Of the eight players currently averaging more than 30 points per game, there’s one who’s not like the others. Out of Luka Dončić , Kevin Durant, Steph Curry, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Joel Embiid, Jayson Tatum, Donovan Mitchell, and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, I think it’s easy to pick out who I’m referring to.
The Oklahoma City guard is scoring 31 per night on shooting splits of 54/39/94, and it’s unclear if he’s even going to make the All-Star team. The West is loaded with perimeter talent, he’s on the ceaselessly rebuilding Thunder, and you need League Pass to see him play.
We have no idea if he’s a good stats-bad team guy, because every time OKC is surprisingly competitive, GM Sam Presti doctors an injury report to stay in the lottery mix. Who knows what the end goal is from the Thunder’s trove of draft picks, but having that many assets don’t mean it’ll be enough to convince the Brick for Vic winner to trade down.
Yes, this season would be playing out differently if Chet Holmgren wasn’t sitting it out due to injury. However, SGA’s timeline seems to have already started. Every other guy getting 30-plus in 2022 would be pissed about missing the playoffs, and probably still be irked if they’re relegated to the play-in.
If the Thunder earn a nine-seed they’ll be ecstatic, even though they have the means to trade responsibly and challenge for more. While I’m not urging Presti to piss away the big stack chasing gut-shot flush draws, he could bully his way into the money at the very least.
Right now the most significant OKC trade headlines revolve around moving Gilgeous-Alexander. I’m not going to propose deals for the guard because that’s what casual NBA fans do on IG in their spare time. Plus, SGA is excited about the future.
I empathize with Thunder beat writer Brandon Rahbar’s agitation because that’s what pundits have been doing with Damian Lillard for years. The difference between the two organizations is Portland seemingly maxed out its roster around their franchise player, and OKC is actively sandbagging promising seasons of SGA’s young career.
And that’s my concern. The Thunder’s current tanking isn’t as bad as peak Process, which is good. Joel Embiid has shown us that great players can overcome poor culture. The 76ers will be a top-four team in the East as long as he’s surrounded by serviceable talent.
The side effect of Philly’s asset-forward approach is that even though the team had the capital to broker trades to improve the roster every offseason, there’s little to no continuity. Very rarely is a collection of talent good enough to win a championship without collectively experiencing playoff failure first.
Wouldn’t you love to see how the Thunder look if Gilgeous-Alexander, Josh Giddey, Lou Dort, and Tre Mann are given a real rotation power forward and center. Aleksej Pokusevski and Jeremiah Robinson-Earl are ostensibly G League players at this point in their careers if that’s not Poku’s ultimate destination.
I doubt Presti would even notice the missing draft picks that it would take to acquire Miles Turner from Indiana. A veteran center could improve a defense that’s giving up 54 paint points per game, which ranks fourth worst in the NBA. And it’d be nice to have some form of interior infrastructure in place to ease the workload on Holmgren’s slight frame when he returns next year.
Say they miss out on the No. 1 pick, and end up with Scoot Henderson instead. Do they move on from Giddey in hopes of adding another guard capable of getting 30? Where does Chet fall in the pecking order if that happens?
These aren’t bad issues, but they already have a damn good problem solver, and one who’s going underappreciated because of a GM counting picks of over wins.