3. Oklahoma City Thunder
Through extremely good drafting and roster management, Oklahoma City Thunder general manager Sam Presti has revolutionized the Thunder franchise around star guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. The Thunder were a fringe play-in team just a season ago, but with the number two overall pick in the 2022 NBA Draft in Chet Holmgren returning from injury this season, the young Thunder have ascended to another level to start the 2023-24 NBA season with the addition of a rim protector at the back end as they now sit at 10-4.
The Thunder play extremely fast as they rank seventh in pace in the entire NBA, and all of their young players have seemingly taken a step in their development every year since they were drafted. The Thunder have a good amount of shooting off the bench too, and their only real deficiency in their starting lineup is their lack of positional size at the three and four spots as well as Holmgren’s inability to anchor down against stockier big men.
Oklahoma City doesn’t have a real answer for Luka Doncic, but their length at the point of attack will make Kyrie Irving’s life abysmal when they face off against Dallas. The Thunder would throw a lot of traps at both Irving and Doncic because of how fast they can get pressure on the ball, so Dallas’ shooters will have to be extra savvy in terms of their floor spacing.
Dereck Lively II would be the X-factor in a potential Mavs-Thunder playoff series, as diminishing the effect of the dynamic three-point shooting and shot-blocking big in Holmgren will be a tall task for the fellow rookie center. The Mavericks don’t look like they have the defensive wherewithal to match up with the Thunder on paper, and if Jalen Williams continues to develop as a playmaker and shot creator then the Thunder will be able to compete against anyone in the league.
The Mavericks do have two of the best three players in a playoff series with the Thunder. However, as of right now their defensive inconsistencies would probably override their ability to win a playoff series versus Oklahoma City.