While Up The Thunder was mostly a 3-man effort, we’ve been incredibly lucky to land a group of talented contributors here at Boomtown Hoops. We’re starting to learn our leadership style is more Michael Scott than Robert California — so we called a conference room meeting* to discuss some Thunder/bubble topics with a few members of the team.
*first of many such meetings
The NBA is definitely coming back, right? ….Right?
Cody Beat: There is too much money to be lost all-around for the season not to resume. Given the current surge in cases, the biggest issue will be how well they can isolate the NBA from the rest of the park. 80-90% chance they will start, but will they be able to finish? That’s the question.
Jesse Crittenden: My gut says yes, but I’m not convinced it’s a done deal. Coronavirus cases are surging, especially in Florida, and if more players decide they won’t go to Disney, I think it’s possible the NBA will reconsider whether it’s worth it to continue. Let’s say it’s 75/25 they resume.
Jacob Silva: The NBA has the best plan I’ve seen for reopening. Even our nation’s infectious disease expert is on board. They will move forward with the layout they have now, but it will be important for everyone to understand that dates are fluid and the road through the remainder of the 2020 season will be bumpy.
Jessie Postier: “If LeBron James said he hooping, we all hooping.” (Don’t worry, I’m more disgusted in myself for quoting Pat Bev than you ever could be.) Seriously, though, if the league thinks their plan is going to work there is no reason for me to doubt them. The real test will be if/when players test positive in the bubble.
What Thunder player is most likely to get busted for breaking the bubble rules?
Josh Callaway: I’m going to go with the sleeper pick here — the rules master himself, Chris Paul. Everyone made the joke that he would be the #1 snitch, so how do you find the MOST guys breaking quarantine? By breaking it yourself and catching guys in the act. Just wait until he catches LeBron out and about right before Thunder-Lakers in the second round…going to be fantastic.
Jessie Postier: Fashion icon Dennis The Menace busts out of quarantine to up his game after being voted second-team by LeagueFits People’s Choice.
Jacob Silva: I’ve got to roll with Nerlens Noel on this one. He’s already checked off “eating a hot dog on the sidelines,” from his list. Who’s to stop this man from eating a hot dog on Splash Mountain when the Disney staff is away?
Bobby Howard: This is an easy one: Darius Bazley. The guy isn’t even a month removed from being a teenager. I’m just saying, if I was locked in a bubble at 20, I’d try to find my way out for some mischief.
We all agree Steven Adams can’t get loose in the park (won’t want to leave) — what does a day at Disney World look like for Big Kiwi?
Kevin Robertson: Steve loves the rides and the characters are great, but the thing that truly captivates him, and keeps him from wanting to leave the park, is “the food, mate!” Adams runs around like a kid in a candy store, shoveling down the park’s obscure treats like pork nacho cheese fries, corn dog nuggets, and pineapple bread from Kona Cafe. Alas, he is ultimately found at Victoria and Albert’s chef’s table of the Grand Floridian, enjoying a double portion of the $200 12-course meal.
Bobby Howard: The key to any escape is a good disguise. With a similar build, hairstyle, and Maori tattoos, the Big Kiwi would be nearly impossible to distinguish from Maui from the film Moana. Once he suits up (with giant hook in tow), Steve would be able to wander the park as he pleases, downing churros and riding all the rides he could muster — until he inevitably gets stuck in the Dumbo The Flying Elephant ride.
Editor’s Note: I shut this question down after two responses because one of them has to be the correct answer.
OK, Let’s get down to business.
Who is the most important player on the Thunder roster going into the bubble?
Jesse Crittenden: I would argue for Dennis Schroder. His 19 points-per-game, with his 47/38/83 shooting splits, has made him an absolutely crucial part of the Thunder’s bench and closing lineups. The CP3/SGA/Schroder lineup doesn’t work without his impressive shooting and playmaking from earlier this season.
Jackson Hairfield: Chris Paul. He’s the leader and this team will go as far as he takes them. After having over three months to recover, he should be as fresh as he has ever been going into the playoffs. It’s hard to see this team beyond the 2nd round, but if anyone can make Disney magic, it’s one of the best point guards of all time.
Jessie Postier: A healthy Steven Adams. Post-All-Star-Break Steven put up impressive numbers against the Nuggets and Spurs (19 pts & 17 reb and 21 pts & 14 reb respectively). The vibe of this break is different, but significantly longer. If the All-Star break was a quick fix, this could be a bandaid on steroids.
Jacob Silva: I’ll be curious to see how SGA performs during the playoffs next to Chris Paul. Scoring is fairly balanced across this roster, but on the defensive end, SGA is bound to have his hands full with high-level guard play in the first round. After the occasional lapse on that end of the floor this season in OKC, it will be interesting to see if he’s developed further on defense when playoff scheming comes into the fold.
Outside of Dennis Schroder, what member of the bench needs to step up most?
Kevin Roberston: Noel has been great, so I will go with Bazley. Baze has the chance to return to gameplay with the perspective (and body) of a second-year player. If Bazely can provide solid D, and an ability to get to the rim and FT line on offense, the 2nd unit will be able to hold its own.
