If you haven’t paid much attention to the Oklahoma City Thunder this season, don’t beat yourself up about it. In fact, many Oklahomans haven’t either, as the team currently ranks last in leaguewide attendance. One of the most competitive franchises in recent memory is finally undergoing a rebuild, and make no mistake about it, it’s going to be a slow one.
Over the past three seasons, GM Sam Presti has traded three Hall-of-Fame talents – Russell Westbrook, Paul George, and Chris Paul. The return from all of those transactions includes a single rising star, a few young prospects, and an insurmountable number of draft picks.
After a long competitive stretch, the Oklahoma City Thunder are undergoing a substantial rebuild. Halfway through its second season, what is the forecast of the current roster?
Presti has accumulated more than 35 future NBA draft picks (19 being first-rounders) over the next seven years, essentially swapping All-NBA players for high school lowerclassmen, and in some cases, middle schoolers.
It’s a remarkable achievement, but more of a confounding strategy. However, Presti has duly earned the right to experiment after drafting three MVPs in three consecutive seasons (without the aid of a number one overall pick I might add).
Oklahoma City is playing the long game, and fans and spectators like you and I are now subject to some grotesque professional basketball. The Thunder are dead last in points per game (100.6), offensive rating (102.5), team field goal percentage (41.6%), team three-point percentage (31.1 percent), and assists per game (20.9).
Obviously, the Thunder are lacking talent, going the route of stockpiling assets rather than building a decent rotation. And that strategy has rightfully positioned them as the NBA’s youngest team.
Although the group is incredibly outmatched, they have avoided the league’s bottom three. 47 games in, a little beyond mid-season, the Thunder sit 14-33, tied for last-place with Rockets in the Western Conference, and a few wins ahead of the abysmal Pistons and Magic of the Eastern Conference.
There are signs of optimism within the organization, starting with the fact the team has already constructed an average defense, something the lowly teams just mentioned surely can’t say.
They are amazingly 13th in opponent points per game (107.9, one spot ahead of the defending champion Bucks), 14th in defensive rating (110.0), eighth in rebounds per game (45.8), and 16th in steals per game (7.4). It has lifted them to wins over Memphis, Denver, Toronto, and the LA Lakers (twice!).
But the truer sign of optimism within the organization is that the front office has acquired legitimate building blocks. When Presti traded the franchise’s superstars Russell Westbrook and Paul George in the summer of 2019, the team netted back only one young player. A very bold strategy, but they hit on it. Presti has also found riches in the past few drafts and in the open player market.
A year and a half into the Thunder’s rebuild, we’re beginning to see the future take shape. There are clear positives fans and spectators should be excited about, some blatant negatives we shouldn’t see much longer, and a handful of curiosities the jury is very much still out on.
Let’s dive into the forecast of the Oklahoma City Thunder at the midway point of the 2021-22 season – the second year of their extensive rebuild back to the top.