The Oklahoma City Thunder are in the midst of a long-term rebuild, and fans might have to wait some more time before things turn around.
Oklahoma City finished 22-50 last season, winning just two of the final 25 games of the year.
The organization entered last year with five straight playoff appearances, but it now seems the bigger focus is adding young talent and solidifying its spot in the lottery. This was clear when the team traded away Al Horford in a deal that brought back Kemba Walker, only to then agree to a buyout with Walker.
While Shai Gilgeous-Alexander has showed he can be a key part of the future, the rest of the players on the roster have a lot to prove over the upcoming 82-game season. Josh Giddey, Aleksej Pokusevski, and Isaiah Roby are among those who will have the chance to shine in 2021-22.
2021-22 Thunder Schedule Details
Season Opener: at Utah Jazz, Oct. 20 at 9 p.m. ET
Championship Odds: +25000 (FanDuel)
Los Angeles Clippers (First Matchup: Nov. 1)
Trading Paul George to the Los Angeles Clippers permanently changed the Thunder's trajectory. It split up an exciting tandem between George and Russell Westbrook and turned a potential contender into a squad filled with youngsters.
George teamed up with Kawhi Leonard in Los Angeles, although he will have to take on a bigger role next season with Leonard recovering from a torn ACL.
The Clippers would certainly love to have Gilgeous-Alexander on the roster, the key part of the trade package that went back to Oklahoma City.
The point guard showed promise during his rookie season with the Clippers, averaging 10.8 points per game, but he has exploded over the past two years and is now a go-to option who averaged 23.7 points, 5.9 assists and 4.7 rebounds per game last season. It helped him earn a five-year, $173 million extension this summer.
The Thunder still aren't close to contention, but a win over the Clippers with Gilgeous-Alexander playing well could be a good first step toward feeling they won the trade.
Houston Rockets (First Matchup: Oct. 22)
It will be a fight to the bottom for a few teams in the NBA this season, and it seems more likely the Thunder and Houston Rockets will be chasing ping-pong balls in the lottery than fighting for playoff spots.
The Rockets were the worst team in the league last year at 17-55, and they will pin much of their hopes on No. 2 overall draft pick Jalen Green to turn things around.
Oklahoma City selected Giddey with the No. 6 overall pick, a lesser-known prospect who still possesses a lot of upside.
The 6'8" guard filled up the stat sheet in the NBL last year, averaging 10.9 points, 7.5 assists and 7.4 rebounds per game. He will try to make a similar transition from Australia as last year's Rookie of the Year, LaMelo Ball.
This could be the first of many battles between backcourt stars in the same class if Giddey reaches expectations.
The game might not resemble the James Harden-Russell Westbrook battles from past seasons, but it could be worth watching with two evenly matched squads.
There were 151 NBA players worth at least three win shares last season, per Basketball Reference, and the Thunder had just one of them. Gilgeous-Alexander ranked 117th on the list with 3.5 win shares.
Kenrich Williams and Moses Brown each topped two win shares, but the latter was sent to the Boston Celtics.
It means the Thunder had few impact players last season and even less in 2021-22.
A full year of Gilgeous-Alexander will go a long way, while Luguentz Dort can be a difference-maker if he improves his offensive efficiency. Giddey should also have high expectations, especially if he can make outside shots.
It still simply isn't enough to compete in the NBA. This will be a long season, with the Thunder likely sitting near the bottom of the standings.
If a few more players emerge as parts of the core—Darius Bazley, Theo Maledon and Svi Mykhailiuk are among the possibilities—the season would be considered a success.
Record Prediction: 21-61
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