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NBA Odds: The Oklahoma City Thunder are ready for the next step

The young team from Oklahoma has its sights set on returning to the postseason

NBA: Oklahoma City Thunder at Minnesota Timberwolves Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports

When the Mavericks lost an eight-point lead to Oklahoma City in the final two minutes last October, it was clear the Thunder were not going to be a pushover. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander emerged as a superstar and guided them to 40 wins and a play-in berth. They did this without second-overall pick Chet Holmgren in a pretty well-rounded Western Conference. Now they have expectations, and if all goes well, they’re going to meet them.

Oklahoma City Thunder (Over/Under 44.5 Wins)

Key Adds - Chet Holmgren, Davis Bertans, Victor Oladipo

Key Losses - N/A

The Thunder were in an ideal spot last season: lots of young pieces, unlimited future assets, and nothing to lose. They truly had a stress-free environment; no one expected them to win anything. As a result of this, the Thunder played great basketball all year. They were tied for 12th in defensive rating and 16th in offensive rating. For a team whose average age was a hair over 23 years old entering last season, the middle of the pack is very good.

Their over/under for wins was 23.5 last year, which they crushed with ease. The biggest reason was Gilgeous-Alexander’s leap into All-Star territory. A near seven-point increase in scoring was a product of his incredible pace, driving capability, and much-improved shooting. He shot 91 percent from the line on 11 attempts, and 51 percent from the field. There is no denying that he is a bonafide star and is capable of leading his team in big moments. The excitement for him has died down and expectations to be a top guard in the West have taken its place.

Not only did Gilgeous-Alexander emerge, but rookies Jaylin and Jalen Williams proved to be valuable players in their own right. Jaylin Williams, a hybrid big man from Arkansas, showed promise as a versatile defender and reliable shooter. Jalen Williams, a combo forward from Santa Clara, has star potential. He can score at every level, is big enough to defend most non-centers, and showed flashes of playmaking that suggested a higher ceiling. The two of them, paired with Josh Giddey and Lugentz Dort, create a platoon of tall, versatile forwards/guards that can defend you on one end and break you down on the other.

Adding Chet Holmgren to this team will only increase the defensive potential. They can go big, they can go small, and they can play “Raptors-ball”, where they roll out five guys between six-foot-six and six-foot-nine that are switchable and strong. If Oladipo can stay healthy, he adds a veteran presence along with Davis Bertans on the bench that makes this team deep. The Thunder also have great chemistry, which cannot be overlooked. They post on social media together all the time, seem to get along very well off the court and play well together on it. This team is going to make some noise in a very competitive Western Conference this season, and we could see them back in the playoffs for the first time in four years.

PREDICTION - Over 44.5 wins