The rebuild continued in Oklahoma City in 2021-22 with the team finishing 24-58 under coach Mark Daigneault and missing out on a postseason berth for the second consecutive season. But when the Thunder drafted Chet Holmgren back in June with the No. 2 pick, there was a fleeting thought (from this vantage point) the club might fight back into the playoffs — or at least a Play-In tournament berth — considering all the young talent Oklahoma City had accumulated over the years. At the very least, the Thunder would land near the top of everybody’s NBA League Pass must-watch list for 2022-23 with Shai Gilgeous-Alexander running the show for a young squad also featuring 2021 No. 6 pick Josh Giddey and Holmgren, along with defensive stopper Lu Dort, who in July signed a new contract.
Then Holmgren suffered a right foot injury in August defending LeBron James during a pro-am game, and the club promptly announced the rookie would miss the 2022-23 season, thus somewhat slowing a rebuilding process that looks promising up to this point. Oklahoma City landed three 2022 lottery picks in Holmgren, Jalen Williams, and Ousmane Dieng, in addition to adding Jaylin Williams at No. 34. The club also extended Kenrich Williams back in July.
It appears the Thunder will continue to take their time building something special for a small-market organization that knows it can’t construct a consistently competitive team through free agency. It’s also worth noting that OKC remains flush with future picks over the next three Drafts, but only one first-rounder in 2023.
Holmgren’s injury situation might extract some of the fun we expected to see out of this season’s young, talented OKC squad. But the focus was always going to be on development and the future, as the franchise continues its efforts to rebuild into a sustainable postseason contender. The question for 2022-23 comes down to whether the Thunder have the patience to continue this rebuilding process considering the franchise isn’t used to occupying this position. OKC had advanced to the playoffs in 10 of 11 seasons prior to the current drought.
The front office deserves credit for the job it has done, collecting such a promising array of young talent that you almost want to hasten the timeline for this rebuild. But the cold, hard, truth is the Thunder still need to make strides to regain status as a perennial postseason contender. The rookie max extension for franchise centerpiece Gilgeous-Alexander kicks in this season. Will he be patient enough to endure what will be another rebuilding season? Either way, Oklahoma City should be fun to watch this season, even without Holmgren. Projection: Draft Lottery
1 KEY STAT TO KNOW
14.4 — The Thunder allowed 14.4 fewer points per 100 possessions with Kenrich Williams on the floor (100.3) than they did with him off the floor (114.7). That was the biggest on-off DefRtg differential among 261 players who played at least 1,000 minutes for a single team.
— John Schuhmann
PROJECTED STARTING FIVE
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander: Racked up 30 points or more in 10 of his last 13 games after All-Star break, but how long can he keep enduring all the losses?
Josh Giddey: Finished his first season in the NBA with the sixth-most triple-doubles (4) by a rookie in NBA history.
Lu Dort: Oklahoma City’s best defender, Dort averaged a career-high 22 points last season but needs to continue to improve accuracy from deep.
Darius Bazley: Versatile and athletic player that needs to take the next step to remain a part of OKC’s future.
Jeremiah Robinson-Earl: The 2021 second-round pick played 49 games as a rookie and should get an extended look this season due to Holmgren’s injury.
Jalen Williams: Although Williams was the third player selected in the 2022 NBA Draft, don’t sleep on him because he flashed some promise during Summer League.
Tre Mann: An explosive scorer, Mann played in 60 games as a rookie last season with 26 starts.
Aleksej Pokusevski: The 17th pick of 2020, Pokusevski needs to improve consistency, especially as a shooter (40.8 % from the field and 28.9% from 3-point range) to stick.
LAST 5 SEASONS
How the Thunder have fared stats-wise over the last 5 seasons …
OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions
DefRtg = Points allowed per 100 possessions
NetRtg = Point differential per 100 possessions
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Michael C. Wright is a senior writer for NBA.com. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.
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