Three reasons why the Oklahoma City Thunder will beat Timberwolves to advance to 2023 NBA Playoffs

The Oklahoma City Thunder tanked the tank. That is to say: the Thunder are on the brink of making the NBA playoffs as they face the Timberwolves in the final round of the play-in tournament. Whereas the Thunder spent most of the last few years greedily hoovering up distant first round picks from desperate and only playing basketball games because they had to, this year’s iteration was actually competitive. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander was so great that he forcibly lifted the team to his level. Despite their losing record (40-42), the Thunder managed to outscore their opponents on the season—their +1.1 net rating was 14th in the NBA, ahead of putatively better teams like the Clippers, Lakers, Nets and Timberwolves.

Heading into a do-or-die matchup in the play-in tournament against the Timberwolves to decide who will nab the final playoff spot, the Thunder have proven that they’re no longer some runty, upstart feel-good team—they’re just a straight up good one. Here are the three reasons the Thunder will upset Minnesota to make the NBA playoffs.

3. Switching

Since Chet Holmgren has been sidelined all year with a broken foot, the Thunder have kludged together a shockingly effective defense without a true rim protector; Gilgeous-Alexander, a 6’6 guard, somehow leads the team in blocked shots. Even without a true deterrent at the rim, the Thunder managed to maintain an above average defense because of their versatility and positional size. The Thunder’s bigs are small, but their guards are big—the 6’3 Lu Dort is the shortest member of their rotation, but he functionally plays bigger because of his wingspan, girth and psychotic motor.

As such, the Thunder play with tremendous freedom on defense because the normal concerns of defense don’t really apply to them. They don’t need to worry about their center getting exploited in space because all of their centers are comfortable enough guarding on the perimeter; complicated offensive plays can be neutered by simply switching every screen. This is hive mind defense, their collective togetherness compensating for their individual flaws.

Against the Timberwolves, this switching style should be especially effective. Although the Timberwolves are outwardly the much bigger team, neither Rudy Gobert nor Karl-Anthony Towns are particularly comfortable bullying smaller defenders. The way to beat the Thunder is moments of individual brilliance, advantages created through sheer talent and force of will. Judging from their putrid offensive performance against the Lakers, the Timberwolves don’t have that in them.

2. Dribbling

Quietly, the Thunder are fomenting the new revolution. While the rest of the league stocks their rotation with unidimensional shooters, the Thunder will make the NBA playoffs because they embraced the power of the dribble. Every guy in the Thunder’s rotation can make stuff happen—there are no record scratch moments or awkward standstills because all five guys on the floor at any given time can inject movement and life into the possession. At times, their offense looks like an elaborate crochet pattern, each of the five guys driving and kicking before relocating somewhere on the perimeter.

Accordingly, the Thunder are able to manufacture spacing without a paucity of actual shooting. Defenders can’t sag off Giddey or Jaylin Williams because they know that the Thunder have the capacity to punish any and all lapses; if you give any Thunder player too much space, it’s essentially an invitation to drive to the rim.

For the Timberwolves, the sheer mobility and movement of the Thunder will be a nightmare. Gobert, one of the greatest rim protectors of all time, will have to chase the Thunder through dribble handoffs and try to run them off the three-point line. Towns, a slow-footed galoot, will be food. The Timberwolves defense succeeds because of the way it maintains the kind of structure that the Thunder offense is designed to break.

1. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander

There aren’t more than seven or eight people in the world who are currently better than Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. A mortal lock to make the first All-NBA team of his career (and probably make the first team at that), Gilgeous-Alexander scored 31.4 points per game on bonkers 62.6 percent True Shooting.

No longer toiling in obscurity on a team that’s trying to lose, he transformed this season into one of the NBA’s most singularly unstoppable offensive players. With the ball in his hands, Gilgeous-Alexander is irrepressible—his 23.9 drives per game are more than three ahead of Ja Morant, who sits in second place with 20.3. Interestingly, Gilgeous-Alexander has more or less abandoned outside shooting because he no longer has any need to settle for outside shots. Nobody can stop him off the dribble—if you can get to the rim every single time you touch the ball, you should get to the rim every single time you touch the ball.

The post Three reasons why the Oklahoma City Thunder will beat Timberwolves to advance to 2023 NBA Playoffs appeared first on ClutchPoints.

Share the Post:
Enter Your Information Below To Receive Free Fitness Tips, Health News, And Articles.

By opting in you agree to our Privacy Policy. You also agree to receive emails from us and our affiliates. Remember that you can opt-out any time, we hate spam too!

By opting in you agree to our Privacy Policy. You also agree to receive emails from us and our affiliates. Remember that you can opt-out any time, we hate spam too!

Generated by Feedzy