The Oklahoma City Thunder are for all intents and purposes, a young team.
Only three players in OKC’s roster are past the age of 26, with the 29-year old Kenrich Williams and the 30-year old rookie Vasilije Micic averaging 15.1 and 11.8 minutes per game, respectively. Davis Bertans, who is 31 years old, has played in only 14 games and has averaged 6.5 minutes in those contests.
And so, it’s been a youth movement that has propelled the Thunder to within the top of the Western Conference standings. It’s been great to see OKC take down more fancied, talented, and experienced teams, but there are moments when we’re reminded that they’re still a young bunch with a few things to learn. And one of those moments came against the Minnesota Timberwolves.
Oklahoma City was an NBA-best 28-1 when leading through three quarters and looked to be in prime position as they entered the fourth quarter with a 77-73 lead over the Wolves. Both teams never had a lead larger than 10 points and with 2:43 left in the game, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander handed the Thunder a 97-96 lead.
However, Minnesota responded with a 9-0 run that had OKC shell-shocked. With the 107-101 loss, Oklahoma City fell to third place in the Western Conference from potentially being the lone team at the top.
The loss to the Wolves shouldn’t discourage the Thunder, who actually split the series with Minnesota. Besides, they should be happy they were able to stay toe-to-toe with a franchise that finally took basketball seriously the moment they drafted Anthony Edwards.
In fact, OKC even has a great franchise cornerstone of their own in Gilgeous-Alexander. The Wolves game was Gilgeous-Alexander’s seventh consecutive contest with at least 30 points, which is the longest streak against any NBA team so far. Looking at the bigger picture, though, the Canadian has been having his best season so far. The numbers aren’t far off from last season, but Gilgeous-Alexander has more or less replicated his production in 2022-2023 with better efficiency. In fact, aside from being the league leader in steals at 2.2 per game, he has the best field goal percentage (54.7 percent) among MVP-contenders not named Giannis Antetokounmpo. It should then be no surprise that he earned his second straight All-Star appearance, but this time as a starter.
A lot has been said on how Gilgeous-Alexander can kill you in many ways, but his ability to slow down the game and make things look easy puts him in elite company. It’s partly what led him to being top-5 five in the NBA in terms of free throw attempts (something he has gotten flak for), but it’s hard to fault the 2023 All-NBA First Team selection for coming up with an unstoppable tactic.
We’re so used to seeing Gilgeous-Alexander thriving even during the Oklahoma City Thunder’s down years that he can tend to be type casted as a good player with good stats on a meh team. He’s easily shed that label now that he and the Thunder are getting more attention.
Now that the OKC is emerging as a postseason contender, Gilgeous-Alexander remains as dangerous as ever, with the bumps in the road providing him with ammunition that will only take Oklahoma City to greater heights.