Thunder basketball is back once again! With newcomers galore, a fresh Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Lugentz Dort, and Aleksej Pokusevski finally ready to be unleashed in front of a full Paycom Center, this season is set to be another of discovery and development. Now that summer break is over, we have gathered Boomtown’s brightest to answer some of our biggest questions as we prepare for basketball time in Oklahoma.
As you may know, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander got his max contract over the off-season and is “feeling 115%” healthy going into the season. Now that SGA is making star-caliber money, how big of a leap will he take this season?
Bobby Howard: I could see this as a big-time SGA year. He’s rested, presumably healthy, and has taken leaps with his physical stature this offseason. I think we see some skill improvement, but the Thunder’s record will keep him from an All-Star appearance.
Adam McLaughlin: SGA is on the cusp of being a Top 5 Point Guard and I think he breaks through to make his first All-Star appearance for the Western Conference in 2021-22. He comes into the season physically healthy, and barring any setbacks, has the potential to post as high as a 28-5-5 line.
Shai’s play-making ability will continue to grow and impress. At the end of this season, we could be looking at the NBA’s Most Improved Player, who picked up where he left off after a short 35-game run in 2020-21.
Jamison Maxwell: SGA is going to make a leap this year, I am just afraid it won’t be the statistical jump we are all hoping for. The leap, though, will be from becoming a clear leader on this team. This season is all about testing if Giddey and SGA can mesh together. And, from what we have seen in the pre-season, SGA is willing to make the sacrifices to let Giddey grow and find his niche.
This may take away some of SGA’s ability to create, but in the long run, is what the Thunder need. I expect SGA to have a similar stat line to that of last year, with a slight dip in 3-point percentage due to an increase in off-dribble and isolation shots.
Dillon Young: I think we see what we saw last season with more consistency. With Giddey on the team and Dort continuing to grow offensively, we may see stretches of SGA expanding his playmaking abilities. For the most part, I think the reigns will be off SGA and the Thunder won’t be trying to actively lose every game as much as they will be just working through their youth & inexperience. I’m still curious as to how much SGA we will see late in the season.:
Photo per Oklahoma City Thunder
The Thunder roster is full of incredibly young, inexperienced players. Who are you looking forward to seeing more out of?
Bobby: I mean, it has to be Josh Giddey, right? The rookie has a skill set that can truly change a franchise, and that isn’t a preseason overreaction. There will be tough nights in Oklahoma City, but the potential for the Aussie to do something special makes every game intriguing to me.
Adam: The obvious answer here is Josh Giddey. Thunder fans are giddy for Giddey, the Aussie Rookie. But I’m anxious to see the 2nd year man Théo Maledon. The 20-year old is impressive and the game just comes naturally, as he gave the Thunder 65 games as a Rookie last year. Surprisingly, he led the team in total minutes played. Playing behind SGA and Giddey will eat into Maledon’s minutes this season, but I think he’s a factor when he’s on the court. He will be a big guy off of the bench and I am anxious to see more of him.
Arnav Anand: Beyond the rookies, as it is clear every Thunder fan is stoked to see Josh Giddey in action, I am very excited for the 2nd year of Aleksej Pokusevski. Once he returned from the G-League bubble, we saw a slightly more refined and controlled (by Poku standards) version of him.
As he enters year two and now has a whole year of basketball and a full summer of training camp experience, I am very excited to see how he continues to refine his game and various skill sets into becoming a long-term player for this organization.
Jackson Hairfield: I think it is a make-or-break year for Darius Bazley. He’s still just 21 years old but this will be his third season and it feels like the season where his role is figured out. Is he a reliable starter? Is he a solid bench guy? Is it time to move on? Bazley needs to find some consistency and take a leap to show that he can be part of this young Thunder core going forward.
Evan Riggs: My answer is Josh Giddey, but in the spirit of bringing something different to the table, how about some love for our man Tre Mann? His ability to create offense is a valuable skill on any team, but especially on this team that has so few reliable creators. Mann has the biggest variance of any of the top three rookies in my mind. I’m pretty sold on Giddey at least being a pretty good NBA player already, and he obviously has the ceiling to be much more.
I also think Jeremiah Robinson-Earl is going to be a solid backup big for a long time in the NBA. Mann, on the other hand, could turn into a starting caliber guard if he bulks up and improves his defense. We could also look back on him as a guy we thought was a very good shooter, but just couldn’t make enough shots or guard anybody if he’s fighting to stay in the league in three years.
A sneaky addition to this roster was veteran big man Derrick Favors. How much will we see out of the veteran big man?
Arnav: Favors will be a featured part of this Thunder team for the first part of the season much like George Hill and Al Horford were. His ability to set solid screens, be a roll man, and knock down the mid range are big, as these attributes will open the offense up. He will likely start and will also receive a large amount of minutes at the center position due to the rest of the Thunder’s big men being suited to play the four spot. Ultimately, we should expect him to be moved at the deadline. His contract makes him very tradeable and his play coupled with how Mark Daigneault utilizes him will determine whether the Thunder get a first or second round pick out of the big man.
