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2020-21 NBA SEASON PREVIEW: OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER

@TheWillBaldwin

Predicted finish: 15th in the West (5th in the Northwest, 28 in the power rankings)

Last seasons conference finish: 5th in the West

Overview:

After a season for the ages in a season for the ages in 2019-20, the Oklahoma City Thunder promptly blew up everything good about that team over the age of about 25. Chris Paul, Dennis Schroeder, Danilo Gallinari and Steven Adams were all sent out for a series of draft picks and Al Horford, George Hill and somehow Trevor Ariza (seriously I do not remember at all how he ended up here). It appears the team has done the unthinkable in Orlando Magic circles and taken a step back from a team with a hard ceiling for the potential of building something special. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and a host of young guys will get the chance this season to prove their value for a team with seemingly unlimited assets. For the first time in their short history in Oklahoma, the Thunder are rebuilding but with their stockpiling of picks and young pieces, it doesn’t seem like it’ll last long. 

The big question for the franchise: Just how good is Shai Gilgeous-Alexander?

One of the stars of last season’s team and one-third of the vaunted three point guard group was Gilgeous-Alexander. Now with the other two-thirds of that lineup gone and Hill being the only other reputable ball handler on the team and probably not likely long for the Thunder, it feels pretty obvious Gilgeous-Alexander is going to be asked to do way more this year. In his first two seasons in the NBA, he’s largely played off-ball and excelled so it’ll be fascinating to see what he can do back with the ball again. This season will be a really important litmus test for Gilgeous-Alexander and his potential value. Is he a first option waiting to happen, ready to carry a good NBA offence soon or more of a two or three that plays off other great players? So far in his young career we haven’t seen him forced to answer the first half of that question. In 2020-21 we will and that has to be both exciting and terrifying for Thunder fans. 

One move I want to see them make: Move George Hill

Although George Hill is a great locker room guy, his value to this roster feels unnecessary. As useful as a knockdown shooter in 2020 is, at 34 years-old his use for Sam Presti’s squad is definitely more as an incoming first round pick from a playoff team like Philadelphia than it would be spacing the floor for Gilgeous-Alexander. I understand the desire of having a great veteran presence for all the young guys around but a pick is a pick and we know how Presti feels about those. 

Offseason Grade: C+

The Chris Paul trade felt like marginal value, the Kelly Oubre trade was underwhelming and frankly, the Schroeder trade was flat out bad. You just can’t convince me Presti had to take on Danny Green, you just can’t. To top it off, the Horford trade was illogical. There was no need to take on that money and for only one pick? You have to do better than that for arguably the worst contract in the league. What I did like though was their draft. Everyone who would know that I know, loves Aleksej Pokusevski and I myself was a big fan of Theo Maledon when I watched his EuroLeague tape. Overall it was a weird offseason for the Thunder but they got more assets so that’s definitely a win. 

Young player I’m excited for: Darius Bazley

When New Balance’s most famous intern got a chance to play last season, he was flat out interesting. His length is tantalizing defensively and offensively he showed a feel that was surprising for a rookie who basically didn’t play competitive basketball between high school and the NBA. After a season of getting his mouth wet and even getting some playoff minutes, I’m so curious to see what he does in an expanded role this season. 

Final Thoughts: 

OKC is taking a step back this year and I commend them. They could’ve easily ran it back with increased salaries and finished probably slightly worse but what does that accomplish? At least now they have a clear direction and in an absolutely loaded draft where all fourteen other west teams are trying to win, the Thunder have to be the heavy favourites to land Cade Cunningham who’s coviently playing a couple miles away in Stillwater.

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