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Rotational Ripple: Projecting OKC Thunder Power Forward Minutes

The trio of Thunder power forwards will be jousting for ample playing time to start the season.
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The Oklahoma City Thunder are due for a rotational ripple.

With the Thunder onboarding four rookies, including three Top 12 selections, the organization is due for a shuffled deck in the rotation. After the waiving of forward Isaiah Roby in July, the franchise holds a standard roster of 18, three spots above the league maximum. Upon the franchise’s duo of two-way signings and pair of Exhibit-10 additions, they currently hold a roster of 22 – exceeding the training camp maximum of 20.

In preparation for the 2022-23 season, roster turnover is a given for the Oklahoma City Thunder. However, their tip-off time will help show their finished product from the offseason.

Throughout the week on Inside The Thunder, I will be assessing what I imagine will be the Thunder’s opening rotation for the regular season.

For purposes of articles on the topic, Josh Giddey will be listed as a shooting guard based on the franchise’s starting lineups during the 2021-22 season.

Additionally, these minutes will be solely based on my projections for the Thunder’s day-one rotation. As showcased in years prior, the franchise has altered rotational minutes based on performance and injuries accordingly. While changes are to be expected, these minute allocations will not take into account potential injuries or forthcoming rotational adjustments.

Here is the breakdown on the Thunder’s projected power forward rotation:

Darius Bazley - 20 Minutes

Darius Bazley

After a strong close to his rookie season, Darius Bazley has battled inconsistent patches as a starter the past two seasons. Leading into the 2022-23 season, he’ll have one more opportunity to prove himself before entering free agency.

As aforementioned, Bazley has been rather inconsistent, particularly on offense. After shooting 34.8% from deep as a rookie, Bazley has shot below 30% from the three-point range the last two seasons. With the Thunder structured around penetration play with Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Josh Giddey, it’s a necessity to surround the pairing with knock-down pieces off-the-catch.

I project Bazley will be the day-one starter at the power forward position for the Thunder next season. But, he will not be the minute leader at the position.

This reason is to be reiterated later in the article, but it all comes down to positional versatility. At 6-foot-8, Bazley has elevated from a small forward to strictly playing the four spot in the NBA. While his defensive intensity has had strong moments, he’s not equipped to play center in a nightly rotation.

Because of this limitation, playing Bazley in the starting unit allows for better blends of starting and bench combinations throughout the game, especially if center Chet Holmgren were to face stints of fatigue during the contest.

With impending restricted free agency and multiple rookie-scale signees on the hunt for minutes, there’s not much wiggle room for Bazley to fiddle with such as years prior.

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Jeremiah Robinson-Earl - 24 Minutes

OKC Thunder, Sacramento Kings, Jeremiah Robinson-Earl

After making the jump from the power forward to center position as a rookie, Jeremiah Robinson-Earl should be on the up-and-up headed into year two.

Robinson-Earl has cemented himself as a jack-of-all-trades if you will. While he’s not elite in any set area, his above-average passing ability, reputable three-point play, and rebounding efforts made him a strong addition last season. While Robinson-Earl will not be expected to field starting minutes at the five any longer, his resume in the position makes him a glue guy in the frontcourt.

While Bazley is landlocked in the four position, Robinson-Earl’s ability to move seamlessly between the four and five make him a more viable option for heftier minutes. His ability to pop off screens is translatable at both positions and his overall play makes him a solid choice to space the floor at the four position.

Had Robinson-Earl strictly been a power forward, he’d be mocked as the day-one starter at the four. But, based on versatility, he nets position-leading minutes coming off the bench.

Aleksej Pokusevski - On The Hunt / Inconsistent Minutes

Aleksej Pokusevski, Poku, OKC Thunder

Aleksej Pokusevski is one of the most tantalizing prospects in the league. With perimeter-centric play, guard-like skills, and a quick release at 7 feet tall, the sky is the limit with a player such as Pokusevski.

Entering his third season with the Thunder, Pokusevski has been riding waves of being hot and cold. When hot, Pokusevski has shown all the makings of being a first-round pick, lighting up the floor from deep while padding the block department. On the flip side, his shaky outings have often come with high usage and little results.

At age 20, there’s still room in the growth plates for Pokusevski as a player. I believe the Oklahoma City Thunder also share that same mindset. As the Thunder continue their rebuild, it’ll become harder and harder to field minutes on project minutes, especially one as alluring as Pokusevski.

In the Thunder’s day-one roster, Pokusevski narrowly misses playing time due to the starting gig landing with Darius Bazley. However, his electric play should guarantee he nets minutes in blowout contests.

Pokusevski has taken trips with the Oklahoma City Blue in both of his seasons in the NBA. While third-year assignments are rather uncommon, fostering his development with other assignees such as Ousmane Dieng or Vit Krejci may yield positive results for when he gets a crack at routine minutes.

Next up, I will be breaking down the Thunder's center rotation.

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