The Oklahoma City Thunder are a fun story right now, with a genuinely positive start to the 2019-20 season and a roster that is playing entertaining basketball. It wasn’t necessarily supposed to be like this for Billy Donovan and company but, with the help of strong individual performances and a coherent team strategy on a nightly basis, the Thunder are having success.
In this edition of our Holiday Wishlist series, we’ll discuss what the Thunder will be searching for during the holidays, including open questions with the current roster makeup and what might be in the works for Sam Presti’s team in the future.
#1: Continued growth from young pieces
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander has been tremendous in his second season (his first with OKC) and he’s a significant reason for the team’s success. The 21-year-old leads the team in scoring and, given that he’s playing alongside quality veterans like Danilo Gallinari and Chris Paul, that is no small task. Gilgeous-Alexander is currently the prize of the rebuild, with an All-Star trajectory and efficient production that extends well beyond his years. He’ll continue to progress, but it’s already quite good.
In support, the Thunder have a couple of additional young players to evaluate. Terrance Ferguson has been around for a while but, at only 21, he’s filling a rotation role in competent fashion. Darius Bazley is raw but the 19-year-old is showing flashes after the Thunder invested a draft pick in his services in 2019. There are many more picks to be made by Sam Presti and company, but the youth movement is nearing.
#2: A favorable trade return for Danilo Gallinari
A lot of the attention on Oklahoma City’s trade potential centers on Paul and Steven Adams. The Paul situation is well-documented — it is very difficult to move a contract with two years and $85 million remaining, especially during the season. As for Adams, it wouldn’t be that difficult to send him away but, with the Thunder playing so well and Adams under contract for 2020-21, the urgency level might not be as high.
As for Gallinari, he is an expiring contract at $22.6 million. Even if the Thunder believe they can make the playoffs (a justifiable position), failing to use Gallinari as a trade chip wouldn’t be ideal. He certainly helps them now but, given his potential value to playoff-bound teams and the fact that OKC doesn’t seem like his best fit for the next few years, the Thunder simply have to shop him before February’s trade deadline.
#3: Clarity on their next move
Gallinari is, in some ways, a good proxy for everything in OKC right now. Projection systems now make the Thunder a “favorite” to make the postseason but, when they started 5-10, that certainly didn’t appear likely. Everything is future-facing for the organization after the deals that sent Paul George and Russell Westbrook elsewhere but, if you glance at the roster, you’ll find at least a shallow rotation of quality NBA players.
Do the Thunder want to make the playoffs? It might be helpful in a small market to generate some additional goodwill with a postseason run. On the other hand, OKC could certainly use another lottery pick and the organization is definitely incentivized to move Paul, Adams and/or Gallinari if the right moves materialize. They don’t have to blow it up but the front office needs to center on a plan within the next two months.