Thunder Can Compete Now, Not Just Later


The Oklahoma City Thunder have completed their rebuild before some might think it has even begun.

Still loaded with a plethora of draft picks in their pocket (16 first-rounders in the next five years!), it seems OKC has already crafted their rotation of the future. Thus making what they do with those picks very interesting this coming offseason.

This season, however, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Josh Giddey have shown the true potential of being a top-tier, long-lasting backcourt duo in this league. Luguentz “Lu” Dort is as solid of a three-and-D and glue guy as they come. Also, both Jalen Williams and Jaylin Williams are true production pieces. They have plugged in seamlessly and are winning players.

This all comes with the Thunder not even adding to the mix yet their next potential star, 2022 No. 2 overall draft pick Chet Holmgren, who will be plugged in next year.

The foundations are already built. It’s scary hours in Oklahoma City and the Western Conference is going to have another contender looking to compete next year.

Let’s deep dive into this year, however. Why they should go all the way for playoff experience this season? It’s time to stop building and polish off what they already have made.

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Shai & Giddey Pair of the Future

Gilgeous-Alexander was selected as an All-Star for the first time in his career this year.

It’s safe to say the future is bright for the 24-year-old guard. Any team with interest in looking to trade for the No. 1 option should forget about it. Averaging 31.0 points per game and leading the league in drives to the basket, he’s proven the hoop is his to get to at his will. His shiftiness makes defenders feel they are only cones in the way of his drill.

Sure to follow in his tracks is 20-year-old guard Josh Giddey, who is making a jump in his second year in the league. Giddey sees the floor like no other and the game seems slow when it comes to some of the passes he’s able to make.

Increasing his scoring numbers while upping his efficiency is a good sign for him rounding out his offensive game. On the Suns-Thunder ESPN broadcast Friday night, Giddey is the youngest player in the NBA averaging at least 15 points, five rebounds and five assists.

Young Veteranship

As you can guess, this pairing is the second-youngest backcourt in the NBA.

Undoubtedly though, they are putting up stats of veterans in this league. The two are combining for averages of 47.1 points, 12.5 assists and 12.5 rebounds per game. Both are equally contributing, which is important as they rank number one and two in usage rates on the team.

It seems the Thunder have to look no further for their backcourt of the future. The only thing that can take these guys’ resumes to the next level would be some playoff experience under their belt before they can rent a car. Seeing this high level of play so early can only spark more motivation for the future.

Dort’s Extraordinary Defense

At the ripe age of 23 years old, Lu Dort signed a five-year, $82 million extension with the Thunder. This solidified him as a key part of the future Oklahoma City core and deservedly so. For such an offense-heavy team, Dort earns his pay on the defensive end. Matching up with the opponent’s best offensive player every night is just part of his routine that makes him so great.

Dort’s defense helps bring balance to the starting lineup in a big way.

But he accomplishes this by a lot more than size, though. At just 6’4″ — but with a wingspan of 6’8″ — Dort’s defense is more encapsulated by the eye test rather than the counting stats. The name of the game is all about outhustling and pestering the opponent like no other. This means diving for balls, constantly being in passing lanes, fighting for boards, and fighting over screens of people much bigger than him.

The Highlights

In two instances in Friday’s game against the Phoenix Suns, Dort does a fantastic job of showing just what is meant by his hustle and high IQ.

In this first clip, Dort locks in on Devin Booker who is trying to lose him on a backdoor cut. Then, he is able to recover back to him on the shot while avoiding the screen set by Josh Okogie.

This next clip also highlights Dort’s help-defense acumen and lightning-fast reflexes and recovery time. Torrey Craig gets the beat on Dort this time with the backdoor cut, but he’s still able to get himself turned around. Then he knows exactly where to jump and reach to secure the well-timed block.

Just a few instances of Dort being able to pick up the slack when it comes to his team’s defensive shortcomings, thus making him an irreplaceable piece of what the Thunder have going on. Adding some high-pressure defense situations from the playoffs only would mean growth in Dort’s ability and IQ.

J-Dub and J-Will Show

Last but not least, to round out this young athletic core, let’s look at rookies Jalen Williams (Santa Clara) and Jaylin Williams (Arkansas).

As mentioned before, these guys are plug-and-play at just about any point of a game. Proven already to be key guys who are NBA ready, some playoff experience in their first year in could do wonders for confidence moving forward.

Jalen Williams

Jalen Williams was selected with the Thunder’s 12th pick in the 2022 draft.

Already becoming a key cog in the OKC rotation, it feels like J-Dub already has all the fundamental tools to succeed. Attacking the basket and finishing around the rim is the biggest strength we’ve seen so far. Finishing at a staggering 70.9%(!) in the restricted area,  Williams’ cuts to the rim are timely and he attacks with incredible strength and the intention of inflicting damage.

Williams is the third Thunder rookie this year to earn rookie of the month honors for the games he played in October and November.

Williams also came out of college already a polished defender. His 6’5″, 211-pound frame allows him to switch down low and hold his own. But Williams also has the speed capabilities to keep up with guards on the perimeter. Versatility is his biggest asset, which would only be honed in a playoff-type environment.

Jaylin Williams

The other pick the Thunder made in the 2022 draft also has already outshined what his draft stock had for him so far. His strengths have translated perfectly to the next level.

Being a versatile small-ball five is a must-have in today’s NBA. Williams has been able to fill that role and more so far. J-Will is third in total charges drawn this season with 20 (and counting!). He’s always had the ability to use his body well against other opponents.

Taking charges is much more of a mindset accomplishment than a physical achievement, however. He’s willing to put his body on the line to win games. Something all teams want in a rotation player.

Another aspect of his game that has translated well is his three-point shot. While it’s normal for college guys to take time to adjust to the deeper range, Williams is shooting it at an otherworldy percentage. The attempts are still low to start (1.8 per game), but Williams is hitting threes at a 47.9% clip! Unsustainable to say the least, this bodes well for future positive development.

Get The Experience

As you can see, all five guys here listed have shown true production value beyond just the “tanking” years.

What the Thunder have built in the last three years is unprecedented. The time is always now in this forever-changing league. The Oklahoma City Thunder seem they have all the tools to push for contention these next few years, so why not?

Sam Presti should be looking to use all the draft capital he has to bolster this already-formidable team and push to grow the chemistry that already exists.

Everyone has to start somewhere. Playoff basketball is different and we’ve seen firsthand what experience can mean to a team trying to win it all (ex: Golden State last season vs. Boston). Getting these guys some first-hand playoff experience this young could be truly the start of something great.

Signifying the Thunder are back and ready to make some noise.

About Cameron Prichard

Twitter: @CameronPNBA

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