 BPM, .143 WS/48.
Paul George (career postseason): 26.9 PTS/100 POSS., 9.9 REB/100 POSS., 5.3 AST/100 POSS., +2.0 On Court/100 POSS., 55.9 TS%, +4.6 BPM, .136 WS/48.
Again, the Thunder can bounce back from this recent dry spell. However, I can point to last postseason (where the stats are even worse than what I showed) to indicate why I cannot trust this Thunder.
The reason why the fate of this year’s Thunder team is clear is truly because of where they will likely end up in the Western Conference standings. If they end up as the eighth seed, where they are at the moment, they would have to play the Golden State Warriors in the first round. I would expect the Warriors to take care of the Thunder in five games, and while OKC could make it a more difficult series than their previous first round matchups, the chance they would win would be next to slim.
Oklahoma City Thunder (vs. GS this season): 1-2 W-L, -1.3 Net Rating, 45.5 PIE, 47.7 TS%.
Now, that is just one of the many possibilities. They could also play either Houston or Denver in the first round, in which I would also expect an OKC loss. I’d have a similar attitude that I have towards a Warriors/Thunder series towards a Rockets/Thunder series. Considering they would have home court advantage, I’d expect Houston to dispatch OKC in five games. As for the Nuggets, the series could go six or seven games, and I could see the Thunder winning, however, I’d still be shocked if it happened.
Other than those three teams, the Thunder could face either the Utah Jazz or the Portland Trailblazers in the first round.
Unlike the Warriors, Rockets, or Nuggets series, I could legitimately see the Thunder beating either Utah or Portland.
As for a possible Jazz/Thunder series, I would pick the Jazz in seven games. We saw the Jazz beat the Thunder last season in the playoffs in six games, and now, with home court advantage, I’d be a bit surprised if the Thunder won.
As for a possible Trailblazers/Thunder series, I actually would take the Oklahoma City Thunder. This is one first round matchup we could see OKC find itself in that I would pick them to win the series. Nurkic being gone for the season is certainly part of it, as the Thunder should be able to dominate the glass at both ends. But also, the Thunder’s defense should disrupt Portland’s offense. And, I’m not sure anyone on Portland can effective guard a Russell Westbrook/Steven Adams or Dennis Schroder/Steven Adams pick and roll. And, of course, it’s almost impossible to truly stop Paul George.
Oklahoma City Thunder (vs. POR this season): 4-0 W-L, +6.6 Net Rating (3rd in NBA), 53.2 PIE (5th), 57.1 TS% (9th), 1.134 PTS/POSS (8th), 4.7 eFG Diff% (eFG% – DeFG%).
But, even if they did get past Portland, they would likely have to face either the Warriors, the Rockets, or the Nuggets in the next round, which would result in the end of their season, assuming no major injuries happen.
The writing is on the wall for this iteration of the Oklahoma City Thunder. The fans will have a similar feeling towards the result of this season for their franchise: true disappointment.
Dylan is a NBA analyst who loves the game and has been covering the league since 2015, and became a UniquESports+ contributor this year. You can reach him and enjoy more of his content via his Twitter and Instagram, @topnbaanalysis.