When last seen, the Thunder appeared as if they were laying the groundwork for something special with veteran Chris Paul leading a young team that had proven its meddle in clutch situations all throughout the regular season, before taking a talented Houston Rockets team to seven games in the first round of the playoffs. Undrafted rookie Lu Dort gave James Harden fits in that opening round, emerging as a defensive stopper with some promise on the offensive end, while Shai Gilgeous-Alexander showcased plenty of signs throughout the season and in the bubble that he could be a franchise cornerstone for years to come, given more opportunity.
What’s new? Rather than build on the promise Oklahoma City showed last season, Thunder general manager Sam Presti thought with his head instead of his heart in charting the path moving forward. Presti opted to continue the rebuild he started last summer, explaining to The Daily Oklahoman that “when you step back and take a clear-eyed, rational view of the season we had last year, and all of the randomness that occurred in our favor, the loss of future value we would be relinquishing for a small probability of replicating those performances, it was clear that the most objective path was to prioritize the future.” That bold step played a role in the departure of coach Billy Donovan, who was replaced by Mark Daigneault, not to mention a continuation of transactions that have netted OKC 18 first-round picks and a slew of second-round selections through the 2027 NBA Draft. Player development is the mantra in OKC for the foreseeable future.
What’s missing: Paul was the most significant loss as the Thunder traded him for a collection of players and a 2022 first-round pick from the Suns. Oklahoma City will miss the veteran’s poise and leadership. The Thunder also parted ways with speedy guard Dennis Schröder, who was traded to the Los Angeles Lakers and sent Steven Adams — a player that was instrumental in establishing the team’s culture — to New Orleans. The Schröder and Paul trades took place within 24 hours of one another. The Thunder also lost veteran sharpshooter Danilo Gallinari in a sign-and-trade deal with Atlanta that landed them a conditional 2025 second-round pick. Gilgeous-Alexander and Dort are the only remaining starters returning for the upcoming season, and the team added some battle-tested vets in Al Horford, George Hill and Trevor Ariza along with promising newcomers such as 17th pick Aleksej Pokusevski and French point guard Theo Maledon (34th overall pick). Hill, Ariza, Horford, Darius Miller and Mike Muscala are the only players on the roster with more than three years of NBA experience.
POTENTIAL STARTING FIVE
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander | 19.0 ppg, 5.9 rpg, 3.3 apg
Wants the opportunity to be Oklahoma City’s No. 1 option and will likely get it.
Luguentz Dort| 6.8 ppg, 2.3 rpg, 0.8 apg
Already a lockdown defender, he scored 30 points in Game 7 against the Rockets which means he’s promising offensively, too.
Trevor Ariza | 8.0 ppg, 4.6 rpg, 1.3 spg
Family matters kept him out of the bubble and the early portion of OKC’s training camp.
Darius Bazley | 5.6 ppg, 4.0 rpg, 0.7 apg
Dort overshadowed him, but let’s not forget he became the first Thunder rookie since James Harden last season to score 20 points or more in three consecutive games.
Al Horford | 11.9 ppg, 6.8 rpg, 4.0 apg
Not a good fit alongside Joel Embiid in Philadelphia but could prove reliable in new role with a new team.
George Hill | 9.4 ppg, 3.0 rpg, 3.1 apg
Career 38.4% shooter from deep with enough skill and veteran savvy to crack the starting lineup.
Mike Muscala | 4.8 ppg, 2.3 rpg, 0.9 apg
Minutes were limited last season because of Adams and Nerlens Noel, but the big with 3-point range is now Horford’s primary backup.
Hamidou Diallo | 6.9 ppg, 3.6 rpg, 0.8 apg
Third-year pro is now OKC’s longest-tenured player.
Oklahoma City Thunder, last 5 seasons
OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions
DefRtg = Points allowed per 100 possessions
NetRtg = Point differential per 100 possessions
The returners gained valuable postseason experience in the bubble, but there’s just too much youth on this roster mixed with grizzled veterans on their last legs. You can expect the Thunder to take a major step back from their promising 2019-20 campaign in which they finished a surprising fifth in the West. OKC already has plenty of draft picks to work with moving forward, and it’s likely the Thunder tack on a lottery pick at the end of 2020-21.
Predicted finish: 29-43.
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