The Thunder organization leveraged a major victory this week.
As first reported by Joe Mussatto of The Oklahoman and covered by Inside The Thunder on Wednesday, the Oklahoma City Blue will remain in the Paycom Center next season.
The Blue, who finished 15-20 in the regular season, were a presumptive return to the Paycom Center going into the offseason. However, Sam Presti noted in his exit interview about the franchise’s locational uncertainty.
“We have a challenge on our hands because the NBA or the G League doesn’t want (the Blue) playing in our arena next year,” said Thunder GM Sam Presti. “Conversation probably not for the public, but it is an NBA arena, so it should be good enough for the G League.”
As a brand, the NBA G League has expanded its horizons tenfold in the last few seasons. Notably, their implementation of the G League Ignite has sparked newfound interest, while the rise of basketball content through social media has helped to surface a market for the NBA G League.
Because of the Paycom Center’s shared venue, the Blue played 16 home games no later than noon last season, sharing the arena with the Thunder 15 times last season.
While scheduling may cause commotion within the G League ranks, the Blue’s extension in the Paycom Center will pave the way for pivotal progression throughout the rotation.
At the surface level, it is clear to envision the upside as a result of this news. With the Thunder and Blue being in the same city, even more so the same arena, the Blue’s resources will be bar none compared to other teams in the league.
For example, the Miami Heat’s G League Affiliate, the Sioux Falls Skyforce, plays 1,821 miles away from each other. That’s a 27-hour car ride or five-hour, 30-minute flight away. As a result of the Skyforce playing long distance, it’s a tough task sending Miami Heat scouts and staff on trips to Sioux Falls, South Dakota, on a regular basis.
In the case of Thunder personnel and scouts, they’re able to watch the Blue practice and compete in contests consistently by setting the alarm just a few hours earlier. Based on the short distance, it’s no wonder why the franchise tends to stay in-house for call-up candidates. They are closer than any other team with their players.
On topic with the up-close examinations, the Oklahoma City Thunder will be carrying out plenty in both training camp and in the regular season. With a rotation taking form around Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Josh Giddey and Chet Holmgren and a slew of veterans and prospects alike, it’ll be easier said than done allotting game-to-game minutes.
Because of the jam-packed rotation, sending Thunder players such as Ousmane Dieng, Jaylin Williams and Vit Krejci on same-day assignments with the Blue should be a routine transaction in November and December. As a result, a player such as Dieng, who thrives in on-ball creation, will have plenty of opportunities to create with the Blue and work on his shot with no stakes attached.
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To tag along with the Thunder’s standard contract signees, the team’s pair of two-way signees Lindy Waters III and Eugene Omoruyi also earn some clear benefits from this news. Under a two-way contract, players are allowed up to 50 regular-season games on the NBA roster while being prohibited from playoff basketball.
For Waters III and Omoruyi, the clear advantage here is having Thunder staff continuously monitor their G League development and schedule them advantageously on call-ups.
However, the biggest winners of this news aren’t the two-way signees or even Thunder members – it’s the G League signees themselves.
As noted earlier, a team such as the Miami Heat rarely ever fosters homegrown talent from their G League affiliate. Duncan Robinson is the clear exception. While prominent call-up figures such as Max Strus, Haywood Highsmith and Omer Yurtseven all have made notable contributions for the Heat. All three of their G League roots started outside of their organization – with only Strus ever playing for the Skyforce.
In regards to the Miami Heat, they are a cream-of-the-crop in G League development. Despite leaning more so on other teams’ players, their decorative resume proves it pays dividends to scan a large surface area.
However, if you narrow your search efforts, you’re likely to uncover some diamonds. That’s exactly what the Oklahoma City Thunder have done, two-way deal or not.
Outside of some outliers, notably Justin Robinson, the Oklahoma City Thunder have stuck solely to Oklahoma City Blue players for contract upgrades, two-way signings, and 10-day opportunities. In the hodgepodge of deals, they’ve panned gems in Lu Dort, Moses Brown and Aaron Wiggins off two-way contracts. But, there’s more daylight than ever for strict G League players to earn a shot on the big stage.
Last season, the Thunder had some up-and-downs with Paul Watson Jr. As a 27-year-old sharpshooter, Watson Jr. failed to show hardly any consistency at the G League level, making him a hard sell for NBA rotational minutes. Because of his downspell, the Thunder were able to collaborate with the Blue to find a replacement for the wing. They ultimately settled upon Lindy Waters III.
Following Wiggins’ contract upgrade, Waters III earned his ticket to a two-way deal. After waiving Watson Jr. one week later, Olivier Sarr climbed to a two-way spot.
The fingerprints are stained onto the Blue’s practice facility. All marks lead to Thunder executives. As highlighted last season, the Thunder aren’t afraid to shake up the scene on two-way contracts. With Waters III not consistently playing until January, it’s reasonable to believe the Thunder may have gone a different direction last year had they not had NBA scouts in the Blue’s building.
Pivoting into next season, the Oklahoma City Blue are bound to share multiple dates with the Thunder in the Paycom Center – and you’re bound to see some NBA-level scouts in attendance.