Sam Presti and the Oklahoma City Thunder have preached patience dating all the way back to the 2020-21 offseason. After trading all of its veterans in the 2020 off-season, the direction was clear – the Thunder were angling for a rebuild. After going 22-50 last season, Oklahoma City is on the horizon of another losing season after a relatively quiet draft and Free Agency.
Oklahoma City Thunder: Analyzing the Team’s Offseason
General Manager Sam Presti is playing the “long game”
One storyline that went under the radar saw the team’s fan base divide itself into Team Tank and Team Compete. This was strange since Presti dropped a number of direct truths, clearly stating that the team is looking toward the future. Nothing was more emphatic than his speech in the team’s 2020-21 end-of-year presser.
“Short cuts cut long runs short, and we’re going to do everything in our power not to allow that to happen. When we do get back to the postseason, we want it to be an arrival and not an appearance. An arrival meaning that we can return. We can be there. We can take some chance or bad fortune and not have it sink us completely.”
He went on to say his future moves will be calculated with the idea of sustained success.
“We don’t want a position where we get there but we have no way to get back… That’s the focus and precision with which where we’re working.”
These messages were clear, direct, and concise but this hasn’t stopped some of the fan bases from questioning the team’s moves.
Rumor Mill fuels fan desire for major moves
Rumors regarding Oklahoma City’s desire to move into the top three ran riot leading up to the 2021 NBA Draft. Reports suggested the Thunder were preparing a monstrous offer to entice one of Detroit, Houston, or Cleveland to move back. This was met with a great deal of support from Thunder fans following a disappointing lottery draw a month earlier.
However, one rumor that took everyone by surprise involved young star Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. According to multiple sources, Oklahoma City offered Gilgeous-Alexander, the sixth pick, and future first-rounders for the number one pick.
NBA Insiders Adrian Wojnarowski and Zach Lowe from ESPN suspected these reports were a mere smokescreen for what Oklahoma City was actually going to do. Lowe in particular pushed back at the notion on his podcast that Gilgeous-Alexander was actually offered to Detroit. This didn’t stop the rumor mill from ticking over with fake reports coming out left, right, and center sparking engagement across major media platforms.
Predictably, none of these rumors were true and Oklahoma City dropped a surprise bomb with their number six selection.
Oklahoma City Thunder’s 2021 NBA Draft Surprise
Instead, Oklahoma City Thunder selected 18-year-old Australian Josh Giddey. This set off a number of overreactions from beat writers and fans alike, openly criticizing the pick as a reach. James Bouknight from the University of Connecticut was all the rage prior to the draft, catching everyone off-guard.
Giddey is not an isolation shot creator, shot-maker, or athlete Bouknight is but offers exceptional vision, IQ, and passing. The Australian is excellent in pick and roll actions, makes advanced reads, and delivers the ball accurately to the open man. This fits seamlessly with the system coach Mark Daignault implemented last season.
Daignault introduced a ball-moving, motion-heavy system last season that focussed on generating good perimeter looks. Staggered screens, flex actions, and dribble-drive motion was regularly run in the halfcourt providing a breath of fresh air from the isolation-heavy schemes of yesteryear. Giddey compensates for his lack of athleticism with angles, timing, and excellent decision-making.
Slotting Giddey next to Gilgeous-Alexander makes sense and gives the Thunder a nice one-two punch.
Draft Pick Fatigue
Draft capital is the currency of the NBA with pick exchange the cost of doing business. Oklahoma City has made a myriad of transactions over the past three seasons, amassing 36 picks. The question of how many is too many? has taken on a life of its own with opposing fan bases mocking the Thunder’s approach. Nevertheless, these picks have positioned Oklahoma City to either build through the draft or acquire a star if they come available.
However, a recent move on draft night appears to have broken the camel’s back. Oklahoma City made a deal with the Houston Rockets, trading the 16th pick for two protected future first-round picks.
OKC/HOU TRADE BREAKDOWN
HOU sent 2x1sts to OKC for #16
2022 1st (via DET)
Protected 1-16 in 2022, 1-18 in 2023 & 2024, 1-13 in 2025, 1-12 in 2026, 1-10 in 2027, 2RP in 2028
2023 1st (via WAS)
Protected 1-15 in 2023, 1-12 in 2024, 1-10 in 2025, 1-8 in 2026, 2x 2RP in 2027
— The Thunder Roundtable (@NBASkoolOfThort) July 30, 2021
These picks have multiple years of protection on them and will turn into second-round picks in 2026 and 2027.
Following this transaction, fans took to Twitter to express their displeasure of the trade. Many expressed their desire for a player and to take a swing on a prospect instead of acquiring more assets. Some cite having enough picks as a reason to not make this deal. The Rockets would go on to draft Turkish Center Alperen Sengun, dubbed the most efficient player in the draft.
After a terrible 2020-21 season, I understand fans are looking to chances on young players to shortcut a rebuild. However, having too many picks is absurd, and complaining the franchise didn’t select your favorite prospect is ridiculous.
Are Oklahoma City Thunder fans losing faith in Sam Presti?
What’s more interesting is some fans have lost faith in General Manager Sam Presti. He is one of the most calculating GMs in the league, establishing a culture and sustained success from 2010-2020. The last time he had top 10 picks in successive drafts, he drafted Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, and James Harden.
One argument against Presti has been his draft choices in recent memory. During the Durant, Westbrook era, the Thunder drafted Reggie Jackson (24), Perry Jones (28), Steven Adams (12), Mitch McGary (21), Josh Huestis (29), and Cameron Payne (14). Jackson and Adams turned into solid players but McGary, Jones, Huestis, and Payne flamed out. Payne is a fantastic comeback story in Phoenix but he was disappointing during his tenure in the Midwest. Domantas Sabonis (Serge Ibaka trade) in 2016 was the best pick the Thunder made but Presti traded him to Indiana for Paul George.
What Oklahoma City fans need to understand is the Thunder were selecting in the 20’s. Finding rotation players late in the first round is extremely difficult. Unfortunately, Presti was unable to find a gem during this period. Luguentz Dort is his finest pick-up, signing him to a contract after going undrafted in 2020. Dort is now a quality starter and a key figure in their future.
Overall, Presti has a great resume especially selecting inside the top 10.
Oklahoma City is a few years away from being back in the playoff picture but this was the direction the franchise was always going to take. Many believe the Thunder’s offseason has been disappointing but some could argue it’s more to do with finishing with the sixth pick. Drafting Giddey is a nice swing for the fences and the Thunder have nothing but time to develop its players. More importantly, Presti has a huge number of assets available to him and has preached patience.
He is staying true to his word.
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