With no MVP prospects and no immediate championship hopes, Thunder fans might not feel they have much to look forward to this season. This should not be the case. Despite being absent of the household names of old, the Thunder roster is stocked with quality veterans and promising young players. To help give Oklahoma a better idea of what to expect for the upcoming season, let’s break down the best-case and worst-case scenarios for the five key newcomers on the roster.
If you missed last week’s part one (where we evaluated OKC’s two new guards, CP3 and SGA) read it here: thefranchiseok.com/thunder-forecast-part-1.
Forward – 6’10” – 31 years old
Last Season (Clippers): 19.8 ppg, 2.6 apg, 6.1 rpg, 82 games played
The least talked about, but most immediately impactful asset acquired in this summer’s Paul George trade, Danilo Gallinari is coming off a career year in LA. Last season with the Clippers, the floor spacing wing posted career highs in Points, Rebounds, Field Goal %, and Player Efficiency Rating, as he helped lead his team to the 8 seed in the West.
It seems very likely that Gallinari will be the leading scorer for the Thunder during his time in OKC, but many think he is on his way out the door already. With only one year left on his $21 million/year contract, the sharp shooting Italian is one of the most valuable potential trade chips in the league. Given Sam Presti’s clear vision of building for the future (regardless of the effects on this season), Oklahoma should be prepared to see him traded at the deadline for a hopefully healthy haul of young players and picks.
For years now the Thunder have been missing the same thing, elite shooting. Danilo “Gallo” Gallinari steps in and solves that immediately. Though his deep shooting takes a slight dip from the 43.3% 3FG he shot last season, he continues to be lights out from three. With few other elite scorers on the roster, but plenty of playmakers to set him up, Danilo leads the team in scoring, topping 20ppg for the first time in his career. At the end of tight games, he is our go-to guy, winning the Thunder multiple contests with his shooting down the stretch and winning the affection of Oklahoma in the process. But all good things must come to an end. With his value through the roof, Gallinari is flipped at the trade deadline in February to a championship contender. In return, the Thunder take on minimal extra salary and continue to stock up on future assets as the 2026 NBA Championship (yes that seems far away, but it will be worth it, I promise) starts to look more and more achievable.
NBA players are people too. Caught amongst the swirling trade rumors, Gallinari hears it all. Choosing not to go all out for a team and city that isn’t all in on him, Danilo plays without passion and sits out much of the season due to injury (he is considered one of the most injury-prone players in the league). When he does see the court, he remains a dead-eye shooter, but does little else to contribute and takes away shots from the young players on the team. Unable to trade him due to injury concerns, the Thunder hold on to Gallinari through the end of the season. He leaves in free agency with no return on investment for OKC.
Guard/Forward – 6’7” – 27 years old
Last Full Season (Thunder, ‘16-‘17): 6.6 ppg, 1.0 apg, 5.1 rpg, 79 games played
Alright so we might have cheated on this one. While Roberson isn’t actually a newcomer (this will be his 6th year in OKC), given the duration of his absence due to injury he may as well be. While Thunder fans are surely familiar with the old Andre, it is uncertain what we’ll be getting out of him upon his long awaited return from a left patellar tendon rupture, which he suffered back in January 2018.
As for when that return will be, we still don’t know. Sam Presti told ESPN last month that Roberson “should be on track to be ready by the start of next season,” but no official timetable has been released. His father, John Roberson, has spoken more recently, telling The Oklahoman on September 1st that Andre “feels really good.” While this is encouraging, we know for certain the Thunder will not rush him back if he is not 100% ready to go.
Just like he never left. Having taken off nearly 2 years from the game of basketball, Andre Roberson hits the floor running and quickly reestablishes himself as one of the best perimeter defenders in the league and a dark horse Defensive Player of the Year candidate. With all that time off he even reworked his free throw shot and is able to hit a career best 75% from the line (this one might be a stretch). Though his deep range shooting is still unsalvageable, Andre continues to be a strong cutter and finisher at the rim. By midseason, he is a full-time starter and is on pace for another All-NBA Defensive Team selection (he made 2nd team back in 2017). Oklahoma is once again able to enjoy one of the last remaining pieces of the Thunder glory days.
At this time last year, we still thought Roberson would be healthy enough to play. Although the signs are pointing to him being ready to go this year, the worst case-scenario for Roberson is pretty cut and dry. On the final year of his contract, Andre Roberson sits out yet again and the defensive maestro’s time in OKC comes to a melancholy close.
Forward – 6’9” – 19 years old
Last Season: Interned at New Balance while training for NBA draft
Darius Bazley was selected 23rd overall in this year’s draft by the Oklahoma City Thunder. One of the youngest players in his class, the lanky combo-forward has been labeled a long-term project. He fits the profile of past Sam Presti draft picks, long and athletic with insane leaping ability and questionable shooting proficiency. His choice to skip college (instead getting paid $1 million dollars to intern at New Balance while training for the draft) only makes him harder to pin down, but once he gets some action the potential should become apparent.
Playing himself into the rotation early on, Bazley thrives as a slashing wing coming off the bench. He shows solid finishing ability at the rim and is able to score in isolation with his smooth midrange jumper, giving Thunder fans flashbacks to a young Jeff Green. Although he struggles with turning the ball over due to overdribbling and forced passes, over the course of the season Bazley showcases his court vision and touch, dropping multiple highlight-reel worthy passes in traffic. While he isn’t a sniper by any means, Bazley proves capable of knocking down wide-open threes (as he looked confident and capable of doing during Summer League) which in combo with his off-ball shot blocking ability on defense makes the departure of Jerami Grant hurt a little bit less. By seasons end, a fan favorite for his stupefying dunks and blocks, Bazley is selected to the all-rookie second team and looks to be a true future building block for OKC.
Remember Perry Jones III? It’s probably best if you don’t. The 28th pick for the Thunder in the 2012 draft has a similar body type and play style to Bazley, but lasted only two years in the league before bouncing around the G-League and now Europe. Bazley suffers a similar fate, spending most of his rookie campaign riding the end of the bench. In his limited minutes, he struggles to acclimate to NBA pace and appears to be a walking turnover. Even worse, his shooting ability doesn’t extend to three point range and despite getting the occasional pretty looking mid range bucket, he is not considered a capable floor stretcher. With minimal post-play ability and too loose a handle to effectively penetrate, he is an offensive liability. On the other end, he gets bullied in the low post and on the boards. He still has some superhuman blocks, but his footwork on the perimeter is not quick enough to keep up with quicker guards, making clear that Bazley is still very much a work in progress.
The outcome of the Oklahoma City Thunder’s season will largely rely on the performance of these five players. With so many unknowns, the season could go in a ton of different directions. It may get ugly at times, but don’t count the Thunder out just yet. Oklahoma should enjoy this retooling team on the rise, whether we get the best of them or the worst of them.
Connor Ayubi is the newest member of The Franchise’s OKC Thunder insider coverage team. An Oklahoma native, he now studies Economics and Sport Analytics at Rice University. Connor has experience leading the analytics team for Rice Men’s and Women’s basketball, consulting for Rocnation Sports, and preparing the Phoenix Suns for the 2019 NBA Draft with his scouting and analysis. Follow him on Twitter @AyubiNBA