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NBA 2022 Offseason Guide: Oklahoma City Thunder

NEW YORK, NEW YORK – JANUARY 07: Shai Gilgeous-Alexander #2 of the Oklahoma City Thunder in action against the Brooklyn Nets at Barclays Center on January 07, 2020 in New York City. Oklahoma City Thunder defeated the Oklahoma City Thunder 111-103. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)

If it looks like The Process…and if it feels like The Process…and it smells like The Process…it’s definitely not the Process. Sure, Blind Freddy and his Deaf Dog know that the Oklahoma City Thunder are aggressively rebuilding through a process (oops!) of selling off high priced veterans for a war chest of draft capital whilst playing every overlooked youngster that they lay their eyes upon in the hopes of unearthing a rare gem.

So, yeah. It’s a process. It’s just not The Process. Please don’t call it The Process.

With a 24 win season in the rear view the Thunder will continue to look to build through the draft this off-season and, with 19 1st round picks as well as a projected 18 2nd rounders due in the next seven years, will continue to do so when this article is just a faded, sepia tinged google search.

With the knowledge that the Thunder are most definitely not trying to contend for even a play-in spot next season, let’s take a look at how they might approach this off-season

The Roster

Oh, boy. This roster truly sucks.

But let’s start with the positives: the back court.

In Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Josh Giddey, the Thunder have themselves a potentially sumptuous guard pairing. Gilgeous-Alexander, who will turn 24 in the off season, was outstanding in the 56 games he played this past season, putting up 24.5 points, an even five boards, 5.9 assists and 1.3 steals. His efficiency from the field dropped markedly, though given the complete lack of veteran help available to him, that’s understandable.

A worry is that he played just the 56 games, after playing a mere 35 the season prior. Yes, there were injuries involved but the commonly accepted position is that the team shut SGA down in order to protect their lottery odds, when he otherwise would have been available to suit up. Those sort of shenanigans can’t sit well with a competitive, professional athlete. The Thunder will have to hope that this doesn’t come back to haunt them.

Giddey was a delight to watch as a rookie. The mop-topped Australian number (12.5 points, 7.8 rebounds, 6.4 assists) were very good, though that doesn’t tell the story of a young man who plays with a maturity that goes far beyond his status as the NBA’s 2nd youngest player.

Giddey’s use angles is elite by any standard. He combines that geometrical expertise with a deceptive first step and nimble footwork to create advantages on the drive that belie his relative speed disadvantage.

The highlight of Giddey’s game is undoubtedly his passing. Standing 6’8” the young point guard can see over most markers. His ability to sling cross court passes with either hand means he can use any space the defense gives him. His shooting has a long, long way to go, but the rest of his game is already outstanding.

As for the rest of this roster? Well…

Lu Dort is a positive, adding a competent shooting stroke to his bustling downhill drives and stellar defense. Tre Mann showed flashes as a rookie. Isaiah Roby, Jeremiah Robinson-Earl and Georgios Kalaitzakis could stick as rotation pieces. After that, though, there’s not a lot to write home about. Aleksej Pokusevski – an all or nothing gamble – is a lot closer to the latter at this stage. Darius Bazley wouldn’t hit water if he fell out of a boat. Aaron Wiggins? Kenrich Williams? Ty Jerome? No thanks.

Frankly, it’s a credit to coach Mark Daigneault that OKC even won 24 games this past campaign.

Team Needs

Is it too reductive to say that this team simply needs talent? Given that OKC are in the early stages of a full tear-down and rebuild, it probably is.

Rather than saying ‘talent’, let’s go with ‘time. This OKC roster needs time more than anything else.

The team needs time for their current projected young stars in Giddey and Gilgeous-Alexander to flourish. It needs time for some of their more speculative prospects, be they a free agent signee or a 1st round pick like Poku, to develop. They need time to use all of those sweet 1st round picks that lie in their possession.

It’s going to be a long road, but if Presti can strike paydirt once again, then we’ll see another contender out of Oklahoma in the long run.

The Cap Sheet

For a team with as much low end talent as the Thunder have, it stands to reason that their cap sheet would be squeaky clean, right? Not quite. Thanks to the $27 million the team owe Kemba Walker to sit on the Knicks bench, OKC’s cap situation is not as pristine as expected.

The waters are further muddied by SGA’s extension which kicks in for next season, taking his salary from around $5.5 million to just a hair under $30 million per season.

Assuming that Derrick Favors picks up his player option and the team activate the five (!) team options they have available, the Thunder will sit at just under $106 million in salary commitments, which increases to $119 million when incorporating their three first round picks in the upcoming draft. That leaves them just the $3 million or so under the cap.

General Manager Sam Presti can get cute, though, and generate an extra $25 million in cap room by looking to make moves before SGA’s extension kicks in on July 1st.

Look for Presti to try to take on an unwanted, overpaid, middling veteran or an over-the-hill star – with the requisite draft picks attached – into that space. Some names to look at could be John Wall, Tobias Harris (though he did play well in the playoffs) or Davis Bertans. This writer has seen the concept of a Russell Westbrook homecoming bandied about, but what would the Lakers attach to Westbrook to make the Thunder even consider taking on his gargantuan deal?

Presti also has to balance contract extensions for some of his younger players, Dort chief amongst them. Expect Presti to decline Dort’s team option, thus making him a restricted free agent. The two parties will then sit down to work out a long term extension.

The Draft

The Thunder will have a busy draft day this year, with the 2nd pick as well as another three picks inside the top 35. Given the lack of talent across the roster, expect Presti to draft for talent and work out the fit later.

At pick two, it looks increasingly likely that the team will take Chet Holmgren, an uber talented but rail thin ball of possibility. Given the trials and tribulations of Pokusevski, there will be Thunder fans shuddering at the thought of another sub-200lb seven foot tall prospect, but Holmgren is something out of the box.

His combination of shooting and shot blocking is rare in a prospect. Unlike so many young players, Holmgren’s game intelligence is off the charts. His defensive positioning, both on and off ball, is already outstanding, though it remains to be seen if he can overcome his obvious strength disadvantages at the pro level.

Offensively, Holmgren is the prototypical modern centre. As well as his jump shooting, Holmgren’s handle is already tighter than most NBA centres. In addition he’s also an instinctive passer.

There are clear and obvious red flags around Holmgren as an NBA prospect, but he’s simply too talented to ignore at pick two.

At the 12th pick (via the Clippers) Presti will likely look to start fleshing out a pretty underwhelming forward rotation. Presti has a type at the forward spot: high-end athleticism, star potential, lacking polish. Fortunately for the long time decision maker, there are a few he could choose from in this part of the draft. Tari Eason, Jeremy Sochan and Ousmane Dieng all fit the bill. Though keep an eye on Nikola Jovic. The highly skilled 6’11” combo forward could be a revelation in the NBA. His ceiling is what some think Pokusevski’s should be. Given he’s far more advanced than Poku, don’t be surprised if Presti again goes down that path.

The team also hold Phoenix’s 1st rounder (pick 30) and their own 2nd rounder, pick 34.

The team can afford to take flyers with these picks, knowing they have a few hundred picks (subs: please check) to come in the next few drafts. Look for them to take Patrick Baldwin Jr, David Roddy, Kendall Brown or Dominick Barlow.

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