Forecasting the Oklahoma City Thunder at mid-season

Nov 4, 2021; Los Angeles, California, USA; Oklahoma City Thunder guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (2) celebrates after a three-point basket in the fourth quarter against the Los Angeles Lakers at Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports
Nov 4, 2021; Los Angeles, California, USA; Oklahoma City Thunder guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (2) celebrates after a three-point basket in the fourth quarter against the Los Angeles Lakers at Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports /
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Forecasting the Oklahoma City Thunder at mid-season
MINNEAPOLIS, MN – JANUARY 05: Josh Giddey #3 of the Oklahoma City Thunder gestures after scoring against the Minnesota Timberwolves during the fourth quarter at Target Center on January 5, 2022 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Harrison Barden/Getty Images) /

Forecasting the Oklahoma City Thunder at mid-season: The positives

Sam Presti and the Oklahoma City Thunder caught lightning in a bottle three times in three consecutive drafts when they selected Kevin Durant with the second overall pick in 2007, Russell Westbrook with the fourth overall pick in 2008, and James Harden with the third overall pick in 2009. During their three years together, the young trio put Oklahoma City on the map and clinched their first trip to the NBA Finals.

Today, the Thunder still don’t have any championship banners, and they’re without all three of their MVP draft selections. There’s no guarantee the team will have the same superstar talent they once had in this new era, or ever again to be honest, yet they are already getting close with one of their returns.

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander was manipulated the minute he arrived in the NBA, traded on Draft Night in 2018 by the Charlotte Hornets to the LA Clippers. They saw an opportunity to pry out picks from Michael Jordan’s team over the rights to Miles Bridges, using 6’6″ Gilgeous-Alexander as bait.

Despite not being a top-10 selection, Gilgeous-Alexander led all rookies in games played (82) and was the only lottery pick to make the postseason, in which he started all six games at point guard for the Clippers. After his excellent freshman campaign, he was shipped off by the team he helped make a winner to the rebuilding Thunder, once again being the second piece in a trade.

In his first year with Oklahoma City (the first for the Thunder without any of their MVP selections), “SGA” emerged as a dynamite shooting guard and sensational rebounder, joining forces with Chris Paul in the backcourt to amazingly keep the Thunder in the playoff picture.

Knowing the team still intended to rebuild and Paul’s stock was red-hot, the Oklahoma City Thunder sent away his tag-team partner and made him the new focus of the team. In his second year with Oklahoma City, on a team with a far more depleted roster than before, Gilgeous-Alexander leveled up again as a lethal all-around scorer and impressive lead playmaker back at the point.

SGA is no longer second fiddle to someone else’s violin. He’s a bonafide star and the future of the Thunder, earning a five-year, $173 million extension that finally puts his shuffling to rest. As alluded to before, Gilgeous-Alexander is the only active young player the Thunder received in exchange for Russell Westbrook and Paul George, and at just 23 years old, his stats closely resemble the latter he was directly traded for.

He’s averaging 23.0 points and 5.5 assists to George’s 24.7 points and 5.5 assists, shooting 42.4 percent from the field and 28.2 percent from three-point range to George’s 42.1 percent from the field and 32.3 percent from three-point range and has a 53.3 percent true shooting percentage to George’s 52.8 percent, all while George is in the prime of his career.

Oklahoma City has successfully recycled their superstars for an up-and-coming one, but of course, that’s not enough to rebuild with. There’s a second piece, only a rookie, handing the Thunder another striking positive for the future.

Josh Giddey was this year’s international man of mystery. The golden child of Australia making a quick leap to the NBA. Taken with the sixth selection in this past year’s NBA Draft, Giddey was viewed by many as a developmental project, fitting the timeline of the Thunder’s very long rebuild. However, the Aussie has very quickly won over the hearts of Thunder fans and received praise from spectators like myself.

A long facilitator at 6-8, he has the frame of a small forward, produces like a point guard, and contributes as a highly-effective shooting guard next to SGA. Giddey is not only agile, but an aggressive rebounder, too, pulling down 7.4 per game.

And he’s not only brilliant, but a magical passer sending out 6.2 assists per game, which would be even higher if he wasn’t on the NBA’s youngest and worst offense. To top it off, he’s a crafty slasher, juking past guards with stop-motion drives and reaching around big men with long-armed layups.

It looks as though Giddey could become the point guard and Gilgeous-Alexander could flip back to shooting guard, allowing the former to use his unique size and skill-set for playmaking, and the latter to focus on scoring and defending opposing backcourts. The two form a very talented and tough-to-handle tandem to lead the rebuild, yet there are a few more contributors worth mentioning as foundational pieces.

The first is Luguentz Dort – a high-scoring wing who spaces the floor and battles opposing stars in the “Dorture Chamber”. He hasn’t performed efficiently (career 39.2 percent from the field) and he’s undersized for his role (only 6-3). However, he has not shied away from a starring role, and brings very important tenacity to the lineup, likely the main reason the team is already an average defense.

The second is Tre Mann – a long and energetic point guard who can get to the rim in a flash but also shoot threes off the dribble. He’s operated as a sixth man who can create offense (7.0 points per game in 17.1 minutes per game) and shorten deficits with the long ball (36.1 percent from deep), making for a nice backup to the starring Gilgeous-Alexander.

The third is Kenrich Williams – formerly a jack-of-all-trades-master-of-none but now a reliable and skilled rotation player. He limits negative plays (45.5 percent from the field and 0.8 turnovers per game), hits open shots (38.2 percent from deep), and lifts his unit through hustle (4.1 rebounds and 0.9 steals per game), making things easier for the young Oklahoma City Thunder team.

The two cornerstones, the third starter, and the two reserves forecast as clear positives for the Oklahoma City Thunder moving forward. They’ve shown flashes of greatness, often show up on the stat sheet, and make winning plays in a lineup destined to fail. In short stints with the team, they’re providing loud cracks of thunder and bringing the rainfall.