The OKC Thunder Are Destined to Crash and Burn

The OKC Thunder have made a name for themselves in the last couple of years. Not because of their success record-wise, but because general manager Sam Presti has assembled a war chest of first-round picks. Before the draft, the Thunder had stockpiled an NBA record 38 first round picks up until 2028.

Now, after the completion of the draft, the Thunder have four new players to integrate onto the team. Three of the picks were lottery picks, one of them an early second-round pick. While the Thunder now have a talented young core that has unlimited potential, one has to wonder if the team will ever be able to come close to its ceiling.

The OKC Thunder Are Destined to Crash and Burn

Why Is No One Talking About It?

There’s a YouTuber who’s name is Kenny Beechem. Next to his main channel, he runs a second channel where he talks about just basketball. The channel’s name is Kenny For Real, and so far he’s the only person who has addressed the major flaw in the Thunder’s drafting and mindset. The Thunder have over 35 total picks in the next six years, by the way.

With only 15 spots on the roster every season, that’s a blessing and a curse. Before the draft, the Thunder already had an established young core built around guard Shai Giligeous-Alexander, defensive menace Lu Dort, 7-footer Aleksej Pokusevski, and forward Darius Bazley. Now, the Thunder will have to add at least 3 players who were stars on their team to that core. Think about what those 3 new draftees will need.

In the draft, the OKC Thunder picked up center Chet Holmgren with the second overall pick. While he can succeed without the ball in his hands and space the floor, that’s not why the Thunder drafted him. The Thunder traded for French prospect Ousmane Dieng from the New York Knicks, the 11th overall pick. Dieng is a gifted playmaker, but can’t make passes without getting touches. He also is a prospect who will need plenty of minutes to develop.

Oklahoma City’s other two selections are no different. 12th overall pick Jalen Williams is an electric scorer, but he can’t score if the ball’s not in his hands. 34th overall pick Jaylin Williams (another minor problem) is an excellent defender and playmaker, but he needs to work on his shot. Williams is going to need plenty of in-game reps to develop his shot.

Hopefully, you get what Beechem is saying: The Thunder can’t possibly develop all of these players at once. If the Thunder goes ahead with this method, the Thunder do it knowing it will stunt the growth of multiple players. When a player gets drafted to a team, they shouldn’t have to immediately think how much better their career would have been if they were drafted somewhere else.

Backed Into A Corner

It’s easy to look at Oklahoma City’s situation and come up with what seems like a plausible solution: Trade the picks.

Well, it’s not that simple.

Trading away those picks only works if the player the Thunder get back is worth the assets. That means OKC should target a disgruntled star who wants out, but who? Despite some real turbulence, superstar Damian Lillard seems to be sticking around in Portland. Star Bradley Beal is a free agent if he declines his player option, but he doesn’t fit the timeline of the rest of the roster. Beal could also decline, and he plays the same position as franchise star Giligeous-Alexander, so that’s a definite no.

Utah Jazz star Donovan Mitchell could be an option, but he doesn’t fit next to SGA either. Suns center Deandre Ayton is an option after rumors he wants out, but the Thunder just drafted Holmgren. High flyer John Collins from the Atlanta Hawks? The Thunder already have plenty of capable forwards. Plus, is Collins really worth multiple first round picks?

The other part that makes trading picks away tricky is that other teams know the situation Oklahoma City is in. What’s to stop a team from demanding multiple first-round picks and a young prospect? The Thunder may have the better assets, but they don’t have any leverage in a potential trade. There’s almost no route for the Thunder to go by trading away picks.

In fact, the only way the Thunder can trade their picks to get better is by making a major splash to bring in a young superstar. Only problem there is most are untouchable. Think about any young superstar in the league today, and the Thunder would have to pledge a king’s ransom to even start conversations.

The unfortunate likely route is that the Thunder ending up burning some of their picks and don’t sign them or use them on draft-and-stashes, but you can only have so many players like that.

What If It Works?

Unlikely. However, if there’s anything the NBA’s landscape today has proven, it’s never say never. Let’s go based on the information we have now. If, if it all worked out, the Thunder could have a death lineup on their hands.

SGA is 6’6″, and can play point guard. The 6’8″ Josh Giddey could slot in at shooting guard. The 7-foot Pokusevski’s natural position is small forward. The latter pick Jaylin Williams is 6’10. Fellow 7-footer Holmgren slides in at the center. That’s a scary starting five in the next couple of years. Even off the bench, the Thunder would have other key pieces like Lu Dort, Bazley, Tre Mann, Theo Maledon, Jeremiah Robinson-Earl, and eventually Ousmane Dieng.

In a dream scenario for the OKC Thunder, they will still be awful next season, and gets to draft first overall. 7’2″ star center Victor Wembanyama falls right into OKC’s lap in a stacked draft next season.

Again though, that’s a major if. The Philadelphia 76ers mantra of “Trust the Process” has lead to plenty of regular-season success with no postseason triumphs. The Sixers still have yet to make the conference finals in the Joel Embiid era, for anyone wondering.

So yes, Presti has blessed the Thunder with a plethora of picks. In doing so, however, he’s also backed the team into a corner. The team has a bright future ahead of them, but make no mistake:the pressure is on to perform. Not to be pessimistic, but the blueprint for disaster is already there from the 76ers, so it will be interesting to see how the Thunder avoid a crash and burn.