Oklahoma City – This season will mark season number 14 in Oklahoma City for the Thunder and
it has a little resemblance of season 1 here. Just like season 1 they Thunder aren’t projected to be
good. There are a lot of holes in this roster even though they have some very talented players.
In their first season here they had a plan laid out for how they want the team to look in the next
few year and that’s exactly what they’re doing now. It’ll be a harder now though because they
don’t have the same type of foundation pieces as they did then. It will be just a little easier since
they still have a ton of draft picks in the next few drafts and they also have the same man, Sam
Presti, building the teams as they did in year 1.
This year will all about trying to figure out which guys will solidify themselves as a foundation
piece for the future. It’s sort of a blank canvas for them. Yes they have a lot of talent but it’s like
a tryout year for almost everyone. The Thunder have lots of guards/wings that will be competing
for playing time and roster spots this season which makes this season very important for them.
Guys like Darius Bazley, Aleksej Pokuševski, Theo Maledon, Vit Krejci, and Tre Mann will be
among the 10 guards/wings competing to see where they will stand in the eyes of Presti and the
Thunder. Two of those names, Bazley and Pokuševski, really stick out considering how they’ve
been presented to Thunder fans and it just makes this season that more important to both of them.
Neither Baz or Poku were lottery picks but they have always been presented as pieces the
Thunder will have in the future but it isn’t looking like that right now.
Baz does a lot of things well on the floor but at times looks timid. He needs someone in his ear
telling him how athletic he is and how he should be using that to his advantage so he can get to
the rim effectively and not settle for contested threes. He is someone that needs to take his game
to the next level right out the gate and be someone that people say could be the Most Improved
Player if the Thunder were better or he could could see himself heading for a new home.
For Poku, he probably gets a little more leeway and a little more time given he’s in his second
season and he’s still one of the youngest guys in the league but that doesn’t change how important
this season is. The first few years of a player’s career can shape their trajectory in one of two
ways. They’re either headed on a path of being a star or consistent role player or they’re heading
to be a journeyman who will be out of the league in just a few years. Right now, it seems like
Poku is headed for the latter.
Watching him play, you see the talent he possesses but the game hasn’t really slowed down for
him yet. From all the tape I’ve seen on him he is best with the ball in his hands as opposed to
playing off the ball but he won’t have much opportunity to play with the ball in his hands this
season so he is going to have to figure out how to be effective off the ball. Do the Thunder give
him more time to figure that out though? That remains to be seen because they could wait and he
ends up figuring it out which would be good or wait and he doesn’t given the lack of opportunity
and then his trade value goes down.
The good news is though, Poku, Baz, and the other names mentioned will have time this year to
figure out their roles and cement themselves as cornerstone pieces. The other good news is they
already have 3 foundation pieces in Lu Dort, Josh Giddey, and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander.
Dort solidified himself as one of the best perimeter defenders in the league and his offense
showed some real improvements last season. He looks even better this year. He’s bigger,
stronger, and in overall better shape which is scary for opposing offensive players. He also looks
improved as an offensive player. One of his biggest weaknesses in his first couple of years was
finishing at the basket. In the preseason that looks like it’s something that he worked on a lot in
the offseason. Every team that wins a championship, like the Thunder eventually wants to, needs
a guy like Dort. Someone that will effectively guard the opposing teams’s best player, do a lot of
the dirty work, be somewhat of an enforcer, and be a spark on offense.
On to Josh Giddey. I won’t lie, I was a little skeptical about Giddey because he’s a foreign guy
and we didn’t see much tape on him and I wanted to wait to give an option on him until I got to
see him with my own eyes. Those doubts are gone. This kid can really play. He’s extremely
skilled and knows the game. Such an exceptional passer and playmaker and an effective scorer.
It was only preseason but it seems like he has already solidified himself as one of the cornerstone
pieces for the future.
Now, the biggest foundation piece, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. Just like in season 1 when the
Thunder had a young star in Kevin Durant they have one now in SGA. No, SGA is not Kevin
Durant and their games aren’t really similar but having that piece is huge for moving forward.
SGA has firmly cemented himself as the face of the franchise after signing a max extension in
the offseason and if you listen to anyone speak about him, he’s carrying himself that way.
He knows this is his team and he is going to have to figure out how to lead them every single
night. As much as this season is a way to see what they have in other guys, it’s equally as much
about SGA and his ascension into stardom. The way everyone talks about him shows that.
This is the year of SGA. A lot of questions about him will be answered this season. He was great
last year but he wasn’t really a household name like he is now. Because of that, teams weren’t
necessarily game planning to stop him last season. Yes, they knew he was the best player and
teams definitely scouted him but did he really see the coverages as every other star player? This
year will be different. There won’t be any questions as to whether he’ll see those coverages.
Every team is going to go into the game thinking they have to stop him. How he will react will
be important to his and the team success. He’s going to see a lot more double teams this year and
his playmaking ability will have to show so it can open up things for him and others. To his
credit, in preseason his playmaking did look improved so that doesn’t seem like it’ll be an issue.
One of the most important questions will be answered about SGA also. What kind of star is he.
There are lots of people who think he’s the second best player on a championship team while
others think he could be the best player. I think we get an idea this year. Will he be a Devin
Booker type star where we see he’s a star and just needs to have better pieces around him? Will
he be a Ja Morant type star where the pieces aren’t as good but he’s able to rally them around
him? Or will he be a Paul George type of star where they just can’t do enough to lead a team as
the best player even though they’re extremely talented? We’ll get some kind of answer this year.
It will be a rollercoaster year for the Thunder. It’s probably smart not to expect much from them
because they will be looking to secure a top 5 draft pick in next year’s draft. If you asked any
player, coach, or any other member of the Thunder they will say they are absolutely trying to win
every game but in reality, they are the only team, currently, not trying to make the playoffs in the
West but it is good they all would say they aren’t actively tanking.
I see the Thunder competing for most of the game then running out of steam at some point which
won’t lead to a lot of wins. My prediction is 21 wins this year. Yes, that’s a really ugly season
but I think it’s best for Thunder fans to remember that it’s all for a bigger picture.
Get ready to Thunder Up Thunder fans!