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Projecting Oklahoma City's 2023 NBA Draft Positioning

The Thunder could be a team that ends up surprising some people.

Oklahoma City general manager Sam Presti was clear this off-season that he’s going to allow this Thunder roster to fully compete and see where they’re at. From that judgement, the team’s brass can decide the overarching direction of the season.

OKC is currently projected to be one of the NBA’s worst teams, according to Vegas. The Thunder have the fourth-to-last worst odds to win the NBA Finals, only beating out Houston, Orlando and San Antonio. When the season is all said and done, could Oklahoma City really end up with top-five draft odds?

Last season, the Thunder won just 24 games. When Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Josh Giddey were in the lineup, the team was much more competitive and won some impressive games early on. As the season wore on though, the random injuries started to take a toll, and the Thunder’s sparse roster saw the losses pile up. The decision was easy for Presti, as Oklahoma City chose to stay cautious with their star players and try to secure a top draft pick.

If the Thunder let the lineup loose during the first few months of the season, what will the on-court production look like? It’s easy to think there will be a jump in talent level as Oklahoma City added a star in Chet Holmgren and an immediate rotation piece with Jalen Williams. Gilgeous-Alexander, Giddey and Lu Dort will also be fully healthy after another off-season of improvement.

The rotation down the line is a lot stronger, too, making it hard for the Thunder to commit to losing down the stretch. Oklahoma City rested players like Aleksej Pokusevski over the last few weeks of the season, but won’t be able to make moves like that as often anymore. The back end of the bench now has nice pieces and prospects that could make an impact on any given night.

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While the NBA has undoubtedly improved across the board, the Victor Wembenyama sweepstakes are a real thing. There will be plenty of teams that make a late run for the generational talent.

It’s unrealistic to suggest the Thunder make a jump to the playoffs. It’s still a young roster with plenty of holes. There’s a lot of development on the horizon. But many teams contending for Wembenyama will not have a player of the same caliber as Gilgeous-Alexander. Other teams could falter early, like the Pacers, who missed out on DeAndre Ayton, or the Kings, who are hoping this is finally the year. Even teams like the Wizards are a Bradley Beal injury away from picking in the top ten. The Hornets are a sneaky player in the lottery if they are looking to pair LaMelo Ball with another star.

The point is, there are plenty of variables to go along with the upcoming season. If Oklahoma City can stay healthy and opt to ride it out, it’s hard to see them picking at No. 5 next June. The lottery is still reasonable and expected, but a top-five pick would require some serious missed time from a top star. As the season plays out, the direction could become more clear, but on paper, this Thunder team seems to have much more talent than in years past.


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