Basketball Insider

Thoughts on Oklahoma City’s Opening Day Roster

Thoughts on Oklahoma City’s Opening Day Roster

15-man roster day provided a surprise: Semaj Christon, the 55th overall pick in the 2014 NBA draft, has ensured a spot on the Thunder’s final 2016-2017 roster. This is a mild shock considering that the Thunder tendered veteran point guard Ronnie Price a two year, $5 million deal in free agency. Now, that salary is wasted. Price, something of a fan favorite in Phoenix, will land on a competitive NBA roster somewhere. It’s strange to see the money essentially flushed, but it’s not a huge cap hit: it’ll be spread either over two or three years, depending on how the Thunder and Price structure it. Still: not ideal.

For Price, there are worse things than getting paid $5 million to attend training camp.

Also among the casualties of cutdown day: Mitch McGary. He showed flashes of realizing his considerable potential during his tenure, but he never quite could put it together, both on- and off-court.

There are a lot of new faces to get used to. There’s no doubt about it: Oklahoma City is at a crossroads, and this season is incredibly important to both the near and distant future of the franchise.

Here are my thoughts on OKC’s final 15-man roster, with players arranged in loose order:

Russell Westbrook

The man just might burn down Philadelphia tomorrow night. Not that he needs any extra motivation, but he’ll be ready to prove that the new look Thunder aren’t going anywhere just because they lost Kevin Durant.

Speaking of motivation: the Thunder play the Warriors in the bay only five games into the season (Thursday, November 3rd). It’s almost certainly going to be a chippy game, and watching Russ trying to ignore Kevin Durant while simultaneously attempting to end his life will be must-see TV.

Westbrook is the favorite to win the MVP, but it’ll probably take a 55+ win effort from the Thunder to do it. I’m not sure that’s in the cards. I’m especially worried about Russell’s health. He’ll need to try to pace himself somewhat or otherwise risk missing stretches of the season. Billy Donovan will have to do his part to make sure Russ doesn’t overdo it.

Victor Oladipo

Oladipo is Billy Donovan’s shiny new toy. He’s still trying to find his role as the second banana for the Thunder, but he’s a versatile and bright young player.

He’s already clearly endeared himself to his teammates, and he’s a wow kind of player. He can jump out of the gym, and he might just tear the roof off the ‘Peake if he unleashes one of these:

Orlando fans will tell you that Vic is overrated, but oftentimes, a fresh start under a new coach can jumpstart a player’s development. He’s only 24 and he’s got a great motor, so ‘Dipo’s got a bright future.

Andre Roberson

I wrote a few weeks ago that Roberson has a shot at Most Improved Player. It’s a #hottake, sure, but I believe he’s got a very high ceiling. Remember: Kawhi Leonard’s game completely opened up once he started consistently hitting outside shots.

With ‘Dre, it’s a matter of confidence. His teammates clearly believe in him–they mug him to shoot every open look he gets–and his role could expand considerably if he proves that he made an offensive leap.

Enes Kanter

Before I say what I’m about to say, I’d like to make it clear: no one’s a bigger fan of Kanter than I am. You could make a ten minute highlight reel of his footwork alone. He’s a nimble operator in the post in an era of stretch fours and fives. He’s just a genuinely a good dude, and he’s one of the great NBA twitter follows out there.

I just don’t think he’s going to be a member of the Thunder by the team the trade deadline comes.

He’s a little redundant. The Thunder were forced to match his qualifying offer–a contract sheet worth $17.1 million this season–because of their prior misadventures in cutting financial corners. They essentially did it to appease Kevin Durant, or, rather, so he wouldn’t be displeased and bolt.

Well, he bolted anyway, and now the Thunder are in need of a small forward. There’s a log jam at power forward and center, and unfortunately, Kanter is the most expendable one because of his contract. Kanter is a great center, but that kind of depth is a luxury that only teams with complete starting fives can afford.

I predict that he’ll be traded to a contending team that needs a spark off the bench. The good news: shedding Kanter’s salary is a vital step to signing a superstar running mate for Russell. The bad news: RIP ‘Stache Bros.

Steven Adams

Adams has looked phenomenal since the month of May. He was a force in the playoffs, part of the tall-ball lineup that engineered a resounding Thunder victory over the Spurs in last year’s playoffs.

This year, it might all open up on the offensive end. He’s made a leap every season, so I expect him to continue to do so. Check out this play he made in a preseason tilt with the Timberwolves:

THAT REBOUND. THAT SLAM! He grabbed the ball one-handed and then authoritatively slammed it (again, one-handed) for the second-chance bucket. That’s a big time play, and I can’t wait to see what else he has up his sleeve. He’s one of the most exciting young players in the league.

