2021-22 Thunder Season Preview

Nick Gallo | Broadcast Reporter & Digital Editor | okcthunder.com

Not a single player on this year’s Thunder roster was born before 1990, and just two were born before 1994. Teenagers and players in their young-20s will rack up the minutes this season as the Thunder fully invests in its next generation of talent. As Thunder fans fill up Paycom Center once again, they’ll get to savor all of the moments as these emerging players take their strides forward.

That means creating playing time and opportunities for inexperienced players who are trying to define their games and achieve their potential throughout the course of the season, testing them across different lineups, combinations and situations.

“This year for us is as much about getting a baseline of where we're at now that we have a grouping of young players that will compete to figure out who will be here for the long term and who can help us cultivate the next era of Thunder basketball,” said Thunder General Manager and Executive Vice President Sam Presti.


Offense

The Thunder will be defined this season by the unpredictability of its offense given the sheer number of playmakers who will get chances to create with the pass or the dribble. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander will run plenty of pick and roll and attack in isolation, but he’s not a purely ball-dominant player. That means rookie Josh Giddey, second-year point guard Théo Maledon and a handful of other guards will get the chance to initiate offense. Don’t forget about the frontcourt players too – nearly all of them will get to rebound and push the ball up floor and then keep the action moving with dribble handoffs or backdoor passes.

“We want versatile players that can do a lot of things out there, and then it's the job of me, our coaching staff and our players as well to make that fit together and to make sure that we're enhancing everybody's strengths,” said Head Coach Mark Daigneault. “The guy with the ball is the creator and then everybody else around it is spacing and working off of that initial creation.”


Defense

For a young team, learning NBA defensive principles and applying them on the fly is one of the most difficult aspects of development. Fortunately, the Thunder has veterans at the center spot in Derrick Favors and Mike Muscala – they’ll serve as floor generals while calling out coverages. That communication on defense – with players telling one another whether to switch or trap on the perimeter or to alert that the big man is dropping back to defend the rim – will be a critical learning point as the game action zips around the court.

“We're really just trying to establish our base right now,” said Daigneault. “We may get to a point where we feel like the best thing for the team is to move the big up or switch a little bit more and we'll explore all that. We want to find ways to maximize our team.”


Returning Players

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander6’6”, 181, 23 years old

After averaging 23.7 points and 5.9 assists per game on 50.8% shooting and 41.8% from three, Gilgeous-Alexander seems poised for another step forward as the Thunder’s lead ballhandler.

Luguentz Dort6’4”, 215, 22 years old

A brick wall with shoulders of steel and lightning-quick feet, Dort has emerged as not only an elite perimeter defender but also a burgeoning offensive weapon.

Darius Bazley6’8”, 208, 21 years old

A versatile forward who can put the ball on the deck, Bazley has relied on his energy and extra efforts to make an impact thus far. Running the floor and rebounding are his focus each night.

Théo Maledon6’5”, 180, 20 years old

In his second year, Maledon is stronger physically and more prepared mentally for the rigors of an 82-game slate. Shooting off the dribble and playing with pace will be crucial moving forward.

Ty Jerome6’5”, 195, 24 years old

With a defined game already, Jerome is a guard who will stretch the floor on offense with his three-point marksmanship. On defense he can be relied on to be in the right spots.

Kenrich Williams6’7”, 210, 26 years old

Last year in Oklahoma City, Williams earned respect in the Thunder locker room for his hustle and commitment to the team. He’s also coming off a 44 percent three-point shooting season.

Aleksej Pokuševski7’0”, 190, 19 years old

Pokuševski spent all offseason working on his body, coming back with more poise and stamina. While using his length defensively, the 2nd year forward has impressed with his playmaking too.

Mike Muscala6’11”, 240, 30 years old

A pick-and-pop threat at the top of the key, Muscala is a stable veteran presence who embraces the identity of the Thunder organization and relishes his role as a leader by example.

Isaiah Roby6’8”, 230, 23 years old

In his third year Roby aims to become a more efficient player. Last season he started more than half the games he played and at the center or power forward spot, Roby provides flexibility.

Gabriel Deck6’8”, 232, 26 years old

A ferocious competitor, the Argentinian forward has shown a knack for cutting off the ball, playing opportunistically on defense and connecting the team with his passing.


Rookies

Josh Giddey6’8, 210, 19 years old

Despite his youth, Giddey sees the game unfold in front of him, anticipating the movement of defenders and his teammates. He’s still learning the league but has a bright future ahead.

Tre Mann6’5”, 190, 20 years old

Shifty with the ball, Mann can knock down difficult shots, including step-back and side-step threes along with some runners in traffic. Moving off the ball and staying aggressive will be key.

Jeremiah Robinson-Earl6’9”, 230, 20 years old

A blue-collar worker from a prestigious Villanova University program, Robinson-Earl is physical down low as a rebounder but agile on the perimeter as a shooter, passer and driver.

Aaron Wiggins (Two-Way Player with Oklahoma City Blue) – 6’6”, 200, 22 years old

With the size, athleticism and frame of a prototypical NBA wing, the ever-ready Wiggins has flashed some skillful footwork and a jumper from behind the arc in the preseason.

Vít Krejčí6’8”, 195, 21 years old

While rehabbing an ACL tear last season in Oklahoma City, Krejčí spent all year sitting in Paycom Center intently watching the Thunder. This year, he’ll bring his own energy onto the floor.


Veteran Newcomers

Derrick Favors6’10”, 265, 30 years old

A physical, consistent presence in the paint, Favors will work heavily in the pick and roll with Thunder guards and quarter back OKC’s defense from his spot in the middle of the floor.

Paul Watson Jr. (Two-Way Player with Oklahoma City Blue) – 6’6”, 210, 26 years old

A professional journeyman who has racked up experiences in Europe, the G-League and the NBA, Watson Jr.’s shooting and size will give him a chance to make an impact.


How to Watch/Listen

All 82 regular season games will be broadcast on television on Bally Sports Oklahoma (Cox – Ch. 27 in OKC, Ch. 37 in Tulsa; Direct TV Stream or Bally Sports App).

All 82 regular season games will also be broadcast on the radio at 98.1 FM WWLS the Sports Animal.

All home games in Spanish on WKY radio in OKC (930 AM) with Eleno Ornelas.


Your Off-Day Fix

Like, rate and subscribe to the Thunder Basketball Universe podcast on Apple, Spotify or anywhere you get your podcasts. Hosted by Thunder reporters Paris Lawson and Nick Gallo, with frequent guest appearances by fellow reporter Royce Young, Thunder broadcasters Michael Cage and Chris Fisher and of course Thunder players and staff, the Thunder Basketball Universe is the best way to get insight from the team insiders no matter where you are.

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