NBA Hoops

How Josh Giddey’s playoff limitations raise immediate and long-term questions about Thunder’s plans

How Josh Giddey's playoff limitations raise immediate and long-term questions about Thunder's plans

A little bit more than a year ago, the Oklahoma City Thunder were fighting just to reach the Play-In Tournament. Reaching the postseason would have been a meaningful signal of progress for a team that had spent the previous two seasons in the lottery, but Oklahoma City remained conservative in how it dealt with a minor Shai Gilgeous-Alexander ankle injury. He largely managed to play through the pain, but a critical loss against the Charlotte Hornets came with their star on the sideline. In addition, Oklahoma City used 12 different players in that late-season loss, a rarity even in a standard regular-season game let alone what might have been considered a must-win.

Though coach Mark Daigneault did not directly address the injury or his rotations for the Hornets game, he was asked if he was prioritizing a postseason appearance in the way he approached the end of the season. In short, he was not.

“I think if it is an outcome that is downstream of our process and the way that we’re trying to do things it would be great because it would just be kind of a marker along the way, but it’s not so important that it’s gonna distract us from our way of doing things,” Daigneault said of the potentially reaching the 2023 postseason. “We need to bet on that, day over day over day, we’ve done that for two or three years. That’s what’s put us in a position to compete for the play-in, so for us to abandon that at this point would be hasty, and quite frankly, we need to double-down on this mentality past this season. That’s why we’re doing what we’re doing.”

The Thunder ultimately did reach the 2023 Play-In Tournament. One year later they became the youngest No. 1 seed in NBA history, and they did so while maintaining that same principle of emphasizing process over results. No member of their team averaged more than 34 minutes, but 13 players averaged at least 10 minutes per game when they appeared, and despite being one of the NBA’s healthiest teams, they used a total of 20 players in 10 or more games this season. When the entire basketball world told them to trade for a bigger, traditional backup center, they not only declined to do so at the deadline, but actively facilitated such an acquisition for a Western Conference rival, the Dallas Mavericks, when they sent out a first-round pick in a deal that landed the Mavericks Daniel Gafford

Even as they reached the postseason, they didn’t…

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