It’s early in the 2023-24 campaign, but the sample size is beginning to allow more clear projections. Roughly 10% into the season, the Oklahoma City Thunder sit at fifth in the Western Conference with a record of 5-3, ironically being undefeated against teams in the East (5-0) and winless against teams in the West (0-3). The latter will be interesting to follow over the course of the season, especially as it relates to tiebreakers and conference records potentially coming into play.
What’s been fascinating is the team’s strategy of playing the young guys on the team. Players like Davis Bertans, Aleksej Pokusevski and Vasilije Micic have more experience playing professionally than others on the team, but prospects like Cason Wallace and Ousmane Dieng have seen significant minutes over them.
Oklahoma City has looked good offensively, notching a 115.2 offensive rating (7th in NBA) and the best true shooting percentage of any team in the league. With that in mind, there is clearly room to grow on that end, as the team attempts to generate more frequent shots. While the Thunder is third in the NBA in field goal efficiency (49.5%) and second in 3-point percentage (39.3%), the volume just hasn’t been there. Despite playing at the fifth fastest pace and playing the eighth most possessions, OKC is 26th in field goal attempts at 86.6 per game.
While finding ways to generate more shots should be an emphasis moving forward, being better on the glass should also be a focus. The Thunder has really struggled rebounding the ball, currently owning the second worst defensive rebound rate in the NBA. Furthermore, another struggle for the Thunder has been on the defensive side of the ball in stopping opponents from scoring. After two consecutive seasons of being a near top-ten defensive team, Oklahoma City currently sits 20th. While the offense has been good, the defensive issues have led to a league-average net rating for the team overall.
Getting more into the play of individuals on the roster, what have the themes been?
Chet Holmgren’s Dominance
With high expectations being inserted as an immediate starter in his first NBA season, Chet Holmgren has been phenomenal. He’s changed the game on both ends of the floor, helping create space on offense and protecting the rim on defense.
Through his first eight NBA games, Holmgren has notched averages of 16.8 points, 7.9 rebounds, 2.6 assists, 2.5 blocks and one steal per contest. He’s second in the entire NBA in total blocks and third in 3-point shooting percentage. Furthermore, he has ranked in the top 15 in Player Efficiency Rating (PER), Value Over Replacement Player (VORP) and Box Plus/Minus (BPM) and Win Shares.
Early Struggles for Josh Giddey
Similar to last season, Josh Giddey has struggled to begin the year. There’s no reason for concern given he’s a proven player at this level, but there could be a number of factors contributing to this.
For one, he was the focal point of the Australian team at the 2023 FIBA World Cup and didn’t get a full offseason of rest and recover because of it. Furthermore, he’s learning to play within a new role as Holmgren integrates with the team, trying to find his groove within the flow of the offense. It’s not that Giddey has been bad thus far, but he hasn’t made the year three leap.
Cason Wallace’s Absurd Efficiency
There’s no chance he maintains this level of efficiency, but Cason Wallace has gotten off to an insane start to his rookie campaign. Through eight games, he’s knocked down 27 of his 39 shots from the floor (69.2%), including eight of his 14 triples (57.1%) to this point. He has also converted on all eight of his free throw attempts.
As such, Wallace is second in the NBA in 3-point efficiency and third in overall field goal percentage. He’s also one of five players to have not missed a single free throw while taking at least eight this season. He will certainly regress to the mean, but even when that happens he can lean on his phenomenal on-ball defense to continue being one of the most impactful rookies in the league.
Lu Dort Thriving in Role
It’s not easy to adapt to a new role — like we’ve seen with Giddey — but Lu Dort has been perfect in that respect. With more scoring on the floor, he’s decreased his shot attempts to just over nine per game, which is his fewest since his rookie campaign.
Not only has he been more selective in his shots, but he’s also seen a huge uptick in efficiency. Dort is shooting 52.5% from beyond the arc on five attempts per game. Pair that with his stout defense and there’s no question he’s been a perfect fit in the rotation so far this season.
Following a long homestand, Oklahoma City will hit the road more often and face a tougher schedule over the next few weeks. As the team continues to mesh and challenges are met, it will be interesting to see how one of the youngest teams in the league responds.