3 reasons the Oklahoma City Thunder have overachieved this season

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Ultimately, there are several reasons explaining how and why the Thunder have played beyond what was expected of them, this was just three key ones. They’ve still got 28 games to go but barring a major disaster, this season can be deemed as a success.

Gallinari is averaging 19.1 points and 5.8 rebounds while shooting above 40 percent from distance and 89.8 percent from the line on 4.9 attempts per game. He complements the team’s offense as an efficient scorer that doesn’t necessarily demand the basketball or is a proverbial black hole once it finds him.

It’s true, Donovan has done a fantastic job commanding a squad that has crushed preseason expectations. He’s gotten slack over the years with the team’s many postseason disappointments, but he deserves credit for their success this campaign.

So how have we gotten here? How has this team defied all odds and emerged from the depths of NBA purgatory? Well, let’s zone in one three specific reasons that allude to how this team has exceeded expectations.

Under the guidance of Donovan, the team possesses a 14th ranked offense (per NBA stats) and 10th ranked defense. Likewise, they’re currently tied with the Denver Nuggets for most clutch wins in the season (23) and have the highest net rating in the final five minutes of regulation or OT with the score within five points (25.8).

Gregg Popovich on Billy Donovan: “He’s done one of the more masterful jobs in the league this year.”

In an NBA offseason that saw the dynamic of the Oklahoma City Thunder drastically alter with the departure of two franchise cornerstones Russell Westbrook and Paul George, the organization was presumedly set to endure a prolonged rebuild.

That’s high praise coming from someone who is universally accepted as one of the greatest coaches to ever grace an NBA bench.

What Terrance Ferguson lacks on the offensive end he more than compensates with stout defense, and having the likes of Hamidou Diallo, Abdel Nader, and surprise two-way standout Luguentz Dort all make the tail-end of the depth chart a little more appealing.

Led by the exploits of the 21-year-old native of Toronto, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, the Thunder’s youth have impressed.

Well, 54 games in the 2019/20 NBA season, the Thunder opted to not do anything drastic—or anything at all at the trade deadline—and are riding this thing out. They’re sitting at 32-22, in sole possession of the 7th seed in the Western Conference, and have the makeup of a team no contender would want to face in the opening round of the playoffs.

You could make the argument that in his fifth season with the organization, Billy Donovan has never been better. You don’t have to take my word for it. Here’s Gregg Popovich providing testimony.

However, the immediate future had many questioning which direction the team would enter.

The return hauls were something to marvel at, as the Thunder received two top-4 protected picks and two pick swaps from the Houston Rockets for Westbrook and Danilo Gallinari, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and five first-round draft picks from the LA Clippers for George.

1) The veterans have led the way

Oklahoma’s veterans deserve credit for how this season has panned out; they’ve set the tone. Certain veterans on the team, like Chris Paul, Danilo Gallinari or Steven Adams could’ve requested for trades to contenders this past deadline or voiced their discontent early in the season—but instead, they’ve made the best of their situation.

Would they offload their veterans to contenders for returning assets to fuel the rebuild? Would they attempt to retool and acquire complementary assets around their youthful talent and perhaps the likes of Chris Paul? Or would they ride it out and hope for the best?

The Thunder’s youthful talent has meshed gracefully with the team’s veterans, which is a crucial reason for their success.

Darius Bazley, the former 23rd overall pick in the 2019 NBA draft, was showing glimpses of future greatness before sustaining an injury to his right knee that will sideline him for 4-6 weeks. His versatility on both ends of the floor was tantalizing, and the teenager will likely only improve with time.

— Royce Young (@royceyoung) February 11, 2020

They couldn’t have asked for much more than what they’ve gotten from their veterans, who have also meshed rather effortlessly with the team’s youthful talent—which we will get into next.

2) Alongside the vets, the youth movement has has taken form

The Oklahoma City Thunder has exceeded preseason expectations, let’s take a look at three reasons explaining how and why they have overachieved thus far.

Paul, the recently minted 10-time NBA All-Star is averaging 17.5 points, 5.0 rebounds, and 6.6 assists while leading the league in clutch points this season.

Gilgeous-Alexander is building upon a strong rookie campaign with the Clippers last season with an even more profound sophomore season with Oklahoma City. His length works synonymously with his ability as a slasher or disruptor on the defensive end; he’s beginning to learn how to pick his spots and when to act as the aggressor on offense, and his rise to stardom is all but imminent at this point. Currently, he’s averaging 19.5 points, 6.1 rebounds, and 3.2 assists per contest.

3) Billy Donovan has done a great job

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Adams’ numbers may be down at 10.7 points and 9.3 rebounds, but he’s still a very reliable defensive anchor and roll man in the pick-and-roll on the other end of the court.

They’ve also gotten great production from Dennis Schroder, who is rapidly building a case for this year’s Sixth Man of the Year, and Nerlens Noel, who’s boasting better than a steal and block per contest and is enjoying somewhat of a career renaissance as the Thunder’s back up center.