With Media Day approaching for the Oklahoma City Thunder on Sept. 27, InsideTheThunder.com took a look at some of the most pressing questions for OKC ahead of the 2021-22 season.
Aleksej Pokusevski showed more upside than most people expected last season. He threw flashy passes, hit step-back 3-pointers and showed a feel for the game that players his size just don’t have.
He also took risks — a lot of them. He’s young though, and has plenty of road in front of him to grow and become more disciplined with his on-court actions. Something he’ll need to show he can do off the court though is build strength.
All accounts are that Pokusevski spent his offseason training to show up in better condition for the 2021-2022 season. At 7-foot-0 and just 195 pounds, he drifted in the wind last season like an inflatable you’d see outside of a car dealership. Pokusevski’s look on media day could give fans a glimpse of the work he’s put into his body. He’ll need it to edge closer to his incredibly high ceiling.
SGA's Goals for Awards and Acclaim
What is Shai Gilgeous-Alexander’s mentality heading into this season? He knows he’s on a rebuilding team. He knows that he doesn’t get much national media recognition. Players like Ja Morant or Trae Young have led their teams in the playoffs, whereas Gilgeous-Alexander hasn’t gotten the spotlight to that degree yet.
His personal goals for this season could be intriguing. Does he just want to make the All-Star Game? It wouldn’t be unreasonable to say he could even make an All-NBA squad, albeit it would probably be the third team. Nonetheless, the level of league-wide respect Gilgeous-Alexander expresses that he wants this season is something to look out for. He may not find team success for a couple more years, so individual accolades are a great place to start.
What Role Players Will Solidify a Future Roster Spot?
The Oklahoma City Thunder have a lot of draft picks —about 14 first rounders actually, moving forward. They managed to leave the 2021 NBA draft with the same amount of picks as they entered with, due to trading the pick that would become Alperen Sengun. With all of those perceived roster spots, even beyond bundling picks to move up, there are only so many lockers to be filled on a given team. The Thunder already have some promising young talent, too.
Role players like Theo Maledon, Ty Jerome, Darius Bazley, Jeremiah Robinson-Earl and Tre Mann are all varying degrees of “promising” though. It’s unrealistic to think all of these guys, no matter how much fans love them, will be on the roster that makes the playoffs years down the road.
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Some of these players will ultimately step forward by way of talent, and leave the others behind. Who will it be? Media day will give fans a sense of each role player’s mentality heading into another important developmental year.
Will the Blue Play a Larger Part in Player Development?
The Oklahoma City Blue will now be playing games at the Paycom Center, just like their figurative older brother the Oklahoma City Thunder. Sam Presti and former coach of the Blue, Mark Daigneault, love to use the team as a way to further develop players that wouldn’t normally get minutes in the NBA.
With the Blue playing in the same arena now, will they push that envelope even further? Guys like Mann or Robinson-Earl could jump between the Thunder and Blue easily, and playing in a confidence-breeding environment could be what they need to find comfort on the pro hardwood.
Projected Final Standings for the Thunder
The NBA has never had more talent than it does right now, and tanking has never been less incentivized. Even with the worst record in the league, the odds at the number one pick are just 14 percent. The odds leveling out, combined with young players being more developed earlier in their career have created much more parity at the bottom half of the league. There won’t be a team totally devoid of talent like the “Process 76er’s”.
The Thunder need a top-three pick in this next draft. Especially after falling to six this summer. With the construction of the league right now, they don't have to have the worst record in the league to end up with the best possible odds for that pick. The only other teams in the NBA that arguably want to tank are Detroit and Houston, and both of those teams do have talent.
Long-tortured franchises like the Kings, Cavaliers and Timberwolves will fight tooth-and-nail to get to a play-in spot this season, so they should be comfortably ahead in the win column by seasons end. The Magic could sneak in and ruin the loss-party, but when the cards are down and the Thunder are 10 games away from securing their targeted loss total, don’t doubt Presti’s determination.
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