Adam: You may forget he’s even on the Thunder! Derrick Favors is the most experienced player on the roster, and is definitely the journeyman. For probably the first time in his career, he’s not stuck behind other good PF/C, so minutes are his. He’s the highest hit on the books ($9.7M) for an active Thunder player, but as the teams best big, he has a great chance to start in the first half of the season and get good play time.
I think Derrick Favors becomes a fun addition for Thunder fans. Much like Horford, I think the Thunder will allow Favors to revitalize his career a bit before working with him to go elsewhere. I think a trade could happen as early as this season, but until then I expect Favors to start at the Center position when he’s not getting the night off for rest.
Jackson: I am curious to see how the Derrick Favors era goes in Oklahoma City. I would expect he will start more games than he won’t, but he will be rested perhaps more than any other player as the Thunder try to figure out which big guys on their roster are worth keeping for the future. Assuming he plays well, he could also be a trade piece if another team has a big go down.
Evan: I think we’re going to see Favors on a pretty classic veteran player plan for the first few months of the season. When he is active, Favors will probably start and play around 25 minutes per game. But I expect a lot of rest days for Favors. He’ll play very few (if any) back-to-backs and get rest days throughout the season to give the young guys opportunities. And whether he’s traded or bought out, I’d be surprised if he’s on the roster for the whole season.
The Thunder roster is constantly shifting. Which active player do you think is most likely to leave before the end of the season?
Bobby: Ty Jerome is the most movable, but something tells me that this might be the year OKC moves on from Darius Bazley. While he has shown flashes of being a solid player, the Thunder have sort of reached a crossroads in terms of extending his rookie contract. I hope I am wrong, but I’m getting some Hamidou Diallo-ish vibes entering 2021-22.
Adam: Derrick Favors fits the bill of an in-season trade, clearing off some of the teams salary and benefitting a team going on a playoff run. He could average around 15 and 8 for OKC, and boost his trade value with good play in the first half of the season. He doesn’t fit any long term vision, and surely feels like trade bait.
Jamison: Ty Jerome seems the most obvious. First of all, when thinking of trading players in an organization centered around developing youth, a player has to be: 1. Skilled enough to be wanted by another team 2. Cheap enough to be wanted by another team and 3. Not have a clear path in the Thunder’s future and/or take minutes from the youth that do have a clear path. Ty Jerome fits all 3 of these points, while players like Derrick Favors (what contender has room or is even desperate enough to take 20 mil/2 years for a backup big?) or Mike Muscala (didn’t want to leave last year so no chance he does this year) do not. Jerome is great and a crowd favorite, but his rookie scale deal mixed with 40+% 3-point shooting will be highly sought after if made available to contenders. Just look at what Landry Shamet got.
Stephen Morrison: I agree with Jamison on this one, but I am curious to see what the Thunder do with Gabriel Deck. To me Deck doesn’t make a whole lot of sense on this team. The 26 year old who is essentially a rookie in the NBA does not seem to match up with the Thunder’s rebuild timeline at all. However, I’m not sure he ends up getting traded because I don’t see him as a needle mover for other NBA teams. We will see how this experiment plays out because that’s what this year is right?
Vegas has the Thunder’s win total set at 23.5 wins. Do they go over or under?
Bobby: Call me an optimist, but this could be a sneaky over. Last year, with fewer games, the Thunder were on pace to breeze by their over before collapsing after the loss of SGA to his plantar fasciitis injury. There is juuuust enough talent to make this one interesting, which surely will infuriate the tanking contingent out there.
Adam: The Vegas win total suggests an embarrassing record. It’s tied with Orlando for the lowest team win total in the league. Being a nightly underdog will be a fun role and there’s no pressure on this team. While this isn’t a bad team, it’s a very young team and there will be aches and pains in development. We should expect a few injuries along the way that will be bumps in the road. I’ll take the under. However, don’t judge this team by their record. There will be a lot to be excited about.
Dillon: Under. I think they’re young. Inexperienced. And will naturally “tank” through their growing pains. I’m really hoping for a competitive season and no random stretches of what seems like phantom injuries. When you think about it, the Thunder just don’t have the talent yet to be better than 25% of the schedule. An injury to Dort or SGA for any stretch is almost a guaranteed loss.
Jackson: Under. We saw last year what a competitive first half of the season gets you, the #6 pick. While I am extremely excited for what Josh Giddey can bring to this organization, Sam Presti isn’t tanking for the #6 pick. OKC will be playing the percentages and if that means SGA has to sit some nights to get #1 or #2, then that is what I would expect to happen. Under 23.5 wins, but it’s not about the wins and losses, it’s about the friends you make along the way… Right?
Stephen: As much as we all want this to be the under for the first pick in the draft, I think we’re going to end up with the over. Looking back on some of the historically bad teams, for example the 2015/2016 Sixers who only won 10 games, didn’t have the “star power” that OKC currently has right now with Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Lu Dort with the possible “star” emergence of Josh Giddey. This team is definitely bottom of the barrel in the current state of the NBA but still gritty enough to win some games they probably shouldn’t be winning. I’m taking the over with 24, yes 24 wins.