Productive bench fuels Oklahoma City Thunder’s success

Dennis Schroder OKC
Photo: NBA.com

The Oklahoma City Thunder aren’t at the top of the list of teams expected to contend for a championship this season.

But head coach Billy Donovan’s club is making a push for greater respect.

The Thunder have triumphed in 15 of their last 18 road games.

OKC (33-22) and the Dallas Mavericks are tied for the sixth-best record in the Western Conference.

Impressive bench

A big reason for the Thunder’s success is the impressive performance of their backup players. OKC’s backups have outscored opposing backups in 41 of their 55 games. The Thunder’s second unit, led by backup point guard Dennis Schroder (19.3 points, 3.9 rebounds and 4.1 assists per game), includes some of the league’s lesser-known players. Nerlens Noels (7.8 ppg), Hamidou Diallo (6.4) and Luguentz Dort (5.8), among others. Starer Shai Gilgeous-Alexander leads the club in scoring (19.5 ppg).

Schroder has been an effective backup throughout his seven-season career, including in the 2019-20 campaign as Chris Paul’s backup. He’s started in 176 of his 485 regular-season games. He averaged a career-high 19.4 ppg for the Atlanta Hawks in 2017-18.

The veteran playmaker is impressed with Paul’s role in leading the team.

“He’s awesome,” Schroder told The Oklahoman about his teammate. “He’s one of the best or top point guards who ever played this game.”

Schroder continued: “He changed the culture here as well — how we’re playing together as a team. He’s talking to every one of us every time during games, practices. Even if we’re off the court he talks to us. Leading this group. Obviously he did a lot for us so he deserves it.”

The NBA named an All-Star for the 10th time for Sunday’s game in Chicago.

New-look Oklahoma City Thunder

With Paul George now starring for the Los Angeles Clippers and Russell Westbrook plying his craft for the Houston Rockets, the Thunder have a much different look this season.

Credit must go to Donovan for keeping the team in contention.

“He’s done one of the more masterful jobs in the league this year,” San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said of Donovan earlier this week.

Solid defense is a key part of the Donovan-led team’s overall effectiveness.

The Thunder’s defensive rating is 12th among 30 teams, yielding 108.8 points per game before the All-Star break.