The Thunder season got off to somewhat of a rocky start, but pieces are starting to fall into place. After starting with two brutal blowouts, the Thunder rallied back for some very entertaining and competitive losses and even two surprise comeback wins over the Los Angeles Lakers. They are 4-2 in their last 6 and are currently on a 3 game winning streak. As the team looks into the future to see who is “a guy” and who is simply here to fill the roster for the rebuild, it is important to take stock of what the team has every once in a while. So here are evaluations and ratings for every player through ten games, if it seems like the sample size is too small and these may be somewhat overreactions… you’re probably right.
Josh Giddey (A)
Oklahoma City fans were shocked when the Thunder picked up Josh Giddey with the sixth pick in the draft. It seemed like a major reach at the time. His name was barely even being discussed in the lottery until a few weeks prior to the NBA draft. Optimism amongst fans was low, especially after seeing the other rookies dominate summer league which Giddey had to miss due to injury. Yet, once again Sam Presti showed us why we are not NBA general managers. Early returns on Josh Giddey make it seem like the Presti and the Thunder have struck gold once again.
Josh Giddey has a great feel for the game and maturity in the way he plays, which is very impressive considering he’s only 19 and is the 2nd youngest player in the NBA. It usually takes rookie point guards a while before they learn to comfortably run their offense, but not Josh. The rookie guard is co-running the Thunder offense with ease. Clearly his time in the NBL helped because in only his third game, Giddey dropped an efficient 19 points, 8 rebounds, and 7 assists on the Golden State Warriors. Giddey also dropped ten or more points in four of the first ten games of the season.
The Thunder clearly trust Giddey to run the offense as well, as he was the general of this late game play against the Lakers that extended the lead.
Any scoring from Josh Giddey would have been a welcome sight, however, as his passing is clearly his best attribute. He is far and away the leader in total assists and assists per game among rookies, as he is averaging about 6.2 of them per game with 11.3 potential assists per game on top of that. Giddey makes the right reads routinely and can also thread the needle at will. He seemingly makes at least one ludicrous pass every game that leaves fans wondering, “what just happened?”
I mean… look at this pass he made vs the Lakers
The only major negatives so far for Giddey is that he has struggled from the line to begin the season and has also shown a lack of consistency in creating his own shots outside of the paint. However, he has shown some flashes of the latter that should give Thunder fans some optimism about him completing his offensive game. The Thunder have certainly found “a guy” in Josh Giddey that should be a great partner in crime to SGA for years to come. Every time he is on the court, he manages to do something even more amazing than last time. It is also only a matter of time before he becomes the youngest player to record a triple double, as he stuffs the stat sheet with ease. He is absolutely oozing with potential while already being a valuable player today.
Shai-Gilgeous Alexander (B+)
SGA is making a name for himself in this league. There is so much well-placed optimism around Shai-Gilgeous Alexander from Thunder fans and the organization alike because a star is forming in front of everyone’s eyes. A player that pulls up from the logo with confidence in a tightly contested game is someone you want leading your franchise into war to say the least.
SGA is averaging about 23 points, 5 and a half rebounds, and 4 and a half assists to start the season. His efficiency has dropped of from the out of the world production he had last season, though. His percentage from the field is down about 7% and his three point percentage is down about 6% from last season. This shouldn’t be alarming, as most players would probably see a drop-off after not playing basketball for half of a season and also transitioning into a role of not being the sole ball handler as he learns to play with Josh Giddey. Nonetheless, his shooting is still something to be aware of as he has only shot over 50% from the field in two of ten games to start the season which is very unlike him.
Shai’s newest addition to his arsenal has made him absolutely lethal at times, as his step back three has been leaving players in the dust all season. He is shooting greater than 50% on this shot, making it nearly unguardable. It will be interesting to see what other moves he can add to his already great bag of tricks. SGA has also been a solid finisher once again. He leads the league in drives at 23.6 per game and shoots 46.5% on these drives. His layup package is as great as ever and his slow motion euro-step has given defenders trouble all season.
SGA’s playmaking has remained more or less constant. Though he is down about 1.5 assists per game from last year, he is also sharing the court with a facilitator in Giddey, so this is not much of a drop. He routinely makes the right reads on his drive and kicks or to find cutters. One area he could probably improve in is his defense, as he definitely has the length to be a bothersome defender.
Despite his efficiency, we have definitely seen a change in SGA as a leader. He has been noticeably more animated on the court and the rest of the team such as Mike Muscala speaks wonders about him as a leader. I would expect that SGA picks up his shooting over the next ten games as he continues his all star campaign, but it is clear that OKC has their franchise superstar of the future.
