The Oklahoma City Thunder are entering Year 4 of the post-Russell Westbrook era. They’ve focused entirely on accumulating draft picks, identifying the right players in the draft, and developing them. They overachieved in the first half in the previous two seasons before bottoming out in the second. With cornerstone Chet Holmgren already out for the season with an injury, this upcoming season probably will have the same formula.
Below is a preview of the upcoming 2022-23 Thunder season.
Returning: Josh Giddey, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Mike Muscala, Aleksej Pokusevski, Tre Mann, Darius Bazley, Jeremiah Robinson-Earl, Kenrich Williams, Luguentz Dort, Aaron Wiggins, Lindy Waters III
Additions: Chet Holmgren (Gonzaga), Ousmane Dieng (New Zealand Breakers), Jalen Williams (Santa Clara), Jaylin Williams (Arkansas), Isaiah Joe (Philadelphia), Eugene Omoruyi (Dallas)
Subtractions: Derrick Favors, Ty Jerome (Golden State), Theo Maldeon (Charlotte), Isaiah Roby (San Antonio), Vit Krejci (Atlanta), Melvin Frazier Jr.
* Good playmaking team… The Thunder when healthy will effectively have two point guards available in Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Josh Giddey. Both players are great passers averaging 5.9 and 6.4 assists per game last season, respectively. Both will have the ball in their hands a lot this season to help create for others, and each is good insurance for the other in case of injuries.
* Not a terrible defensive team… The Thunder finished 17th in defensive rating last year, which was mostly carried by their strong start. It then cratered to 25th in the last 15 games of the season once they started bottoming out. Still, 17th is good considering their expectations and personnel, which shows that they have the potential to be a strong defensive team when they try. It will be fascinating to see how good they look on defense once Holmgren returns next season.
* Very inefficient shooting team… The Thunder ranked dead last in both field goal and three-point shooting percentage last year. This could largely be attributed to their complete lack of shooters on the team last year who regularly played in their rotation, as well as lineups that heavily featured non-shooters. Muscala was their best three-point shooter by far but he rarely played, leaving Mann as their only above-average three-point shooter with a decent volume. They did have eight players shoot 35 percent from three or higher during the preseason, but we’ll need to see it during the regular season to know if they truly turned a corner.
* Very injury-prone roster… While there will likely instances where the Thunder will sit out players as they did with Al Horford two years ago, there is a large number of legitimate injuries that this young team has already had. Last year, Bazley led the team with games played with 69 games. The following eleven players who regularly played in the rotation played an average of 48 games. This could be concerning for Oklahoma City’s long-term prospects once they’re ready to compete, and early injuries this season to Gilgeous-Alexander and Holmgren isn’t encouraging.
The Thunder are entering the season just $8 million below the luxury tax. Although they only have $95 million in active salaries, they have $48 million in dead cap pushing them so close to the tax. They will likely continue to search for trades where they take on bad money with incentives attached. They have two newly created trade exceptions worth $10.2 million and $4.2 million to facilitate those deals.
Darius Bazley is their lone extension-eligible player and the deadline to extend him is the day before the start of the regular season. If not extended, he should receive plenty of interest on the trade market and as a restricted free agent. Everyone else on the roster appears to be keepers for this season given their age and how they fit Oklahoma City’s timeline.
5th in the Northwest Division, 14th in the Western Conference. (as voted by the HoopsHype staff)