If most of us were asked about it in the beginning of the season, we would have said that the Thunder were facing a transitional year in the completion of the rebuild they began back in 2019. If that was the case, we would have made a grotesque mistake and disrespected a franchise currently in contention for the play-in tournament (potentially even the playoffs depending on how the remaining games unfold).
This year looked tough for the Texans from the start, as they lost Chet Holmgren, the second overall pick of the last draft, for the entire year due to injury. Without the incentive of watching the former Gonzaga “unicorn” play, there were not many people excited to watch OKC this season, especially with the tanking rumors surrounding the franchise.
However, the Thunder have found a way to flip the script attributed to them in the early stages of the season, sustaining a close to 50% record nearing the end of the regular season. The success of the team can be highly attributed to the great play of their young core who, led by Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, will most certainly offer great performance in the short, medium and long term.
If that was not enough, this year is only the beginning. Aside form Holmgren’s return to the court, OKC owns 34 picks (accounting for both first and second rounders) in the next seven drafts, a GM masterclass by Sam Presti that might result in the perfect storm in a few years.
SGA, a leader for the Thunder:
Since being selected in the 2018 draft, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander has made consistent progress in his game. Even if this is partially attributed to OKC’s context for the past few years, the improvement the Canadian has made is clear and puts him among the most improved players in the NBA as of recent. It was not until this year that the leader of the Thunder revindicated his case as one of the faces of the league for the foreseeable future.
His numbers make everything extremely clear, almost 32 points, 6 assists, 5 rebounds and 2 steals every night make up a monstrous stat line that, paired with an increase in efficiency (despite the obvious growth in shots attempted) have opened the doors to his first All-Star game appearance and the club of the best scorers in the NBA.
A backcourt with limitless potential:
Aside from the clear-cut franchise cornerstone Shai is developing into, the Thunder have a very interesting set of complementary pieces in their roster. One of them is Australian guard Josh Giddey, the Canadian’s backcourt partner and arguably, one of the most versatile players around the league.
Giddey has great playmaking abilities for his size, a fact credited by the 6+ assists per game he has been putting up in his two years in the NBA. He also is not a unidimensional player on offense as, aside from his elite-level passing, he has been more aggressive towards the rim for the past year.
The Australian attempts close to fifteen shots per game (three more compared to last season) and has shown great improvement (6%) in what is probably his greatest weakness, three-point shooting. He can also rebound with the best of them with an average of eight captures a night, a slightly misleading stat since the Thunder do not have a dominant center.
To put it simply, Giddey is a wildcard kind of player that provides his team with a little bit of everything on offense (his defensive capabilities still need some work) and could fit as a complement to multiple stars in the future if he does not become one himself down the line.
Sam Presti, good decisions and questionable performances from the Thunder:
Since being hired back in 2007 (when the Oklahoma City Thunder were still the Seattle Supersonics) Sam Presti has earned a reputation as a great GM. He has previously made questionable decisions (like refusing to pay James Harden a max contract in the 2012 free agency) and failed to bring a championship to Oklahoma in over fifteen years in the position, but his great management of the tough rebuilding process that started in 2019 has put his name on the list of the best regarded front office members in the league.
He might not have helped the Texan franchise to the top of the NBA yet, but the potential of the team he is currently building (with many draft selections still in the chamber) shows that this might change sooner than later. Only time will tell if Presti and the Thunder, led by Shai, Giddey & co, will finally win the championship that the franchise could not lift with players like Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook.
Translated by Nuño Alonso.
Main image: @okcthunder.