OKC Thunder: Luguentz Dort, NBA draft picks and the 21 things to look forward to in 2021
The Thunder is heading in a new direction entering the new year. With another season just now beginning, here are 21 things to look forward to for the Thunder in 2021:
1. Top draft pick
How well and how high the Thunder drafts will determine the length of the rebuild. The Thunder owns 18 first-round picks through 2027, but the only picks the Thunder can control are its own. If the Thunder finishes the regular season with one of the three-worst records in the NBA, it will have a 14% chance of winning the lottery.
2. Cade Cunningham?
#FadeForCade is already trending on Twitter. The OSU point guard is projected by most to be the No. 1 pick in the 2021 NBA draft. The Thunder would love the chance to draft Cunningham, but there are other intriguing options in a class loaded with top-end talent. Jalen Suggs, Evan Mobley, Jonathan Kuminga and Jalen Green just to name a few.
3. SGA’s next step
Will Shai Gilgeous-Alexander be the best player on the Thunder’s next contending team, or is he better suited as a second option? The Thunder cleared the way for Gilgeous-Alexander to show just how high his ceiling is. The 22-year-old point guard is off to an impressive start.
4. City uniforms
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The Thunder will debut its new city edition uniforms Jan. 13 at home against the Lakers. For the first time, only the name “Oklahoma” will appear on the Thunder’s jersey instead of “Oklahoma City.”
5. More trades
Sam Presti isn’t finished collecting draft picks. Veterans George Hill, Al Horford and Trevor Ariza might all be on the move in 2021. Hill is the most valuable of the three given his stellar 3-point shooting and palatable contract. March 25 is the trade deadline.
6. Dort’s defense
His shot will come and go, but you can count on Luguentz Dort playing terrific defense in 2021. The second-year Thunder guard might find himself on an All-Defense team by season’s end.
7. Bazley’s skill set
Darius Bazley is already flashing more tools than he did in his rookie season. The 20-year-old forward has been assertive on offense rather than simply being a catch-and-shoot big man. It’s also important to monitor how he develops defensively. Bazley might end up as a steal for being the 23rd pick in the 2019 draft.
8. Westbrook’s return
Russell Westbrook and the Wizards won’t travel to Oklahoma City until the second half of the season. Scott Brooks will be coaching Westbrook at The Peake just like old times. Just not on the bench they’re familiar with.
9. Durant’s Nets
Kevin Durant is healthy and Brooklyn already looks like an Eastern Conference contender. The Thunder will play at Brooklyn on Jan. 10 and the Nets will play at OKC on Jan. 29.
10. More 3-pointers
The sample is small, but the Thunder entered Thursday night attempting 36 3-pointers per game, which ranks 13th in the NBA. The Thunder attempted 30.2 3-pointers per game last season — 27th in the NBA.
11. Daigneault’s philosophy
First-year coach Mark Daigneault said he wants the Thunder to play with pace and space. “That’s the way the league is right now. That’s the most efficient way to play,” Daigneault said. It’ll be interesting to see how Daigneault’s offense differs from Billy Donovan’s.
12. Maledon’s role
Theo Maledon is already averaging 20 minutes per game, and that’s a number that could hold steady throughout the season. The rookie point guard has an advanced feel for the game, and that will only improve with time. There are plenty of reasons to be excited about Maledon.
13. Poku’s plan
Fellow rookie Aleksej Pokusevski isn’t on the same timeline. He’s not as polished as Maledon, and his 7-foot, 195-pound frame isn’t ready for the physical toll of an NBA season. Pokusevski’s upside is obvious, but this season will be all about maturing and developing.
14. Scheduling adjustments
Baseball-type series are coming to the NBA in an effort to reduce travel. No, not three or four-game series, but several back-to-backs against the same opponent. The Thunder will play the Clippers on Jan. 22 and 24, the Rockets on Feb. 1 and Feb. 3, the Timberwolves on Feb. 5 and 6 and the Lakers on Feb. 8 and 10.
15. New court
The Thunder installed a new court for the 2020-21 season. “Thunder” is no longer spelled out above the logo at midcourt, and the hardwood floor is lighter.
16. New fashion king
Gilgeous-Alexander has carried on Westbrook’s fashion legacy in Oklahoma City. Gilgeous-Alexander was recently the face of a Louis Vuitton ad campaign and he’s already been featured in GQ. Look out for his tunnel outfits in 2021.
17. Paul and the Suns
If you want another team to cheer for as the Thunder rebuilds, Chris Paul and the Suns are a good option. After guiding the Thunder to a surprise season, Paul could do the same with a young and exciting roster in Phoenix. The Thunder and Suns will play Jan. 27 in Phoenix.
18. Diallo’s dunks
There won’t be a dunk contest this year with no All-Star weekend, so just enjoy the slams of Thunder guard Hamidou Diallo, who won the dunk contest in 2019.
19. Centers shooting
Steven Adams and Nerlens Noel posed no perimeter shooting threat from the center position last season. Now the Thunder’s top two centers are Horford and Mike Muscala, both of whom can shoot the long ball. Muscala, in line for much more playing time this season, is 8-of-15 from 3-point range to start the season.
20. Starting lineup
Gilgeous-Alexander, Hill, Dort, Bazley and Horford is a solid starting five, and a nice mixture of youth and experience. The Thunder’s roster isn’t deep, but its starting lineup will compete as long as it stays intact.
21. Youth movement
The Thunder has the sixth-youngest roster in the NBA with an average age of 24 years and 112 days. Pokusevski, born Dec. 26, 2001, is the youngest player in the league.