By Nick Gallo | Broadcast Reporter & Digital Editor
On some nights, Thunder fans will see three point guards on the floor, slicing through the lane and attacking to create for others. On other occasions, it’ll be a trio of players who are approaching seven feet tall, all of whom can knock down the 3-pointer.
With the variety of athletes across the guard, wing and big man slots on this 2020-21 Thunder roster, there will be plenty of opportunities for Head Coach Mark Daigneault to mix and match his lineups to decipher the best combinations for his team. While the opponent will dictate some matchups, the Thunder will also be creative in finding ways to force its advantages by using lineups to its own liking.
On Monday, the Thunder made official its final roster for the start of the season. Here’s a breakdown of the different player groupings.
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander returns to the Thunder for a second season after notching a team-high 19.0 points per game last year. The 22-year-old third-year Canadian playmaker has plenty of ceiling above him to grow as a contributor on both sides of the floor. Alongside him in the backcourt will be a savvy veteran, George Hill, who can flow seamlessly between an on-ball and off-ball role. He paced the NBA in 3-point shooting percentage last season at 46 percent.
Hamidou Diallo is the team’s Swiss army knife – in the preseason he’s been used as a point guard and as a forward, screening and rolling to the rim to put pressure on the defense. On the other end of the floor Diallo is focused on the details of the game, which will allow his natural athleticism to take over and be disruptive.
Ty Jerome, who won a national title with the University of Virginia, is in his second NBA season after being drafted in the first round by the Phoenix Suns in 2019. Rounding out the group is rookie Théo Maledon, who the Thunder acquired through trade in the 2020 NBA Draft.
A pair of second-year players lead this group. Darius Bazley was a standout in the bubble games in Orlando, averaging 10.0 pts and 6.5 rebounds while shooting 47.6 percent from 3-point range during the Thunder’s eight seeding games and seven playoff games. His ability to put the ball on the deck with either hand and finish at the rim is combined with a willingness to do the little things like hustle to the corner and get back in transition defense. His fellow second-year wing is Lu Dort, the Montreal native of Haitian descent who gave opponents fits with his pesky defense in his rookie year. The undrafted former two-way player earned his place in the Thunder’s rotation and a full-time NBA contract last season with his grit, quick feet and workmanlike approach.
The Thunder’s first round selection in 2020 is as intriguing a wing player as they come. At 7-feet tall, Aleksej Pokuševski has the height and length of a big man but the skills of a guard. Brimming with youthful confidence and a toughness built by playing professional basketball in Greece since he was 13 years old, the now 18-year-old Serbian-born forward is ready to have open ears and eyes as he begins his NBA journey. Justin Jackson, in his fourth season, and Kenrich Williams, in his third, both have track records of contributing to NBA rotations but bring different skill sets to the table. Jackson is known more as a scorer and shooter, with pedigree as a former national champion at the University of North Carolina. Williams, on the other hand, went undrafted but “Kenny Hustle” is a player who sticks his nose into plays and makes an impact off the box score.
This wing group also comprises of a pair of NBA veterans in Darius Miller and Trevor Ariza along with rookie two-way guard Josh Hall, who comes to the NBA directly out of prep school.
The player who will anchor the action on both sides of the ball for the Thunder is Al Horford. At 6-foot-9, Horford was undersized for a center when he first entered the league, but in today’s NBA he’s got the perfect skills for a five-man. Over the last five years he’s drastically increased his 3-point attempts and continues to be productive as a shooter, rebounder, passer and defender into his 15th NBA season. He’ll help the Thunder get into correct position on defense and can facilitate offense from the elbows as well.
Alongside Horford will be Mike Muscala, who with the Thunder last year had his best 3-point shooting season since 2016-17. A pick-and-pop specialist, the 7th-year center with help the Thunder space the floor and on defense will provide a straight-up presence at the bucket. Youngsters Isaiah Roby and Moses Brown will provide additional depth in the frontcourt, with Roby providing a well-rounded skill set of shooting, passing and dribbling. Brown is a 7-foot-1 two-way center, who can play around the rim as a finisher and shot blocker. Both players are in their second NBA seasons and have excellent role models in front of them to study.