Oklahoma City Thunder: The Most Dangerous 8 Seed Since the Turn of the Century?

It appears that the Thunder are set to make a playoff appearance as an 8 seed. How do they stack up against past 8 seeds?

The Oklahoma City Thunder sure have made headlines this season: some for better and some for worse. Their season, plagued with injuries to Kevin Durant and Serge Ibaka, has left the door wide open for the scintillating performances of Russell Westbrook, the Triple-Double factory himself. Although the team’s talent on the court is through the roof, their record is only 42-35 due to their talent not on the court.

Despite key injuries, however, it appears that the Thunder are set to make a playoff appearance as a very, very dangerous 8 seed that could spell peril for the top-seeded Golden State Warriors in the first round of the 2015 playoffs. Per our numbers, their odds of making the playoffs currently sit at 61.3%.

So, how does this season’s projected 8 seed compare to those since the turn of the century? Below is a list of past 8 seeds in the Western Conference and their respective efficiency rankings as well as their numberFire Efficiency Rating Derivatives (nERD). For those of you who are new to numberFire, nERD is a predictive metric of a team's ultimate winning percentage -- a nERD of 50 is average.

2002-2003Phoenix Suns44-38103.7102.554.6
2003-2004Denver Nuggets43-39103.9102.750.8
2004-2005Memphis Grizzlies45-37105.5102.958.1
2005-2006Sacramento Kings44-38106.710552.5
2006-2007Golden State Warriors42-40107107.448.8
2007-2008Denver Nuggets50-32110106.363.1
2008-2009Utah Jazz48-34110.1107.357.4
2009-2010Oklahoma City Thunder50-32108.3104.661.7
2010-2011Memphis Grizzlies46-36107.6105.157.4
2011-2012Utah Jazz36-30106.8106.151.9
2012-2013Houston Rockets45-37109.7106.158.1
2013-2014Dallas Mavericks49-33111.2108.756.8
2014-2015Oklahoma City ThunderTBD107.310555.4

While it's not common for an 8 seed to overthrow a 1 seed in the playoffs, the 2007 Warriors and 2011 Grizzlies have shown us that upsets do happen. However, this season’s Thunder team ranks right in the middle of the pack in all metrics. In fact, they rank lower both in offensive efficiency and nERD compared to the 2010 8-seeded Thunder that lost to the Lakers.

Unfortunately for Oklahoma City, all of their efficiency metrics have fallen across the board since the trade deadline on February 19th. Their offensive rating has fallen 1.8%, their defensive ranking by 1.4% and their nERD by a mere third of a percent. This decline is mostly due to Russell Westbrook’s increase in usage and his ability to stuff the stat sheet. While his triple-double circus exhibit has been the talk of the league, it has come at the cost of his team’s efficiency. While Westbrook’s superior ability has been the cause of his team’s resurgence, it could also cause its collapse to the feet of Stephen Curry, who almost doubles Russell Westbrook’s nERD ranking (9.7), with an impressive 19.3 nERD.

The numbers are not striking for the Thunder compared to past eighth seeds. The Thunder seem more like lightning this season: bright, enough to scare you, but just not making any real noise. I’m not sure Oklahoma City fans will have much reason to storm the court -- but, we will see if the Thunder has what it takes to keep rolling. Is that too many puns in one paragraph to analyze why the Thunder may be bolting home early? I didn’t think so, either.