Carlson: OKC Thunder has only one Jackson now — and other things you need to know
Our Thunder coverage team met the other day to talk about our plans for the year.
The transformation of the Thunder’s roster, of course, came up. We were discussing how much change there has been, how many new faces there were, how we know so very little about this bunch.
A few minutes later, newbie Frank Jackson came up.
“Did he go to North Carolina?” I asked.
I was informed that he went to Duke and that I was probably thinking of Justin Jackson.
“Oh, yeah,” I said. “Where’s he playing these days?”
Justin Jackson, I was told, now plays for the Thunder.
Monday night, the Thunder cut its number of Jacksons in half when when it waived Frank, and it reminded us again how the sands are still shifting beneath our feet.
For the better part of a decade, everyone in our neck of the woods knew who was on the Thunder roster. We knew them by name, sure, but we also knew them by sight. We knew their faces. We knew their silhouettes.
Heck, if they ran out onto the court but we couldn’t quite see their face or their number, we’d know them by their gaits.
The Thunder players were as familiar to us as our own children.
But now, familiarity has given way to uncertainty.
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We barely know the names. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Darius Bazley and Lu Dort are back. Ditto for Hamidou Diallo and Mike Muscala. But that’s it, unless of course you want to include Isaiah Roby, who made a brief appearance last January, then spent the rest of the season in the G League.
Diallo is the longest tenured Thunder. Two seasons. Ninety-seven games. Six starts.
Six starts. It’s been a long time since the longest-tenured player in the organization had less than six seasons under his belt. Even last year, after Russell Westbrook was traded, OKC still had Steven Adams and Andre Roberson who both were in their seventh seasons with the organization.
But of course, now they are gone, too.
It’s not that the Thunder has no veterans. Al Horford has been in the league for 13 years, George Hill for 12. If Trevor Ariza ever reports to Oklahoma City, which seems increasingly doubtful, he will bring 16 years of NBA experience.
Still, we don’t know them.
We have seen the veterans every now and again, whether in games against the Thunder or in the postseason. Horford has been in lots of playoff series, particularly these past few years with Boston, then with Philadelphia. Hill has been part of the Giannis-powered Bucks the past couple years in Milwaukee.
Seeing them a couple times a year, though, doesn’t tell us how they’re going to be night in and night out. We don’t know their demeanor or their approach or their attitude. At least not like we’re used to knowing the guys in the Thunder blue.
And we really don’t know the new young guys.
Theo Maledon? Ty Jerome? Justin Jackson? Kenrich Williams? Aleksej Pokusevski?
I’m just trying to make sure I spell everyone’s name correctly.
That'll take a little longer on a couple of them. Thankfully, Pokusevski is perfectly fine being called “Poku.”
But even as we familiarize ourselves with these guys, there will be moments when our brains won’t process what we’re seeing or hearing. We’ll hear the names or see the faces, and we’ll think, “Now, who is that?”
The other night during one of the Thunder’s preseason games, I didn’t quite make it home in time for tipoff, so I caught the early minutes on the radio. Matt Pinto, the radio voice of the Thunder, was describing the action, and he was doing a perfectly fine job. “So-and-so defended by such-and-such.” But because I couldn’t connect the names to the proper team quickly enough, there were long stretches where I literally had no idea what team even had the ball.
I wasn’t sure which guys were playing for what team.
Now, preseason games are often the dominion of players who might not play much during the regular season or even make the 15-man roster. Even when you know your team, it can be a bit of a struggle trying to figure out who exactly is playing.
But that sort of thing has so rarely been a problem with the Thunder, even in the preseason.
That's how this season will be, and I'm not saying that as some sort of commentary on how good the Thunder is going to be. Or not going to be. There is no doubt this team is going to struggle compared to the past decade, but we don't know what this team will be. Horford and Hill playing alongside Gilgeous-Alexander, Bazley and Dort, for example, could be a fun lineup.
But it won’t be a familiar one.
That’s been the thing about the Thunder — it has been so familiar over the past decade. We haven’t always known how it was going to play. Would it overachieve or underachieve? Thrill or anger? Bemuse or befuddle? We didn’t necessarily know those answers, but we always felt like we knew the guys in the short pants.
We recognized when they changed their hairstyle and noticed when they got a new tattoo. We memorized their warm-up routines and their pregame handshakes. We knew how Steven would dive on the floor, how Dennis Schröder would knife through the lane, how Nerlens Noel would spring off the floor. And of course, Russ hitting the accelerator? PG defending? KD shooting?
We can close our eyes and see all of it.
Now, we can watch these Thunders intently and still struggle to figure out who’s who. It’s going to take time, but I’ll save you a couple minutes and share what I already know.
The Thunder started with two Jacksons, now it only has one.
I'll let you figure out which is left.
Jenni Carlson: Jenni can be reached at 405-475-4125 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Like her at facebook.com/JenniCarlsonOK, follow her at twitter.com/jennicarlson_ok, and support her work and that of other Oklahoman journalists by purchasing a digital subscription today.