Mitchell Jones: It’s controversial but Terrance Ferguson. With Dort now entrenched as the starting two-guard, Donovan will probably use Ferguson as the backup. If he can show he can stay on the court defensively and generate points somehow, it gives the Thunder an opportunity to rest Dort and have a reliable defender to take his place.
Jacob Silva: We’ve seen Terrance Ferguson struggle when his confidence falters. Now he may have lost his starting gig to Lu Dort, so it’ll be more important than ever that he stays engaged on defense and ready to pull the trigger on offense when a second-unit creator opens up a shot for him. Ferg had a tough year on and off the court, and Orlando could be the clean slate he needs to gain some positive momentum.
Kade Kimble: Mike Muscala is a player that could benefit the team tremendously if he performs well. An improvement in his shooting percentages would change a lot for the bench unit. Bazley can get to the rack, Shröder and Noel would have more space on a pick-and-roll, and even Ferg could some back door cuts. If Muscala can improve his interior defense, Billy can slide him in at center if the other bigs get in foul trouble. Finding consistency on both ends would be huge for Muscala, but also very beneficial to the team.
There’s a glimmer of hope among fans that Andre Roberson will emerge in Orlando. Do we get a Dre cameo in the playoffs? If not, do we ever see him again?
Bobby Howard: Assuming Roberson’s lateral quickness hasn’t fallen off a cliff (which it likely did) and his conditioning is good enough, why not throw him out here to relieve a wing in foul trouble? I’d suspect to see him get some slight burn in the 8 games before the Playoffs, but that’s it.
Jessie Postier: The longer Roberson sits out, the less likely I see a return. However, we are headed to Disney World. Where else would Roberson stage a magical return? It’s not the most reliable game plan, but you have to admit the storyline does have a sparkle to it.
Jesse Crittenden: I have been worried we may not see Dre on the floor for the Thunder ever again for some time now, possibly even the NBA. But the four-month lay-off gives me hope there will be a Dre sighting in the bubble, at least in the 8 seeding games.
Kade Kimble: In the unlikely event Andre makes an appearance this season, his role and playing time would certainly be limited. If he does not make his return this season, I don’t see him back in OKC next season. As hard as it will be to let Dre go, he may even rehab and get healthier in a new situation. It’s a sad thought, but it could be time to part ways.
8 Games + Playoffs. What’s the Thunder’s playoff seed and how far will they go?
Cody Beat: I see the Thunder going 5-3 and moving up to the 4-seed. Let’s assume the Jazz fall off a bit because of injuries and slide to 6 or 7 — with the Rockets jumping up to the 5-seed. I’ll take the Thunder in 7 vs. HOU, then succumbing to the Lakers in the second round by way of a gentleman’s sweep.
Mitchell Jones: The Thunder get the 4-seed with a 5-3 record, beat the Jazz in 6 in the first round, then get swept by the Lakers in round two.
Kade Kimble: I have a good feeling the Thunder can catch fire — losing to the two Los Angeles teams; going 6-2. The resumption of the season will start off well with the Thunder blowing out the Jazz. The Thunder will stay hot and finish as the 4-seed. I would like to have high hopes and say OKC goes all the way — but with our luck, 2020 would find a way stop that.
Jesse Crittenden: The Thunder will go an admirable 4-4 in the final 8 games, slightly underachieving as they round back into form. OKC follows it up with a solid first-round win over the Jazz. But why stop there? Finals run and a 4-2 win over the Bucks for a title, here we come!
Finally — is this season a success no matter what happens in Orlando?
Bobby Howard: With how good the Thunder have been this year, it is really easy to forget what this season was supposed to be: a tankfest. Instead, the team somehow improved from last year, all while setting up the franchise perfectly for the future. Bubble success or not, this season is a win.
Jackson Hairfield: You tell me. After an offseason that completely changed the franchise, to have a new group of players buy-in and compete for a top-four seed in the West? To sign an undrafted free agent and turn him into a starter and still having SEVEN 1st Round Picks ahead? I’d say 100% success…maybe even 100.2%.
Kade Kimble: My expectations coming into this season were very low. I expected nothing more than tanking with a washed Chris Paul. I had even come to peace with that thought. The only thing I wanted to see was Shai blossom in front of our eyes. Luckily, I got far more than that. This season has been a major success in my eyes. While gathering draft picks, maintaining assets, and raising trade values, this team was simply just fun to watch yet still competitive. For such low expectations — they have had some great success this far.
Josh Callaway: This is hard because the Thunder have already greatly exceeded most people’s expectations of what they would be this year. Coming in, I was hopeful for a playoff appearance and just having a competitive first-round series. Now, it feels like this team needs to and really should be able to get out of the first round. In a best-of-7, OKC should beat Utah or Houston (their most likely opponents). So I would say it isn’t a success no matter what necessarily — this team needs to get out of the first round, we need to conquer those demons. Finish the season strong, win the first round, and hanging tough against whatever LA team we get in the second round is something I’d be happy with it.