Anthony Morrow

Morrow could’ve been a vital cog in the rotation last season, but his total lack of defense relegated him to the bench for the most part. It’s a shame, too: his lightning fast release combined with his fearlessness in shooting makes him a fun player to watch. Instead, we were treated to Kyle Singler at small forward. Blah.

He’ll get more playing time this season because of the thunder’ scarcity at small forward, but his defense won’t miraculously get better this late in his career.

Still, he’s a veteran, a good locker room presence, and a glue guy. He’ll stick around.

Ersan Ilyasova

Another new addition, and probably the most unknown to Thunder fans. The Turkish power forward came into the NBA right about when shooting became a common asset among big men.

The reason you might not have heard of him is that his game is, frankly, pretty boring. It’s a lot of pick-and-pop and some spotting up with a few post moves, but only when the matchup is favorable. He also led the league in charges drawn last season.

He’ll be a key cog this season of because of his veteran savvy, his consistency, and his versatility. He can easily be plugged into any lineup Billy Donovan throws out there.

Cameron Payne

It seems as if Cam Payne almost got shipped out for Rudy Gay before he broke his foot in a scrimmage. It’s unclear whether or not that deal could be back on the table when Payne returns in four weeks or so. This is the second time that Payne has injured the foot, so his history is definitely concerning.

And it sucks. He’s opted not to have surgery on the foot, which I can’t help but think is the wrong decision: putting surgery off only made things worse for Kevin Durant, who had the same injury.

But today’s waiving off Ronnie Price indicates that the Thunder expect him to make a quick and full recovery. If he’s healthy, he’s the Thunder’s breakout candidate of the season.

Domantas Sabonis

The other Thunder breakout candidate, and one of three rookies the Thunder will depend on to be solid parts of the rotation. I wrote several weeks ago that, despite his limited production thus far, Domas has been impressive.

The most important trait of his is basketball IQ. Steven Adams, his mentor, voiced his enthusiasm for the rookie, giving an unusually straight-faced endorsement of Sabonis and his willingness to learn.

And oh, yeah: he’s the son of an NBA great.

He might take a bit of time to adapt to the rigors of the NBA schedule, but I expect him to be a part of the eight-man rotation by the time February rolls around.

Alex Abrines

Another newcomer, and a bit of an unknown heading into the season. He’s a natural forward, but given his slight frame (6’6″, 190 lbs.), he’ll probably be asked to play shooting guard until he’s able to bulk up a bit. His length helps, but his frame isn’t big enough to hold back an NBA-caliber wing.

He’s a lights-out shooter, though, which will allow him to get on the court.

Abrines had a very impressive preseason outing against the Grizzlies: he scored 19 points on 6-11 shooting, including 5-6 three-pointers (!!!). Since Morrow isn’t exactly a defensive dynamo either, Abrines could take his spot by season’s end.

Joffrey Lauvergne

KING JOFFREY! Maybe we’d better find a better nickname, actually.

Lauvergne was an intriguing addition considering the Thunder’s front-court depth. Billy Donovan has already sung his praises:

“He’s very, very physical. He’s got a good skill set. I think he’ll continually be able to improve and expand his range,” Donovan said. “He’s tough. I think he’s got a good feel, he’ll be able to play in the pocket, he’ll be able to move the ball for us.”

Read: he’s a work in progress. And that’s okay–he’s yet another stash for one of the youngest teams in the league. The team is chock-full of young talent, and it’ll be exciting if–and perhaps when–a few of them pan out.

His skillset is very similar to Ilyasova’s, so Lauvergne may not see much playing time, barring injury.

Kyle Singler

The oft-maligned (as if you wouldn’t accept a $25 million contract?) Thunder player has actually looked decent in the preseason.

Off-brand David Bowie will have an expanded role in Durant’s absence, at least until the Thunder find their solution at small forward.

If Singler could just average a 48% field goal line while shooting 38% from three this season, he’ll be worth every penny of his contract.

Semaj Christon

It’s obvious the Thunder like the Xavier product–he made the team over a proven veteran in Ronnie Price. A veteran with a $5 million guarantee, no less.

Thus, with $500,000 contract, OKC effectively invested $5.5 million in the young point guard.

He averaged 7 points, 2 rebounds, and 2.5 assists per game through the preseason, and I expect him to maintain those numbers.

Josh Huestis

The D-League project sticks around. He’s got even better measurables than Andre Roberson (a 7’1″ wingspan to Roberson’s 6’11”, for example) which gives him a high defensive ceiling.

He’s certainly a project, but he could morph into a 3-and-D wing. Thunder fans need not hold their breaths this season, but the coming ones will determine his NBA future.


Every Tuesday, I’ll be posting a Thunder column right here on thefranchiseok.com. Feel free to hit me with suggestions, comments or story ideas at matt.r@tylermedia.com or @mattravis on Twitter. Give me a follow while you’re at it!

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