Luguentz Dort (B)
Dort has been Dort for better or for worse. He is slightly up in rebounds and assists per game from last season and is putting up about the same number of points per game at 14.1ppg. The biggest hit has been his three point shooting as it currently sits at 23%, an 11% drop from his much improved shooting last season. It is unclear whether this is a regression to the mean for Lu Dort or if this is just normal early season struggling. His field goal percentage is about the same as last season, but his 2 point percentage is up 11% to 54%. Having two playmakers in Giddey and Shai has helped him tremendously, as they routinely find Dort on cuts to the rim.
Lu does have a tendency to make some questionable drives to the rim that often result in turnovers or wild layups. This could be a result of him feeling he needs to do too much without Shai or Giddey on the court. He did have success in the Thunder’s win over the Pelicans, however. Dort dropped 27 points on 8-13 shooting despite shooting 2-7 from three. His driving game was the best it’s been in a long time, as his scoring barrage included this crazy up and under layup.
Hopefully whatever Lu found in this game can continue in the next ten as well.
Defensively, Dort has been as good as ever. He is a great on-ball and point of attack defender that sometimes struggles off-ball against complex offensive sets. Dort is the glue guy of this team and the Thunder’s biggest hustle guy. He routinely forces deflections, dives for loose balls and never seems to give up on a play. His hustle spearheaded the first comeback vs the Lakers, as his defense and chase of a loose ball energized the team and began their massive run. His best defensive play of the season was probably this chasedown block on the Golden State Warriors, demonstrating his hustle and defensive athleticism.
Dort is a tenacious worker and great teammate. He seems to improve greatly every offseason and opportunity he gets and the rest of the team loves playing with him. He will be here for the course of the rebuild due to that alone, even if it is not in a starting role.
Darius Bazley (B)
It’s been a rollercoaster for Darius Bazley to start the season. Many fans were ready to give up on him after the game vs the Clippers, where several late game turnovers led the Thunder to blow a 9 point lead in the final two minutes and lose a very winnable game. Yet, in the Thunder’s last three games, Bazley has demonstrated his value and has gotten the fanbase back on his side. In the last 6 games (of which the Thunder are 4-2), Bazley is averaging 13.2 points and 7 rebounds a game on 45/40/63 splits. He has looked much more confident in his last 3 games as it seems he has found his role on this Thunder team. When he doesn’t try to do too much offensively he is a very effective player. He is a great roller that can finish around the rim and an effective spot-up shooter. He is also a great rebounder due to his athleticism, as shown by this massive putback dunk that help secure a win over the Spurs.
The issues come when he tries to play outside of his comfort zone. He was 1/16 from three over the first four games of the season and many of these threes were difficult shots that he took off the dribble. Additionally, when Bazley tries to drive he turns the ball over or gets low percentage shots too often.
Though Mark Daigneault expresses the importance of fluidity in roles, I see no evidence that Bazley could be a great point forward. If he can continue to work on his spot-up shooting and his finishing at the rim, he can be a great role player for the Thunder. He already has the length and athleticism to be a great defender and has shown some success defending on ball as well. It is unclear whether he willl be part of the Thunder’s future or will eventually be moved, but I am excited to see if Bazley can keep his production up in the next ten games.
Jeremiah Robinson-Earl (B+)
JRE has made good use of the time he’s been on the floor, which is about all you can ask from a 2nd round pick. He plays within himself and makes good decisions. Robinson-Earl has shown a great chemistry with fellow rookie Josh Giddey especially in the pick and roll game. He is also shooting 40% from three which is great for a young big. The Thunder have started JRE against less dominant centers this season and his ability to stretch them out defensively opens up the Thunder offense in a good way. He does struggle to secure boards and protect the rim against bigger centers, but he will learn some helpful strategies to do so as the season continues. Daigneault citied PJ Tucker when talking about what role JRE could play for a good team, and if he can keep this up JRE could definitely be a long term role player for the Thunder.
Theo Maledon (F)
Theo’s struggles come as a surprise to many Thunder fans, as he was looking great in his rookie year especially after the injury to SGA. Yet, Theo has started this season averaging 2.2 points and 1.3 assists on 20/13/75 splits. He has looked unconfident and frankly just bad. He often holds onto the ball too long and the 2nd unit offense does not run very well with him at the helm, especially compared to how it runs with Ty Jerome. It is too early to completely give up on Theo though, especially considering what he showed last season. Maledon was just sent to the G-League, so hopefully he can find his confidence and his shot down there.
