NBA 2023-2024 Preview: Is it Playoff Time for the Thunder?

Thunder OKC NBA Preview 2023 2024

As the search continues for a successor to the Nuggets as NBA champions, we’re taking a month to delve into the prospects of all 30 NBA teams. Today, our sights are set on the Oklahoma Thunder.

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A Brightening Future in OKC

From twenty-four wins two seasons ago to forty in the last, the Thunder’s rise has been nothing short of electrifying. The shining beacon guiding OKC’s resurgence has been Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, for whom the term ‘franchise player’ is now a given. A finalist for the Most Improved Player award and the Thunder’s top scorer with an average of 31.4 points, he’s undoubtedly become the face of the franchise. Leading the Thunder to a 10th place finish in the Western Conference, expectations were high for their playoff appearance. And he didn’t disappoint in the 1st Play-In Tournament game against the Pelicans, delivering a standout performance to seal a 123-118 win for his team. However, the young Thunder squad met their match in the subsequent round, falling 95-120 to the Wolves, leaving them just shy of the playoffs.

With Mark Daigneault at the helm, Luguentz Dort providing defensive prowess, and a slew of promising young talent we’ll discuss later, the 2022-2023 season showcased the Thunder’s vast potential. It also highlighted the fruits of General Manager Sam Presti’s draft pick strategy, a plan still in motion as evident from their summer activities.

Offseason Moves for the Thunder

Departures

  • Dario Saric has joined the Warriors while Jared Butler is now with the Wizards.

Extensions

  • Both Olivier Sarr and Lindy Waters III have been retained on two-way contracts.

New Faces

  • Chet Holmgren, who was injured last year, is a significant addition to the lineup.
  • Vasilije Micić, previously with Anadolu Efes, will look to make an impact.
  • Jack White has been picked up as a free agent.
  • The experienced Victor Oladipo has made a move from the Heat.
  • Davis Bertans, coming from the Mavericks, adds depth to the roster.
  • From the 2023 Draft, Cason Wallace was selected 10th overall, and Keyontae Johnson, chosen 50th, has been given a two-way contract.

OKC’s Starting Five

The formidable lineup consists of Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Jalen Williams, Luguentz Dort, Josh Giddey, and Chet Holmgren.

Bench Rotation:

  • Point Guards: Tre Mann, Cason Wallace, and Vasilije Micić will handle the duties.
  • Shooting Guards: Isaiah Joe, Victor Oladipo, and two-way player Keyontae Johnson will provide depth.
  • Small Forwards: Aaron Wiggins, Jack White, and another two-way talent, Lindy Waters III, round out the wing positions.
  • Power Forwards: Kenrich Williams, Aleksej Pokusevski, Ousmane Dieng, and Davis Bertans will compete for minutes.
  • Centers: Jaylin Williams, Jeremiah Robinson-Earl, and Olivier Sarr (on a two-way contract) are the big men in the middle.
  • This season, with a blend of youthful talent and experienced veterans, OKC looks poised to build upon last year’s momentum.

Strengths and Weaknesses of the Oklahoma City Thunder

Weaknesses : Lack of a Solid Starting Power Forward

While players like Jalen Williams and Josh Giddey have undeniable technical abilities, they aren’t equipped to defend dominant players like Giannis Antetokounmpo. One might think that Luguentz Dort could take on such assignments, but he’s undersized for defending someone like Giannis. If Chet Holmgren takes on this role, who would then guard the opposing center? The frontcourt depth is concerning, especially if a starter gets injured. Though players like Dieng and Jaylin Williams have potential, they aren’t quite ready for the highest level of competition yet.

Strengths : A Genuine Center in the Mix

Hopes are high for Chet Holmgren to have a breakout season, possibly even contending for the Rookie of the Year award. Given his status as the second pick in the 2022 Draft, many believe he has a duty to perform at this level.

Depth in Guard Positions

There’s an impressive mix of youth and experience in the guard spots, boasting a variety of skill sets ranging from defensive capabilities to offensive firepower.

Attractive Starting Five

Overall, the Thunder’s starting lineup looks pretty appealing. Fans can expect some entertaining games, making the Thunder’s matchups a treat to watch this season.

Player to Watch: Vasilije Micić

For avid EuroLeague followers, Vasilije Micić is a familiar face. However, for most NBA fans, he’s somewhat of a new name. At the age of 29, this Serbian point guard is finally making his debut in the NBA, having been drafted way back in 2014 by the Philadelphia 76ers as the 52nd pick. With his entry, he becomes the oldest rookie of the 2023-2024 NBA season, surpassing another European, Sasha Vezenkov, who we might discuss in the Kings’ preview.

Vasilije Micić has been consistently scoring between 12 and 19 points per season over the last five years with Anadolu Efes in Turkey. He has won the EuroLeague twice with them in 2021 and 2022 and was even named the MVP of the 2020-2021 season. Add to this an average of five assists per game, a commendable shooting percentage, especially from beyond the arc (36% in EuroLeague and 46% in the Turkish league), and a proficiency in pick’n’roll which could be handy in the NBA.

However, the point guard spot in OKC seems congested. With established guards like Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Josh Giddey firmly holding their places, Micić will need to compete against the likes of Tre Mann and especially rookie Cason Wallace to earn significant NBA minutes. European players have historically faced challenges when transitioning to the NBA, but many are hoping that Micić will carve out a niche for himself this season.

End of Season Prediction: 8th in the West

Opinions vary among the editorial team: while some see the Thunder finishing at the 6th spot, others predict a 10th place finish. Averaging out the seven collected opinions gives us a respectable 8th place prediction. This would place the Thunder in the Play-In Tournament, with the hope that they fare better than they did at the end of the last season. With a bolstered roster and players who’ve developed further, a rise in the rankings is only logical!

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