Things are happening
OKC's rebuild is in a good spot
Their best player has missed seven games. Their second-best player has missed 13. One of their most important role players has missed 25. They’re the second-youngest team in the league with a minutes-weighted age of 23.7 years old, and they’re giving 20-plus minutes a night to five different players age-22 or younger. (One of them was just traded but they also have a 19-year-old playing 19.8 minutes a night so they’ll be back at that level soon enough.)
Despite all that, the Thunder are an entirely respectable 17-21 so far this season. (They’ve actually out-performed their point differential by four wins, according to Basketball-Reference, which is tied with the Blazers for the second-largest margin in the league. The 14-24 Cavaliers have amazingly out-performed expectations by five wins.)
It’s almost hard to believe how well this team is set up for the future. They have a star point guard in Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (he’s 22 years old and averaging 24-5-6 on 51-42-81 shooting), an all-defense caliber wing in Luguentz Dort, interesting role players in Darius Bazley, Theo Maledon, and Isaiah Roby, potentially a couple more in Moses Brown and Ty Jerome, a toolsy blank slate with potential out the wazoo in Aleksej Pokusevski, and something like 437 draft picks in the near future. (Actually, outright or swap rights to 13 first-rounders from other teams over the next seven years, plus all of their own picks.) They’ve got cap space, two monster-sized trade exceptions, and at least three players (Al Horford, George Hill, and Trevor Ariza) that would be more useful for contenders than they are for the current version of the Thunder, which could nab them even more assets.
As I wrote during the offseason:
The draft is typically more of a crapshoot, which means amassing a large number of picks is key to acquiring top-tier talent. That wealth of picks allows OKC to do things like take a shot on Pokuševski, a not-even-19-years-old-yet string bean who seems to play like a hybrid of Kristaps Porziņģis and Trae Young. If “Poku” works out, the Thunder have themselves a foundational star. If not, well, they still have a cupboard full of draft picks they can use to take a few more home-run swings.
It’s pretty incredible that the Thunder have gone from being a first-round out in four consecutive postseasons that had seemingly plateaued to a team with limitless assets that can be used to acquire the foundational players for the next era of whatever this team will be. They’ve bought low and sold high on just about every asset they’ve acquired, and they’re in position to continue doing the same far into the future.
They also don’t even have to sell on Horford, Hill, and/or Ariza by March 25. They can keep playing out the season and try to make a run at the play-in tournament. Why not, right? Unless they’re getting something that can definitively become become a foundational piece, they might as well. It’s a wild spot to be in.