OKC Thunder Bench Has Quietly Been Productive Early In Season

Entering this season, expectations were unclear for the Oklahoma City Thunder. The youngest team in the NBA, they’d be without their No. 2 pick in Chet Holmgren and were projected to win roughly 24 games.

Not even a third of the way through the 2022-23 campaign, Oklahoma City has been much better than expected with a record of 11-14.

This is in large part due to the exceptional play of Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, who is averaging better than 30 points per game and has emerged as one of the best players in the NBA despite being just 24 years old.

The Thunder are in roster exploration mode, with a full 15-man slate of players they’re trying to give minutes to. As such, OKC actually plays its bench more than any team in the league.

Oklahoma City’s reserves play the most minutes in the NBA, and also have notched the second-most possessions. The depth is real on this team, with a ton of young talent that can impact the game.

The starting lineup has been fluid all season, which has resulted in quite a few of Oklahoma City’s better players coming off the bench situationally. Especially the two primary veterans on this roster in Kenrich Williams and Mike Muscala have spent a ton of time with the reserves, which has been successful.

As such, the Thunder bench has actually been a bright spot during this season. When stacking up Oklahoma City’s bench production against the rest of the NBA, they’re league average or better in most major categories. This goes for both the offensive and defensive end of the floor.

  • 39.0 PTS (7th)
  • 18.5 REB (3rd)
  • 18.5 AST (13th)
  • 3.2 STL (5th)
  • 2.3 BLK (4th)
  • 45.6% FG (18th)
  • 34.5% 3PT (14th)

Raw statistics certainly don’t tell the whole story, especially for a reserve unit that plays more than any team. It should be expected that Oklahoma City ranks highly given there’s more opportunity to generate these numbers.

However, when looking per 100 possessions to normalize production across the league, the Thunder bench is still solid. Oklahoma City reserves have notched a top 15 offensive and defensive rating, along with a top 10 overall net rating.

This means that when the Gilgeous-Alexander and other starters take a seat, the players replacing them on the court are reliable. In fact, the Thunder lead the league in 15-point comebacks this season, several of which have been driven by the bench providing a spark late in games.

What’s even more interesting is how the reserves are producing points. Oklahoma City is known for lacking size in the frontcourt, but that hasn’t bothered the bench unit. The Thunder generate the most points in the paint of any team off the bench and the second most second chance points.

These reserves also take care of the ball, putting forth a top 10 assist-to-turnover ratio. Not only do they limit mistakes, but members of OKC’s bench also have a league average effective field goal percentage, which adjusts for the fact that a 3-point field goal is worth one more point than a 2-point field goal.

What tends to throw opposing teams off is the change in play style between Thunder starters and reserves. The starting unit plays with the quickest pace in the entire NBA, while the bench is closer to the middle of the league in that regard.

Overall, the bench has been productive, but does things differently. The combination of Gilgeous-Alexander playing like a superstar along with a deep, young team has been key to Oklahoma City’s early success this season.

As of now, the Thunder are just two games out of the play-in picture with a seven-game homestand at Paycom Center upcoming , when momentum could be gained.

Source: https://www.forbes.com/sites/nicholascrain/2022/12/10/okc-thunder-bench-has-quietly-been-productive-early-in-season/