Aleksej Pokusevski (D)
Poku was the player I was most excited to watch going into this season, but he has not shown much improvement in his early struggles. He is shooting 26% from three and 34% from the field this season which is more or less what he was shooting last season as well. Poku still takes too many low percentage shots and tries to do too much offensively. He did have a good game vs the Clippers though. In that game he played within himself offensively and also made some solid defensive plays. He is only nearly 20 years old though, so it isn’t the end of the world if he isn’t showing too much promise yet. I would think some time in the G-League would help Poku regain his confidence and secure his fundamentals as it did last season.
Ty Jerome (B)
Ty Jerome is having a solid under the radar season for the Thunder, even if the numbers do not completely back it up. The young guard out of Virginia has a great composure and feel for the game, and the way the Thunder offense runs with him off the bench backs that up. Jerome was instrumental in the second Thunder comeback to the Los Angeles Lakers, as he knocked down multiple threes to begin the run. Though he is only shooting 25% from three on the year, teams respect him and him being on the floor opens the game up for players such as SGA and Giddey. Jerome has mustered up a +/- of +41 in only thirteen minutes per game with the Thunder bench, which is impressive to say the least. Jerome does struggle against bigger guards and on switches defensively due to his size, however. Additionally, his low percentages to start the season land him in the B range, though those will rise as the season continues. It will be interesting to see what the Thunder’s plans with Jerome are, as he will be a serviceable backup guard for the foreseeable future.
Mike Muscala (B+)
Mike Muscala is having a great start to the season. He is averaging about 10 points per game coming off the Thunder bench but is shooting a blistering 46.7% from three to start the year. In his last two games he is 8/10 from three, helping lead the Thunder to victories. Much like Jerome, having Muscala on the floor just makes the offense run more smoothly, as his spacing gives room for other players to operate. His shortcomings do come on the defensive end however, as he sometimes struggles to protect the rim and is not necesarily a true five on that end of the floor. Mike could very well fill the Collison role during the rebuild, as the Thunder brass and players alike seem to love having him around. Some players, such as Darius Bazley, say they look up to Muscala. Veteran presence is important even in a rebuild, and Mike Muscala has been a great vet to have around.
Tre Mann (C)
We have not really seen enough of Tre Mann for an accurate assessment of his play. He has shown his ability to get elite separation, as his bounciness and handle have been losing defenders. Despite this, he has struggled to finish on his shots, only shooting 43% on the season. He has also struggled defensively, leaving coach Daigneault assigning him to the G-League for a few games saying that Mann needed to earn his minutes by improving on his fundamentals first, citing “eating his broccoli before getting his skittles.” Tre Mann was able to play 14 minutes against the win in New Orleans and has escaped the latest batch of G-League assignments, so one would expect that he will receive more opportunity in the coming games especially with competing bench guard Theo Maledon in the G-League now.
Isaiah Roby (C-)
We haven’t seen much of Roby this season. His minutes are down to about 10 per game after being at about 23 per game last year. He has only played in five of the ten games so far and was only able to score double digits in one of the games. He struggles defensively against physical players and can’t seem to find a consistent shot. I doubt Roby will be here for the long term, as I expect JRE to overtake him in the rotation as the team moves forward. Roby is currently spending time in the G-League with the OKC Blue, so hopefully he comes back looking better and more consistent.
Derrick Favors (C)
Thunder fans may have to begin to lower their expectations on what the team will receive in an eventual Favors trade. The vet is shooting 53% from the field, his lowest mark in five years. He has missed many easy assists to begin the season as well. Defensively, however, he has been effective. He’s an intelligent veteran that gets to the right spots defensively and can secure rebounds, something the Thunder desperately need. He has also been a great locker room presence for the team according to the players as they love having him around. This situation probably isn’t ideal for Favors, but he has been a professional in his short time here. I expect the Thunder to move him by the trade deadline and otherwise waive him if there isn’t a deal out there.
Kenrich Williams (B+)
Kenrich Williams has been a solid role player for the Thunder off the bench. He is playing about 22 minutes a game and makes smart decisions on the court. Williams has been a respectable three point shooter as well at 33% including a huge three against the Lakers to secure the comeback win. He is one of the hardest workers on the Thunder, diving for loose balls and playing tenacious defense. I would expect that he will be moved to a contender, as there was some buzz about him last season regarding interest from contenders already.