As we reach the All-Star Break, the Oklahoma City Thunder sit on the cusp of looking like a challenging postseason team. No one would accuse them of being a frontrunner, but they’ve been playing really well lately. With a record of 32-21 and a solid cast of players, they’re currently sixth in the Western Conference, but they’re moving up on the power rankings.
The trade deadline came and went, and OKC didn’t make any major deals – which is actually good news for Thunder fans hoping to go deep(ish) in the playoffs. Their current mix of veterans and youth has great chemistry and they’re fun to watch. This group also seems to be steadily improving as the season progresses. The Thunder are only a handful of wins away from stealing the fourth seed from the Utah Jazz. Here’s a look at OKC’s key players, their recent wins, and what happened at the trade deadline.
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Is OKC Gaining Momentum? The Thunder’s Key Players
The Thunder beat the Cleveland Cavaliers and Detroit Pistons to kick off a decent last week, and while it would’ve been awesome to knock off the Celtics over the weekend, OKC still managed to hold them to a one-point victory. They’ve won eight out of their last 10 games, and they seem to be picking up confidence along the way. Nobody is going to want to take them on in the postseason. Let’s just hope the All-Star Break doesn’t ruin their momentum. So which players are game-changers?
Russell Westbrook might be gone, but 10-time All-Star Chris Paul has taken over in his place. And he’s healthy. Prior to this weekend’s loss against the Celtics, the Thunder had won seven of the last games in which Paul played. The man is a force, and in addition to his tactical point guard skills, he gives this team the veteran presence and leadership they need. In those seven games, OKC outscored opponents by 21 points per 100 possessions.
…Not to mention, with this year’s votes in, Chris Paul has given the Thunder a league-best 11 consecutive All-Star seasons.
Since Thanksgiving, the Thunder have had one of the best records in the league. Despite playing the max of 17 games in 30 days during January, not to mention 10 on the road, they still managed a record of 12-5. And across the board, only six teams this year have played better on the road this season.
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You’ve got Paul’s leadership, and then you’ve got Shai Gilgeous-Alexander’s youth and drive. This dominant member of the Thunder has been consistently scoring in the double digits, and he’s also looking like one of the most improved players in the NBA – possibly the best sophomore player out there. The shooting guard has doubled his points since last year, averaging a team-high 19.6 per game as well as a team-high in minutes played at 35.6.
The Thunder also received some impact from an unlikely source recently. After nearly 10 months off the court, Dennis Schröder began playing again last week, and he’s averaging an impressive 23 points per game – not to mention 7 assists, 5 rebounds, and 45% accuracy from beyond the arc. It’s clear that Schröder could become a crucial member of the team’s bench going forward, potentially even Sixth Man of the Year. In the Thunder’s loss to the Celtics, he outscored the rest of the bench 22-12.
What Happened at the Trade Deadline for the Thunder?
Nothing. And needless to say, OKC fans are very happy about the decision to keep sharpshooter Danilo Gallinari on the roster. With an expiring contract on the horizon and a keen interest from the Miami Heat, nobody really knew what would happen to Gallo until the trade deadline came and went.
Luckily for fans, the deal didn’t materialize and the versatile wing remains on the roster. This was the best possible outcome for anybody hoping for a playoff push by the Thunder because Gallinari is currently averaging 19.2 points per game. The 32-year-old is a skilled shooter who seems to get better with age. (Of course, nothing is certain beyond this season, but that doesn’t matter for the playoffs!)
The Thunder just battled the San Antonio Spurs last night, and they’ll face the Pelicans on Thursday before getting the week off for the All-Star Break. OKC returns to action with a tough game against the Denver Nuggets on the 21st before battling the Spurs again on the 23rd at home. Wanna see ‘em in action?