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The Thunder are rounding into form at the right time

Oklahoma City have gone 6-2 since the turn of the year

NBA: Oklahoma City Thunder at Brooklyn Nets Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Last night, the Thunder walked into the Barclays Center in Brooklyn and defeated one of the best teams in the Eastern Conference. Oklahoma City won the final stanza, 37-22, and that run of play allowed the Thunder to storm to a win against Kyrie Irving’s Nets.

The Thunder have not lost a game played in New York for five years, it is an incredible statistic and Josh Giddey was a huge part of the Thunder’s win. Since the start of December, Giddey has found another gear into his play.

His physicality and willingness to take defenders off the drive made all the difference against a stout Nets’ defense. His drives collapsed the defense and generate countless open looks for his teammates. Josh’s passing ability has always been praised but his newfound aggression is pushing the Thunder forward in games.

His aggression as a passer is now paired with confident scoring. Josh is finishing at the rim more often and with excellent results. Last season, 19.6% of Giddey’s shot attempts came within three feet of the rim. This season, that number has shot up to 31.2%.

The increase in volume has been matched by an uptick in efficiency. Josh is shooting 64.2% on looks inside the charge circle. The strength Giddey added in the offseason is paying dividends on a nightly basis. He has improved at bumping defenders out of the way and creating space for shot attempts.

I honestly cannot think of a single-season improvement in Thunder history that is comparable to what Josh has achieved so far this year. His effective field percentage has gone up from 46.1% to 51.7%, a huge increase.

Before Giddey was taken by the Thunder in the 2021 NBA Draft, draft experts raved about his passing but were concerned that a lack of athleticism would make it difficult for him to score effectively in the NBA.

Giddey has seemingly solved that weakness in his game by using his physicality and size to bulldoze his way to the basket. His improvement in attacking the rim has also led to improved chemistry with Shai Gilgeous-Alexander.

Josh is collapsing the defense and he is finding Gilgeous-Alexander on the perimeter more often with pin-point passes. Gilgeous-Alexander is very good on catch and shoot jumpers so putting him in these situations is always a positive.

Josh’s improvement is symptomatic of the rising tide that the Thunder are currently riding. Oklahoma City are 6-2 in their last eight games and have claimed some major scalps over the last two weeks. The Celtics, Sixers and Nets are all expected to be in the hunt for the NBA title and OKC beat all three teams handily in the recent run of games.

Winning these games is a huge milestone for a young team to achieve. A quality win against top level opposition provides confidence to the entire roster and improves morale. However, it was the manner in which the Thunder won these games which was surprising to me.

In the Celtics game, the Thunder calmly built on a good start and used a scoring explosion in the second quarter to break Boston’s spirit. At no point did complacency or sloppiness afflict the Thunder’s play. The likes of Josh Giddey and Isaiah Joe were relentless in establishing an unassailable lead.

In the Sixers game, it was Jaylin Williams who set the tone for the Thunder. Williams, in just his fifth start, took the game to Joel Embiid. Embiid is one of the best bigs in the NBA but J-Will showed no fear or awe for Joel’s reputation.

Williams scored 7 quick points in the first quarter and took Embiid off the drive for two easy buckets inside. He also sacrificed his body and drew a charge against the Cameroonian center. Embiid picked up two fouls in the first quarter and those fouls seemed to take him out of the rhythm of the game.

Although Embiid had an efficient scoring night, his defensive effort was off and he played quite passively.

The Thunder are playing with a calmness that is not usual for such a young team. If you look at a team like the Rockets or the Magic, their play can be frantic and reactive particularly against good opponents. Oklahoma City are not playing like a young, tanking team.

All of this bodes well for the second half of the season. Oklahoma City have one of the easiest schedules in the league and should have a good opportunity to push for playoff basketball.