Not a lot was expected out of the Oklahoma City Thunder this NBA season. They were coming off of a mediocre 24 win season with a roster of guys all younger than 29 years of age. Their prized draft selection, 7-footer Chet Holmgren, was to be out for the season with a foot injury he suffered in the preseason. Certainly, this was a team that was poised to make a run in the Victor Wembanyama sweepstakes, right?
The Thunder clearly did not get that message. Led by third-year coach Mark Daigenault, the Thunder are playing .500 basketball with only a few games to go. They matched last season’s win total in the middle of January this year, and are currently fighting for a play-in spot with a 38-39 record. Despite the low expectations set for this team and the setbacks they seemingly faced, team executive Sam Presti seems to have assembled a formidable roster yet again. Let’s see how the Thunder have managed to defy expectations so far this season.
Let’s go back to Sam Presti for a second. The hotshot general manager of the franchise has been able to oversee several different distinct Thunder teams and keep them afloat through his many dealings of draft picks and players. From the Finals runner-up squad led by Kevin Durant, to Russell Westbrook’s MVP season, and even to the Paul George era, the Thunder have never strayed far from relevancy. The future of OKC is all thanks to Presti after sending PG to the Los Angeles Clippers.
Lightning Strikes for the Thunder
Amongst a medley of future first round draft picks, the Clippers sent over guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. SGA has become the centerpiece of this franchise almost overnight. The 24-year-old has improved every facet of his game this year. He’s scoring more often and more efficiently, getting to the foul line more, remaining stout on defense, and stepping up in the clutch when needed.
The expectation was that Shai could become an all-star caliber player, but he’s now well on his way to making an all-NBA squad in only his fourth season. The investment the Thunder took on his 5 year, $173M contract extension he signed in the summer of 2021 continues to pay dividends, and I expect SGA to become the face of OKC for years to come.
The Rest of the Storm
As mentioned before, every single player on this Thunder squad is under 30 years of age. Many aren’t even old enough to rent a car. That hasn’t stopped them from overachieving what was expected of them this season. Sophomore Josh Giddey has become more efficient in scoring compared to his rookie campaign. This compliments a well-rounded second option alongside Gilgeous-Alexander.
Another solid piece has been shooting guard Luguentz Dort, who at the ripe age of 23 could almost be considered a veteran on this team. While he has yet to take a significant leap this season, he is still responsible for a significant amount of scoring and remains the main perimeter defender for this team.
The Jay Duo
Rounding out the starters is Jaylin Williams and Jalen Williams, who make it very difficult for my dad to watch Thunder games. Both J-Will and J-Dub have made big strides in their rookie seasons to help round out the roster. Jalen in particular has shown out recently, making the Rookie of the Year race no longer be Paolo Bancheros’ to lose. He’s the third-leading scorer on this team only behind the previously mentioned SGA and Giddey. The combined efforts of both Jalen and Jaylin, although inconsistent at times, have really aided the Thunder when the main weapons face struggles.
The Thunder tend to only play around 9 players on a nightly basis, making it hard for many reserves to see the court consistently. Injuries have plagued big men like Aleksej Pokusevic and Jeremiah Robinson-Earl, yet they’ve found success when they are on the floor. Some key bench guys as of recent have been sharpshooter Isaiah Joe, two-way player Lindy Waters III, and second-year Aaron Wiggins. There’s not much of a bench that turn too many heads right now, but with the sheer amount of young talent this franchise possesses, it’s only a matter of time until the league sees one of these studs breakout.
Will the Thunder make the playoffs? Potentially. Can they win a playoff series this year? Maybe. Will they win it all? Almost certainly not. However, this team wasn’t built to accomplish those things this year. This is a team for the future, built off of stockpiling young talent and fostering their growth as a unit.
This team is vastly defying expectations with their play this year, and it’s likely only going up. Every starter and significant contributor is under contract until at least the end of next year. Plus, their “unicorn” in 7’3’’ Chet Holmgren is showing great progress in recovering from his season-ending injury.
A storm is brewing in Oklahoma City – now all we have to do is wait for the Thunder.
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