It’s been a decade since the Oklahoma City Thunder last made the NBA Finals and six years since the Thunder advanced past the first round of the playoffs. As a team that last made the postseason two years ago, the Thunder have been relatively competitive in the past compared to the likes of the Sacramento Kings, Charlotte Hornets, and the Cleveland Cavaliers.
In the last two seasons, though, OKC has also tilted towards a developmental approach, stacking up on assets with a focus on the long-term while taking whatever wins they can. Acquiring talent like Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Josh Giddey, and now Chet Holmgren have given the Thunder a core that can turn into a potential playoff (or even championship) contender. Giddey and Holmgren also spent time together on OKC’s summer league roster earlier this year and the games certainly added to the excitement of the Thunder faithful. However, potential will always remain potential until it is realized.
It is unfortunate that Holmgren, who had a solid summer league stint, suffered a season-ending Lisfranc injury to his right foot even before he got an NBA preseason in. The game reps, the active participation in practice (at least from a physical standpoint), and the chemistry he would have built with his teammates on the court are now all lost opportunities and will have to wait another year.
On top of that, OKC has yet to construct a roster that can fully realize the potential of their core. One can’t blame them when next year’s NBA Draft could potentially feature coveted prospects Victor Wembanyama and Scoot Henderson. That the Thunder also have what feels like a million draft picks over the next decade (actually it’s 38 draft picks over the next seven NBA drafts but who’s counting anyway) also gives them some ability to maneuver either for Wembanyama or Henderson, all while leaving the door open for either a disgruntled superstar or one that wants to be teammates with his son.
Taken together, though, this is obviously not a lost season for OKC. Their current roster is still capable of winning games, even if the number of games in question is still… a question mark. Last season, the Thunder showed some potential defensively as they were in the top-10 in terms of rebounds, fouls committed, and were a top-5 team in terms of free throws attempted (and converted) by their opponents. Offensively, OKC could get their shots, but unfortunately, they could not convert on the attempts they were able to get out of their efforts on that end.
Compared to past seasons, the Thunder’s roster has also taken shape and seems to be only a few pieces away from competing for playoff spots rather than draft position. That being said, there’s a fine line between preserving the health of players and giving them the necessary reps for their betterment, and regardless of where OKC stands and the injury history of their roster, they cannot put the talent they currently have to waste. In any case, the Thunder can take a longer look at other players they feel can add depth to their roster, something that will come in handy in the long run.
While OKC will likely lean towards jostling for a higher position in the draft lottery, the management and coaching staff have to understand that the players need to learn how (and naturally, have) to win games in order to build a winning tradition. Yes, Derrick Favors (32) is the oldest player on the Thunder’s roster and the only one at the age of 30 or older, but experience now will only be the currency for future success, especially with the possibility of a veteran like Favors wanting to move to a contending team.
The Oklahoma City Thunder are obviously looking to put together another contender, but as to when is another matter altogether. At this point, the Thunder already have the personnel and the assets to maneuver to whichever direction they please, and even when considering that and the recent injury to Chet Holmgren, the light at the end of the rebuilding tunnel seems to be within sight.