Using History To Predict OKC Thunder’s Path To Play-In Tournament

Just 25 games remain in the 2022-23 season for the Oklahoma City Thunder, meaning every matchup carries tremendous weight. Whether the team ends up making the postseason or lands in the lottery, the standings are extremely tight meaning there’s a wide range of outcomes.

If Oklahoma City is going to make the play-in and earn a spot in the true playoffs, the tenth seed in the Western Conference is the threshold. As of today, the Thunder are on track to win 39 or 40 games, which would put them just a few games below .500 at the end of the season.

While that doesn’t seem like a great record on the surface, history would suggest that 39 wins is plenty to earn the tenth seed. Over the past seven seasons, a 48.3% win rate, which is what the Thunder are currently at, would have earned a team a spot in the play-in all but once in the Western Conference.

  • 2021-22: 34-48 (.415)
  • 2020-21: 33-39 (.458)
  • 2019-20: 34-39 (.466)
  • 2018-19: 37-45 (.451)
  • 2017-18: 42-40 (.512)
  • 2016-17: 34-48 (.415)
  • 2015-16: 33-49 (.402)

note: the 2019-20 and 2020-21 seasons were shortened due to COVID-19 pandemic

The one outlier over the past seven years was the 2017-18 campaign, in which the LA Clippers went two games over .500 and landed in the tenth seed. In that season, the team below them in the standings was 35-47, which is a significant drop off.

Even since 2021 with teams being incentivized to be in the top ten with the introduction of the play-in, with two additional teams in each conference having a chance to make the postseason, there still hasn’t been a 35 win team land outside of the top 10 in the West.

With that in mind, this season does feel different. The Western Conference is wide open, which has resulted in more teams staying competitive through the end of February. There’s also quite a few teams currently on the bubble that have a legitmate playoff roster on paper.

Over the past seven seasons, the team that finished tenth in the Western Conference won an average of 44.5% of their games. In the 2022-23 campaign, all but two teams in the West are above that percentage.

That could change quickly as teams pivot, but the standings are much closer than they generally are at this point in a given season.

Regardless, dating back to 2015 history tells us that if Oklahoma City continues at this pace, the team will be in the play-in. Furthermore, the Thunder would need to go 11-13 the rest of the way to cross that historic 44.5% mark, which feels obtainable given the strength of schedule to close out the season.

It’s unclear what happens to the other 12 Western Conference teams that are in the play-in race, but the Oklahoma City are on pace to finish in the top 10 and have a chance at making the playoffs. The Thunder haven’t made the postseason since the 2019-20 season, which featured a roster that only Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Lu Dort remain from.

Could this be the year that they get back in? If so, this would be one of the quickest and most successful rebuilds in recent history. If not, Oklahoma City will have Chet Holmgren and another lottery pick joining the rotation next season and will be likely be projected to be a playoff team.

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