The Oklahoma City Thunder took a leap into playoff contention last season, making it to the second round of the Play-In out West before losing to the Minnesota Timberwolves. Leading the charge for OKC’s first 40-win season since 2019-20 was Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, who has become a bonafide superstar at the point guard position for the Thunder. Around him is a cast of intriguing young talent, and the Thunder are steadily approaching the time to start consolidating that young talent to make a run at being a firm playoff squad in the West.
However, Sam Presti has preached patience in OKC since they started this rebuild and for at least one more year, they’ll lean on their youngsters. Part of the impetus for that approach is still needing to see Chet Holmgren on an NBA court, after he had to sit out his rookie year with a foot injury, and much of the excitement for what the Thunder can be this season revolves around how he can fill the biggest hole from last year’s roster in the form of a real frontcourt presence. Another year of evaluation in OKC isn’t a bad thing, and they’ll look to see who continues to take strides internally as they figure out what their core group should be moving forward.
While it was a fairly quiet summer in Oklahoma City, there were some roster additions and plenty of other deals made by Presti and company that we will grade out here.
For the first time in a few years, the Thunder did not have a pick in the top 10, but did move up from 12th to 10th in a draft night deal with Dallas to take on Davis Bertans’ contract. With the 10th pick, they took Kentucky guard Cason Wallace, who fits their recent trend of adding players with strong defensive traits in the Draft, but his fit is a bit of a question given a glut of young guards in OKC and Wallace not being a high-level shooter. For those reasons, our Brad Rowland gave them a B on Draft night for the selection.
The fit could be a bit of a challenge for Wallace in OKC with a backcourt that is already quite full with Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Josh Giddey, Lu Dort, and others. In a vacuum, Wallace is a solid pick here, though, as he might be the best perimeter defender in the draft. There are some questions about his offensive ceiling, particularly as a shooter, but the overall package is encouraging.
They also added Keyontae Johnson on a two-way, who doesn’t figure to be a major factor in the rotation this season but will be up and down from the G League squad as a deep bench option at forward.
Free Agency/Contract Extensions: B-
Unsurprisingly, the Thunder weren’t major players on the free agency market this summer, but they did make one rather fascinating addition. Nine years after he was drafted in the second round by the Sixers, Vasilje Micic has finally left Europe for the NBA, as the Serbian guard who won back to back EuroLeague titles and Final Four MVPs with Anadolu Efes signed with the Thunder this summer on a three-year deal. While the Thunder haven’t added much in the way of NBA veterans, Micic will give them a veteran presence in the backcourt behind Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Josh Giddey, which could help stabilize their bench units and provide Mark Daigneault with some interesting guard combinations to play with. We’ll have to see what the full impact of Micic’s arrival is, but given their heavy reliance on Gilgeous-Alexander a year ago, it should be helpful adding another capable ball-handler who can create for himself and others.
Sam Presti’s Cap Space Laundering Emporium was once again open for business this summer, as he made a number of trades, almost none of which figure to have a real impact on the Thunder’s on-court performance this season, that netted OKC more draft capital for the trouble of taking taking on contracts and helping facilitated other deals. Davis Bertans remains on the roster and could provide some floor-spacing for a team that needs that, provided he can stay on the floor defensively. Victor Oladipo figures to spend much of this season rehabbing after tearing his patellar tendon in the playoffs, as he returns to OKC in a salary dump deal from the Heat. Patty Mills passed through OKC from Brooklyn on his way to Atlanta, with Rudy Gay, TyTy Washington, and Usman Garuba all also being dealt to the Thunder and subsequently waived. I am no longer particularly impressed by Presti working his cap magic to hoard more future second round picks. All of the moves he made this summer make absolute business sense, but I can’t give anything higher than a C until a trade is made to genuinely upgrade the actual roster rather.
All told, it was a perfectly good summer for the Thunder. They didn’t make any ground-shaking moves, but added a helpful veteran (even if one who is unfamiliar to NBA fans) and continue to leave themselves future flexibility around an extremely promising young core, headlined by a legitimate superstar. At some point it’ll be time to cash in that draft capital and consolidate some of their young talent — OKC could have as many as 10 team options to pick up for players on rookie scale deals this summer — in order to maximize Gilgeous-Alexander, who has an argument as a top-10 player in the NBA this season. How good Holmgren looks as a rookie could determine how quickly Presti and company expedite that process. Last year the Thunder made the leap into the Play-In out West, which is no small feat, but taking the next step to being a playoff contender is among the hardest jumps to make as a team and makes this a very interesting season in Oklahoma City.