Isaiah Joe can be a difference maker in the first round

As Oklahoma City heads into its first playoff series since the 2020 bubble season, there is optimism and excitement surrounding one of the youngest teams in the NBA. Despite being ranked No. 1 in an impossibly tough Western Conference, the Thunder still have plenty of doubters. It’s up to the team to prove them wrong.

Of course, Oklahoma City’s big three will have to show up. That’s the key ingredient to a deep playoff run and proof that this team belongs. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander will have to play MVP level basketball, and Jalen Williams And Chet Holmgren can’t miss a beat. Right now though, it feels like Oklahoma City’s top players are well-oiled machines, you know what you’re going to get with them every time they step on the floor.

Much of the playoff pressure will trickle down to the Thunder’s role players, who have done a great job this season. Oklahoma City is a top 3-point shooting team in the entire NBA and marksmanship Isaiah Joe has been in charge for two seasons in a row. His impact against the Pelicans and beyond could have huge implications for the Thunder’s success.

Mark Daigneault has praised New Orleans’ defense several times and has great respect for the team’s length and strategy. The Pelicans force the ball to the sideline and try to shrink the floor, which could cause problems for Gilgeous-Alexander if he has less room to work. When someone like Joe catches fire, it becomes exponentially more difficult to shrink the floor and eliminate the driving lines. It will be crucial to force the Pelicans to pick up their poison.

Joe played a career-high 78 games this season and logged nearly 10 minutes per game for the Thunder. He is averaging 8.2 points and 2.3 rebounds on 45.8% shooting from the floor and 41.6% from 3-point range. Joe’s defense has also improved significantly and Oklahoma City always seems to be a little better when he’s on the floor.

He also forms a great duo with Gilgeous-Alexander, setting quick ghost screens and forcing defenses to choose between driving lanes and pick-and-pops.

Joe won’t be at the top of the scouting report, but he could be a serious difference maker for the Thunder in the first round.

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