Many expected the Oklahoma City Thunder to move on from either Chris Paul or Dennis Schroder once they landed Shai Gilgeous-Alexander.
After all, these three players all play the same position and it would be hard to build around Gilgeous-Alexander with Paul or Schroder potentially taking away from his touches. As such, Oklahoma City was considered a team most likely to sell their assets at the trade deadline.
Meanwhile, however, only the Milwaukee Bucks have won more games than the Thunder (13) since December 1. One of the factors for the success has been the decision to play their three point guards at the same time, which coach Billy Donovan hinted he would do before the season began.
Oklahoma City originally started using this group more often when Terrance Ferguson missed time between December 6 and December 14. But now even with Ferguson back in the rotation, it is clear that there is something positive there with the three-guard lineups.
Paul, Gilgeous-Alexander and Schroder have played 206 minutes together so far. During that time, they have outscored opponents by a ridiculous 26.7 points per 100 possessions. Their offensive rating (125.9) has been the best in the NBA among all three-man lineups with as much playing time together.
Steven Adams, who alongside forward Danillo Gallinari has been on the floor with the guards for the majority of these possessions, explained why it has worked so well (via The Athletic):
“You’ve got four playmakers that put a lot of pressure on different parts of the floor. You’ve got Dennis who can get to the paint, you’ve got Shai who can also, also Chris who can, and Gallo … It’s pretty tough on the switches. Say one forces a switch, and they’ve got a guard on Gallo. They can all attack and cause the defense to make these sort of rotations. They can beat their man whenever they want.”
While they have obviously had team success with the group, the three have all played well individually when sharing the floor as well. All three players are scoring at least 20 points per 36 minutes when they’ve played together.
It is worth mentioning that more than half of the minutes that this trio has been used (115) have occurred in the fourth quarter. Perhaps the biggest surprise is how well they have shut down opponents to close games.
Paul spoke about their defensive prowess as a unit despite being relatively undersized (via Oklahoman.com):
“We all bring different abilities defensively. Shai has his length. Dennis is a pest, you know what I mean? Me and Dennis usually argue a lot of times about who’s going to guard who. Like, I had Luka for a second, and Dennis said he wanted him. So, we all bring something different.”
Their collaborative perimeter defense has been arguably their best attribute. Teams are shooting just 28.5 percent from three-point range with the three guards on the floor, per NBA Wowy.
It is what has allowed the Thunder to be a potential playoff contender in the Western Conference despite lowly preseason expectations.