The Oklahoma City Thunder are rebuilding, to say the least.
Maybe you thought the Philadelphia 76ers “Process” under former GM
Sam Hinkie was a full-on commitment, but those years have nothing
on Sam Presti.
Once Paul George and Russell Westbrook were traded in a 24-hour
span in the 2019 offseason, the switch flipped in Oklahoma City;
extreme asset accumulation.
Before this past season, Oklahoma City made the playoffs 10 of
the last 11 years. A fruitful era spearheaded by Kevin Durant,
James Harden and Westbrook is now long gone. George was traded to
Oklahoma City in 2017 to become Westbrook’s new running-mate after
Durant’s departure to the Golden State Warriors, but it was a
short-term partnership that yielded nothing significant and
concluded after only two seasons.
Amazingly, the Thunder hold 35 draft picks over the next five
years, and that doesn’t include their massive haul in the 2021 NBA
Draft (Josh Giddey - No. 6, Tre Mann - No. 16, Jeremiah
Robinson-Earl - No. 32, Aaron Wiggins - No. 55). Oklahoma City has
so many plate appearances, they're bound to eventually hit at least
one home run.
An average of seven picks per draft over a five-year span is
absolutely absurd, and it’s a huge credit to Presti going all-in
with his strategy. As it stands, 12 teams in the Western Conference
have real playoff aspirations next season, and Oklahoma City isn't
likely to qualify. Presti can sit back and trust his scouts to find
prospects and his coaching staff to develop their
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, who the Thunder acquired in the
blockbuster trade that sent George to the Los Angeles Clippers in
2019, has become the new face of the franchise. Recently signing a
five-year max extension, the 23-year-old is the primary building
block for the next great Thunder roster. Last season — his third —
he took a massive leap forward, averaging 23.7 points, 4.7 rebounds
and 5.9 assists while converting 41.9% of his three-point
opportunities (at a high volume of 4.9 per game).
Quickly, Gilgeous-Alexander has become one of the most promising
young prospects in the Association. Aside from him, though, the
cupboard is relatively bare, but that all fits in with the master
As mentioned, having so many chances to draft high-upside
prospects allows Oklahoma City to take chances, such as the one the
franchise took in drafting 19-year-old Aleksej Pokusevski. Although
he was nowhere close to being NBA-ready, a lose-now roster allowed
Pokusevski to see much-needed development time in live action
situations. The results have been up-and-down for the Serbian big
man: 8.2 points, 4.7 rebounds, 2.2 assists, 0.9 blocks on a
horrendous true shooting percentage of 43.0.
Pokusevski is a case study and shows how the Thunder plan on
swinging the bat. Other players who fit the "high-ceiling,
low-floor" category are Darius Bazley and Theo Maledon. Bazley
skipped college altogether, while Maledon is another international
prospect with boom-or-bust potential.
Giddey is a project, but the No. 6 overall pick is a strong
long-term fit alongside Gilgeous-Alexander in the Thunder’s
backcourt. Standing at 6-foot-9, Giddey is a passing savant with a
developing jump shot. The Australian point guard will be bringing
flare to Oklahoma City’s offense, even as an 18-year old. Thanks to
the Thunder’s extremely young and raw rotation, Giddey could
immediately break through the rotation to run extensive test trials
next to Gilgeous-Alexander.
Toss in bulky wing Luguentz Dort, who has turned into an
undrafted gem since his arrival in 2019-20, and Oklahoma City’s
young core is littered with intrigue. Led by Gilgeous-Alexander,
here’s how the under-25 core looks for the Thunder:
Ball Handlers = Gilgeous-Alexander, Giddey, Maledon,
Mann, Ty Jerome
Wings = Dort, Bazley, Wiggins
Bigs = Pokusevski, Robinson-Earl, Isaiah
Right there are 11 players in Oklahoma City’s projected 2021-22
rotation who are still developing. The remodeling is nowhere close
to finished; the foundation is still being put into place on ground
Because Oklahoma City may never be a free-agency destination,
Presti seems to be going all-in to build an entire roster around
drafted talent. The most impressive part of what’s occurring
in Oklahoma City, though, is how Presti is seemingly thinking two
or three steps ahead.
For example, take Al Horford’s one-year stint with the team.
Philadelphia sent Horford (and his bloated contract) to the
Thunder, but in exchange, Oklahoma City received a 2025 first-round
pick. At season’s end, Presti then flipped Horford to the Boston
Celtics for Kemba Walker, who was also on a big-money contract.
Boston sent Oklahoma City the No. 16 overall pick in the 2021
draft, plus a 2025 second-round pick for taking on Walker's
obligation. On draft night, the Thunder traded the 16th pick
(Turkish big man Alperen Sengun) to the Houston Rockets in exchange
for two future first-round picks, likely to convey in 2023 (via
Washington) and 2025 (via Detroit).
What began as a salary-dump for Philadelphia netted Oklahoma
City three future first-round picks (2023, 2025, 2025) and a 2025
second-round selection. It’s genius maneuvering.
When looking back at all of their major moves since trading
Westbrook, Oklahoma City is presenting a new model for rebuilding.
Here is an accounting of what the team sent out and received in
trades dating back to 2019:
Sent: Paul George, Russell Westbrook, Chris Paul, Steven
Adams, Al Horford / Kemba Walker
Received: 2022 1st, 2022 1st, 2023 1st, 2023 1st, 2023
1st, 2023 2nd, 2024 1st, 2024 1st, 2024 2nd, 2024 2nd, 2025 1st,
2025 1st, 2025 2nd, 2025 2nd, 2026 1st, 2026 1st, 2026 2nd, 2027
2nd, 2023 + 2025 pick swaps; Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Ty Jerome,
Aleksej Pokusevski, Theo Maledon, Tre Mann, Aaron
All of the this wheeling-and-dealing — which also factored in
other pieces sent to Oklahoma City re-routed for more future assets
(ex: Ricky Rubio and Kelly Oubre Jr. in the Paul trade with the
Phoenix Suns) — resulted in 11 first-round picks, seven
second-round picks, multiple pick swap opportunities and seven
The Thunder are currently stuck on ground level, and probably
will be for awhile. If this plan works out, though, its execution
will be revered among NBA executives for decades to come,
especially among small market teams.
Welcome to Rebuilding 101, hosted by Sam Presti and the Oklahoma