It’s time to start taking the Oklahoma City Thunder seriously


the Oklahoma City Thunder He wasn’t great at shooting (24th in effective field goal percentage), passing (25th in pass rate) or rebounding (26th in rebound percentage) basketball, and yet there they are, he stayed below .500 after the mid-season NBA lay-up. Sign directly into the play cycle mix.

This is as much of an endorsement as you’ll find for Marc Denault’s Coach of the Year nomination, Gilgos Alexander TeaThe All-NBA campaign and the Thunder’s prospects as an ever-rising contender.

Daigneault, 37, took over the responsibilities from his mentor, Billy Donovan, in 2020, shortly after Chris Paul led the Thunder in a surprise race to the fifth seed in the Western Conference. They traded Paul George And Russell Westbrook For a big draft load the previous summer, general manager Sam Presti dismantled the roster, getting rid of veteran rookies Paul, Dennis Schroeder, Danilo Gallinari And Stephen Adams.

They were trying to lose, losing, and posting the fourth-worst record in the league in each of the past two seasons. The Thunder served as a clinic ward for troubled contracts, routinely resting their best players for extended periods and fielding 65 different starting lineups. Nobody in the five-man unit who started the last four games of last season is currently in the NBA draft. Three of them aren’t even in the league.

NBA It said Sam Hinkie paid in from his front desk Philadelphia Seventy Sixers To trust in the same years to treatbefore the fruits of his tanks (ie Joel Embiid And Ben Simmons) played together. Presti is free to see his plan through, if not integrated into a larger market, and it is already bearing fruit, largely because Daignea has fostered a competitive culture in a lose-lose atmosphere.

Oklahoma City Thunder guard Shay Gilgos Alexander (2) during an NBA basketball game against the Indiana Pacers, Wednesday, Jan. 18, 2023, in Oklahoma City.  (AP Photo/Sue Ogroki)

Oklahoma City Thunder guard Shay Gilgos Alexander is having the best season of his career. (AP Photo/Sue Ogroki)

Conventional wisdom has pegged Gilgos Alexander as the next disgruntled player in the NBA. He was the best player I’d never had a chance to watch, so mired in Oklahoma City that they’d rather he not affect a win over the stretch of the regular season. It was enough for any player to reconsider the direction of his career.

Perhaps Thunder considered dealing with Gilgeous-Alexander, too. He was owed a maximum extension of $179 million to starters, and there was no guarantee they’d be any good by the time it passed in 2027.

Only, a funny thing happened between the time he was in He signed his contract In August 2021 and the moment it starts this season. Gilgeous-Alexander has developed into one of the best players alive. His 30.7 points, 5.5 assists, 4.8 rebounds, 1.7 steals and 1.1 blocks a game are matched only by Michael Jordan in 1987-88, also at 24, and Gilgos Alexander does it more efficiently. He should be an All-Star starter.

It took an incredible amount of trust in each other for Gilgios Alexander and Presti to navigate this path in the face of a combined 46 victories over the past two seasons, and they seem to have struck a chord.

“It is always easy to trust someone when they give you no reason not to trust them.” Gilgios Alexander Joe Musato told the Oklahoman In early December, as the Thunder was dropping to 11-18, 3rd down West, just as forecasters predicted. “It’s always easier to trust someone when they tell you something and it happens. And that’s been my relationship with Sam until now.”

The conduit between them is Daigneault, whose young Thunder plays him harder than anyone else in the NBA. They lead the league in loose balls recovered and counts tied and are third in shot puts. After two years with a No. 24 rating, their defense is in the top ten, despite the lack of an edge-protecting center. They are 2-8 when they shoot better than 39% from 3-point range, which is a testament to their ability to win with determination.

Within a week of Gilgeous-Alexander praising Presti, the Thunder embarked on a three-game winning streak that has since blossomed to a 12-6 series over the past month. During that span, Oklahoma City posted top 10 ratings on both sides of the ball and outscored opponents by 5.8 points per 100 possessions, third in the West behind the leader. Denver Nuggets And Memphis Grizzlies.

