Basketball

Paradigm Shift: This isn’t your same-old Thunder

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The Oklahoma City Thunder turned plenty of heads last year. They went from trading their three best players in Jerami Grant, Paul George, and the Thunder legend Russell Westbrook (which had the world thinking “tank”) to finish as the 5th seed in the 2020 playoffs.

Yes, despite being the butt of bad jokes about “not having a ring” or even “not getting past the 1st round” OKC’s past decade has seen a tremendous amount of success. Yet, with each new player that is traded away; the days of triumph, and victory are waning on with them.

Oklahoma City transactions and trades

It started with Dennis Schröder, being traded to the Lakers for Danny Green and the 28 picks. Soon after Chris Paul went to Phoenix with Abdel Nader for Kelly Oubre Jr, Ricky Rubio, Ty Jerome, Jalen Lecque, and a protected 2022 1st round pick.

Danny Green was then shipped to Philadelphia with Terrance Ferguson for Al Horford, pick 34 (which became Theo Maledon), and a 2025 1st Round pick. Before OKC finally showed its hand by trading Ricky Rubio, pick 25, and pick 28 for James Johnson and pick 17 to Minnesota (where the Thunder would then draft Aleksej Pokusevski).

Exhausting right? Well, it didn’t stop there.

The Thunder traded their pick 53 and a 2024 2nd round pick for Admiral Schofield, and pick 37 (Vit Krejčí). After announcing that we would be sending Kelly Oubre Jr. to the Golden State Warriors, Adrian Wojnarowski went dark.

As we waited to hear what the return would be, it was announced that we made a trade with Boston acquiring Vincent Poirer and Cash considerations for a 2021 2nd round pick. Finally, ESPN announced that we have obtained a protected 2021 1st round pick for Kelly Oubre.

For those keeping track at home that’s seven trades in under a week.

As basketball fans reacted in shock, disgust, and sorrow to the Free Agent signings, OKC had drawn up even more trades. Sending away newly acquired James Johnson to the Mavericks, gaining them Justin Jackson and two future 2nd round picks. And with some nonchalant “hold my beer” type of energy he sent away the franchise’s culture, glue, locker room guy in Steven Adams.

Bringing back George Hill, Darius Miller a protected 1st round pick, two 2nd’s, and the possibility of 1 of 4 young players in Josh Hart, Nico Melli, Jaxson Hayes, or Shai Gilegous-Alexander’s cousin Nickeil Alexander-Walker; for salary purposes.

To say this team looks different than the days of old with Russell Westbrook, James Harden, Kevin Durant, and Serge Ibaka would be a massive understatement. Heck, to say it looks different than just Last week would be a huge understatement.

The direction of this team is clear. Just look at the roster, look at the collection of future picks Sam Presti has amassed and you can see his intentions for the future don’t line up with regular-season success, and clinching playoff berths.

With the season being shortened to 72 games as opposed to 82, arenas not being able to be filled to capacity, and every other team seeming to attempt to compete; this is the perfect year to tank.

Which brings me to something else that has changed. Ask any Thunder fan who OKC will take in any draft, and they’ll tell you some combination of length, athleticism, defense, and (if they’re feeling extra salty) someone who can’t shoot. Fans seem to think that’s the type of player that Presti wants to build his team around, but really it’s quite the opposite.

This archetype of player was selected strategically, and it was because that skill set best complimented their franchise cornerstone in Russell Westbrook.

Having Westbrook on your team meant a lot of things, but he was as much of a weapon in transition as we were a liability on the defensive end. This is why Presti wanted long and athletic guys that play defense. He wanted a team to get out and run with Russ in transition on offense, while they can cover for his shortcomings on the defensive side of the basketball.

So if that was all for Russ, then what type of player does Presti want on his team? The answer was hiding in plain sight because last year’s selection covered all the bases. Darius Bazley is long (6’7” with a 6’11” wingspan), he is extremely athletic, and he has shown the ability to play defense in his first year in the league.

All that is true, and it had fans thinking this is a typical Presti pick, but he really put it all on the table last year in the draft as to what he really wants.

Basketball IQ, skill, and feel for the game.

Anyone who watched Bazley can tell he thinks the game at a high level. He can dribble, pass, and shoot so he is highly skilled. There are few times you look at him during a game thinking “what is he doing?” He has a true understanding of the game of basketball.

Not convinced? Looks at the guys he acquired last year in a trade. Chris Paul, Danilo Gallinari, Shai all have a high basketball IQ, are highly skilled, and have a great feel for the game.

Quite the contrarian are you? All the players that the Thunder drafted Pokusevski, Maledon, Krejčí all possess those 3 big things.

Some of the players that are currently on the roster; Al Horford, Admiral Schofield, Justin Jackson all have those three big things.

So things are going to be a lot different this year. The new goal at the end of the season is a successful draft lottery, not a playoff berth. There won’t be a bunch of long, athletic, defensive minded players that can’t shoot anymore; rather in the next couple seasons you will likely see a combination of basketball IQ, skill, and a real feel for the game on display.

No this isn’t the same old Thunder, but if Sam Presti has anything to say about it; it will be even better.

Hope you enjoyed the piece, follow me on Twitter @ThunderChats for more great Thunder/NBA content!

Update: this trade has actually already completed. We did NOT get once of these 4 and instead brought back Zylan Cheatham, Kenrich Williams, and Josh Gray. (Which is low key a bummer)

Thunder Up!

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