OKC Thunder: Four Keys for Playoff Success

The Oklahoma City Thunder have arrived. They are ahead of schedule and are still one of the youngest teams in the NBA, but do not rule them out on making a deep playoff run.

Oklahoma City finished with their best regular season record since the 2013-14 season and ended up the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference.

The big question will be can they overcome their lack of experience? Only two players of their starting five have appeared in the playoffs, and it is only for a combined 19 games. No player on their roster has won a championship. Whether they make a deep playoff run/win the title or get eliminated in the first round. This will be a valuable experience for this young group.

However, if OKC wants to have playoff success, here are four keys for OKC to have playoff success.

4 Keys to a Successful OKC Thunder Playoff Run


OKC’s main issue throughout the season has been rebounding due to their lack of size and physicality on the front court. The data backs up the eye test as OKC ranks 27th in rebounds per game and 28th in rebounding percentage.

The Thunder start Chet Holmgren at the five. He is 7’1 but his body isn’t fully developed yet and lacks the strength to deal with the league’s best front-court players on the glass. Holmgren has all the tools of a future star but it will take time for him to fill out.

Beyond that, the Thunder lack height and do not have a true power forward to put alongside Holmgren on the front court. They play small with Josh Giddey being their next tallest player at 6’8. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is 6’6 and Jalen Williams is 6’6, but none of them has the size and physicality to match up on the paint/glass against the front courts of Denver, Minnesota, or the Los Angeles Lakers. Their most physical starter is Lu Dort who stands at 6’3. The Thunder have a switchable and are top 10 in defense, but there is certainly a weak spot against teams with size.

The Thunder cannot give up a ton of extra possessions, and Mark Daigneault must come up with a great scheme in order to maximize his lineups and minimize the rebounding/size deficiencies in the playoffs.

Three-Point Shooting:

OKC is a drive-heavy team as the Thunder led the league in drives per game. OKC generates a lot of open three-point looks through drive-and-kick which has led to the Thunder leading the league in three-point percentage at 38.9% (albeit on 16th in three-point volume) this season. Due to, OKC generating quality three-point shots throughout the season, the Thunder had 10 players shoot over 36% from three.

However, when you look across the roster, there aren’t a lot of true shooters on the roster. Therefore, teams will prioritize protecting the rim by packing the paint and forcing players like (Josh Giddey and Lu Dort) to knock down threes consistently.

OKC floor spacing questions will be based on how Lu Dort, Isaiah Joe, Cason Wallace, Kenrich Williams, Aaron Wiggins, Gordon Hayward, Jaylin Williams, Chet Holmgren, and especially Josh Giddey perform in the playoffs. One major wrinkle that teams did throughout the season, was that teams schematically changed the way they guarded the Thunder. Teams put a big on Josh Giddey and let the big roam around the paint and dared him to shoot, which caused issues for the Thunder as it clogged up the paint and made it more difficult on what the Thunder does best which is generating rim pressure.

If Josh Giddey is not being guarded and shoots sub-30% from three, how will the Thunder adjust? If the Thunder shoot consistently from three, then they’ll be very tough to deal with. This will be something to keep a close eye on.

Winning the Turnover Battle

The Thunder’s defense has been a huge catalyst for their success this season.

Turning the opposing team over is a recipe for success, however, OKC has shown great maturity (which is rare from a young team), by showing the ability to not turn the ball over on offense. OKC takes good care of the ball as the Thunder are 7th in turnovers at 12.7 per game.

While taking care of the ball, OKC forces a lot of turnovers at 15.7 per game, which leads the league.

The Thunder has won the turnover battle in 55 out of 82 games. When winning the turnover battle this season, the Thunder is 40-15.

Winning the turnover battle can mask the Thunder’s deficiencies, specifically their rebounding. It also helps OKC generate easy baskets and up the pace which is an advantage for the Thunder. 

There are a number of key factors that will decide the Thunder’s success in the playoffs, forcing turnovers while not turning the ball over will play a factor if the Thunder want to have playoff success.

The Play of Their “Big Three”

With the Thunder finishing as the top seed in the Western Conference, they’ve put themselves in a favorable position for playoff success. However, the playoffs are where stars truly shine, and in order for the Thunder to have playoff success, the “Big Three” of Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Jalen Williams, and Chet Holmgren will have to play their best ball.

The Thunder’s “Big Three” complement each other very well as they’re very versatile and efficient on both ends. They’ve been great this season, especially in clutch situations, which is very rare for a young team.

It all starts with the current face of the franchise, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. The health of their star is very crucial for their playoff success. During the end of March and early April, SGA was dealing with a quad contusion and he wasn’t himself. However, in the three games since his return, SGA looks a lot more healthy which is great news for the Thunder. This is SGA’s first playoffs as the main guy and he will have to continue to perform at a superstar level if they want to have playoff success.

Jalen Williams’s improvement has been crucial in the Thunder’s ascension. Jalen Williams has now ascended as the Thunder’s second scoring option. This will be Jalen Williams’s first playoffs and as the Thunder’s only other true shot creator, he will need to be a reliable No. 2 option during the playoffs.

The play and impact of Chet Holmgren on both ends have taken this Thunder team to another level. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Jalen Williams will lead the Thunder’s offensive attack, but Chet Holmgren will anchor the Thunder’s defense, and how Chet Holmgren holds up could determine how deep the Thunder can go.

Throughout the season, OKC has proven that they can win in a variety of ways, as they’ve showcased it in their 57 victories. That’s going to be crucial and make them a dangerous team during the playoffs. More importantly, Mark Daigneault will have to be able to make necessary adjustments if the Thunder want to have playoff success.

Main Image: Alonzo Adams-USA TODAY Sports

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