Thunder was now firmly entrenched in chasing down the last few Seeds. They track for sixth place Los Angeles Clippers With a loss of one and leading 12th-ranked Los Angeles Lakers with the same margin. Include the difference between Phoenix Suns And Golden State Warriors. Gilgeous-Alexander was as good, if not better, than any star on those teams, including LeBron JamesAnd Devin Booker And Stephen Curry.

That also includes George, whose Thunder trade order to the Clippers in 2019 led to this rebuild. In addition to Gilgeous-Alexander, Presti pressed five first-round draft picks and two trades out of his rival’s desperation. Oklahoma city has already converted two of these picks to tree man And Jalen Williamsa pair of promising prospects have both contributed to the team’s recent success.

There is reason to be suspicious. Gilgeous-Alexander vs Washington WizardsAnd Portland Trail Blazers And the Nuggets this season are the difference between being in the midst of chasing the playoffs and staring down all but the Tanks San Antonio Spurs And Houston Rockets. Oklahoma City’s last 12 wins include four against teams destined for the lottery and wins against the Grizzlies without. Ja Morantand nuggets without Nikola Jokicthe Dallas Mavericks without Luka Doncicthe Brooklyn Networks without Kevin Durantthe Indiana Pacers without Therese Halliburton and the Chicago Bulls without DeMar DeRozan.

There are much more reasons for optimism.

Jalen Williams, Josh Giddey, and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander are all part of the bright future of the Oklahoma City Thunder.  (Mitchell Leaf/Getty Images)
galen williams, Josh Gede And Shay Gilgos Alexander is part of the bright future of the Oklahoma City Thunder. (Mitchell Leaf/Getty Images)

Gilgeous-Alexander is an exemplary powerhouse changeup, and he does so without the benefit of spacing his 3-point shot (35.5% in just 2.8 attempts per game) or his teammates. if Isaiah Joe Not breaking through the rotation in December and shooting 5.5 three-pointers with a 45% chance in his 19 minutes off the bench, the Thunder will still be looking for anyone who shoots better than the league average with a healthy size.

Likewise, Josh Giddey, last year’s sixth overall pick, has developed into a triple-double night threat, despite shooting only 32.8% from distance. There is room for improvement for each of OKC’s best players.

In the process, Thunder has identified complementary players that must evolve alongside them. Williams has the potential to design a three-dimensional winger who can get creative when given a chance on the weak side. Lou Dort could be an all-defensive guard. All four are among the 13 players on the list who are under the age of 25.

Thunder insisted on being included Alexey Bokosevsky In this core, their tank efforts were helped. His on/off differential of -19 points per 100 possessions is among the worst in the league, According to “Cleaning Glass”. Granted, the sample sizes are not overwhelming, but simply by switching the floor spacing forward Mike Muscala For Pokusevski in a lineup with Gilgeous-Alexander, Giddey, Dort and Williams, the Thunder go from outscoring opponents by 24.5 points to outscoring opponents by 24.5 per 100 possessions. Kenrich Williams She yielded similar positive results as a 6-foot-6 expansion center in minor ball formations.

Now, imagine replacing either of them with Chet Holmgren2 overall last June. He’s a 7-footer with edge protection, long-range shooting, and offensively creative ability at elite levels. He averaged 19 points (48/42/94 shooting splits), 12 rebounds, four assists and four blocks in 36 minutes in a handful of Summer League games, before suffering a season-ending Lisfranc fracture at an exhibition.

This should be a winning list by next season, before any of its core members reach their peak. They also have as many as 13 first-round picks—mostly from the Clippers and Rockets—over the next five drafts. This gives them the ability to enter any commercial debate in a market that will not attract free agents.

Most importantly, they have the identity instilled by Daigneault and Gilgeous-Alexander embodied during Operation Presti. They play hard. they love each other. And they have shown collective improvement through adversity. Hinkie’s Sixers could never say that, even after they eventually became a permanent 50-win team. Thunder is no longer The NBA team is only in theory. They are competitive when they come out.

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Ben Rohrbach He is a senior writer for the NBA at Yahoo Sports. Do you have advice? Email it at [email protected] Or follow him on Twitter! Follow @brohrbach


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