OKC Thunder: Five big questions heading into NBA training camp
The trade moratorium was lifted, the draft was conducted and free agency started all in the last two weeks. Next up on the NBA’s super-condensed calendar is training camp.
Teams will open training camp Tuesday, and the Thunder will be back on the court Dec. 12 for its first of three preseason games. The 2020-21 season will tip off Dec. 22.
No team has undergone a more drastic offseason transformation than the Thunder. With that in mind, here are five big questions as OKC opens training camp.
Who’s on the team?
It’s not as simple as it sounds.
Sam Presti has made 10 trades in the last two weeks, and more deals could be agreed upon before training camp begins.
The Thunder has 21 players under contract for next season.
Guards: Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Luguentz Dort, Josh Gray, George Hill, Frank Jackson, Ty Jerome, Theo Maledon
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Wings: Trevor Ariza, Hamidou Diallo, Justin Jackson, Darius Miller
Forwards: Darius Bazley, Zylan Cheatham, T.J. Leaf, Aleksej Pokusevski, Isaiah Roby, Admiral Schofield, Kenrich Williams
Centers: Al Horford, Mike Muscala, Vincent Poirier
Horford and Maledon aren’t officially on the roster because the reported trade between the Thunder and 76ers won’t be processed until Dec. 8. The Thunder received a 2025 first-round pick, Horford, the rights to Vasilije Micic and the 34th pick in the draft from the 76ers in exchange for guards Danny Green and Terrance Ferguson.
The Thunder used the 34th pick to select Maledon, but the 19-year-old French point guard will technically be a 76er until Dec. 8.
This list of 21 players doesn’t include center Omer Yurtseven or forward Josh Hall, who will reportedly join the Thunder as undrafted free agents. It also doesn’t include center Moses Brown, who reportedly agreed to a two-way contract with the team.
Presti will have to trim the roster in the coming days. Teams can have a maximum of 20 players at training camp.
The Thunder can open the season with 15 players signed to standard contracts, and two players on two-way contracts for a total of 17 spots.
Will every player be at camp Tuesday?
No. As explained above, Horford and Maledon will miss the first week of training camp as they wait for the trade to be finalized.
The rest of the roster will report in two waves over the next few days. Players will only be allowed to practice once they pass NBA protocols for COVID-19 testing.
Camp will be limited to individual workouts from Dec. 1-5.
Dec. 6 will be the first possible day of team practice.
Who will be traded next?
Hill is the obvious candidate, followed by Ariza.
Hill was the most accurate 3-point shooter in the NBA last season, connecting on 46% of his attempts. He’s a career 38.4% 3-point shooter.
The 34-year-old point guard averaged 9.4 points, 3.1 assists and 3.0 rebounds in 22 minutes per game last season with the Bucks. He proved he has more than enough left to play a key role for a contending team, and the rebuilding Thunder will likely be seeking another draft pick for Hill.
Hill’s contract shouldn’t be hard to trade despite his age. He’s due $9.6 million this season, and $10 million in 2021-22, but his 2021-22 contract is only guaranteed for $1.3 million.
Ariza isn’t as valuable as Hill, but he’s another veteran who doesn’t have a place on the Thunder’s remade roster.
The 35-year-old wing was traded from Portland, to Houston, to Detroit to Oklahoma City all in a week’s time. He enters the season on an expiring $12.8 million contract, which makes him likely to be flipped again.
Ariza has played for nine teams in his 16-year NBA career. Splitting time between Sacramento and Portland last season, Ariza averaged 8.0 points and 4.6 rebounds per game. He shot 37.2% from 3-point range, higher than his career average of 35.2%.
Ariza has averaged at least 24 minutes per game in every season since 2007-08. He ranks 10th in minutes played among active NBA players.
Horford has had the best career of OKC’s newly acquired trio of veterans, but the five-time All-Star center will be the most difficult to move given his contract.
Horford, 34, is due $27.5 million this season, $27 million in 2021-22 and $26.5 million ($14.5 million guaranteed) in 2022-23.
What will the Thunder’s starting lineup look like?
The Thunder’s roster is far from set, but here’s a possible combination.
PG: Shai Gilgeous-Alexander
SG: Luguentz Dort
SF: Justin Jackson
PF: Darius Bazley
C: Al Horford
Four of the spots seem fairly straightforward.
Gilgeous-Alexander will be the lead ball handler with Chris Paul and Dennis Schröder gone. Gilgeous-Alexander played point guard in just six percent of his minutes last season, but it was his natural position throughout high school and college.
Dort started 28 games last season as a rookie, and there’s no reason to think he’ll lose his spot.
Bazley will almost certainly move into the starting five after backing up Danilo Gallinari last season. The 20-year-old forward was a breakout performer in the bubble.
Horford has started 843 of his 853 career games. He could put up big numbers and boost his trade value, which would be a win-win for Horford and the Thunder.
That leaves an open spot on the wing. Jackson, Diallo and Ariza are all options. Ariza is the best player of the bunch, but the Thunder might opt to go young.
Jackson is a 6-foot-7, 25-year-old wing on an expiring contract. His effective field goal percentage dropped from 56.8% in 2018-19 to 46.6% last year. Jackson is another player who could be traded if he returns to his form of two years ago.
Diallo, believe it or not, is the longest-tenured Thunder player. The 6-foot-5 wing averaged 19.5 minutes per game last season.
What to expect from Pokusevski and Maledon?
Pokusevski and Maledon have left their European clubs and will play for the Thunder this season.
The Thunder traded up to select Pokusevski with the 17th pick in the NBA draft. The 7-foot and 195-pound forward is the most intriguing player on the roster. His guard-like skills have been well advertised, but he’s a virtual unknown at 18 years old.
The Serbian phenom played for Olympiacos B in Greece’s second division. He only made one appearance with the senior team.
It will be interesting to see if and how Pokusevski’s minutes are split between the G League and NBA.
Maledon was once a projected lottery pick, but he fell to the Thunder at No. 34.
Maledon played for ASVEL Lyon-Villeurbanne in France’s top league. Former Spurs star Tony Parker owns the team, and he wasn’t happy with how former coach Zvezdan Mitrovic deployed Maledon.
“He never played him last year,” Parker told French newspaper L’Equipe. “The way he treated him, it cost him a place in the first round. A player like that should have been in the top 10.”
The 6-foot-4 point guard, even with a late arrival to training camp, should have an immediate opportunity for minutes in Oklahoma City.