Thunder Faces a Possible Fork in the Road as We Enter the New Year

The team has a record of 15-20 as the Oklahoma City Thunder enter their New Year’s game with the Philadelphia 76ers.

While on the surface this doesn’t look great, it’s actually a little better than expected for Oklahoma City. Going into the season, the Thunder were expected to have 23.5 wins in the 2022-23 season. They are currently fast-tracking for a 35-47 record.

Based on last season’s results, a 35-win campaign would have deserved 10th place in the Western Conference and a place in the qualifying tournament. While there’s no guarantee that this will happen again this season, it does mean the Thunder have taken a big step forward. They are no longer a night-to-night uncompetitive undercarriage.

With that in mind, there is an obvious weakness in this team. Even in the preseason, Oklahoma City lacked depth of frontcourt after Chet Holmgren’s injury. Now, things are even worse as Aleksej Pokusevski, Jeremiah Robinson-Earl and Ousmane Dieng disappear in the foreseeable future.

These are three of the tallest players on the roster and it’s a huge blow. Pokusevski was the only 2-foot player on the team to enter the season and is absent for at least six weeks.

As such, guys like Mike Muscala and Jaylin Williams will have to play key minutes, and neither are ideal candidates to be primary centers for most of the game.

This puts Thunder at a crossroads. With about six weeks to the trade deadline, decisions will need to be made.

Will Oklahoma City choose to skip the depleted roster, buy a big company to fill the need, or eventually become a vendor?

The next few weeks will likely determine which path they take. Based on Oklahoma City’s record at the end of January, the decision might be a lot easier.

If the Thunder struggles with a lack of size and a drop in the rankings next month, maybe it makes sense to stay in place, or even become a seller, until the deadline. If qualifying seems unattainable, it makes sense to return to internal roster development and secure a top spot in the 2023 NBA Draft.

On the other hand, if Oklahoma City continues to gain at this pace and is still at the forefront, perhaps becoming a buyer and adding a legitimate center is the best course to follow.

Regardless, the way other teams play will also influence these decisions as the rankings are relative. As of today, this is what the Western Conference bottom looks like.

  • 9. Utah Jazz: 19-18
  • 10. Golden State Warriors: 18-18
  • 11. Minnesota Timberwolves: 16-19
  • 12. Oklahoma City Thunder: 15-20
  • 13. Los Angeles Lakers: 14-21
  • 14. San Antonio Spurs: 12-23
  • 15. Houston Rockets: 10-25

The Thunder are currently 2.5 games away from qualifying, but are also just 5.0 games ahead of the worst team in the West. A lot is going to happen as more than half of the season is left behind. But next month will ultimately decide what the end of the season will look like for Oklahoma City.

The deadline for the trade will be on February 9, when the Thunder will likely have to make a decision.

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