With an inevitable rebuild on deck for Oklahoma City, this offseason will be key for the development of the Thunder’s young core (Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Darius Bazley, Lu Dort). While it isn’t guaranteed that Chris Paul will be traded this offseason, he will be gone eventually and the focus will shift primarily to developing young talent and drafting high lottery picks. With goal in mind, here are some things for the young core to work on during this break between seasons.
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander: Assertiveness and 3-Point Shooting
As “The Guy” going forward, there is a lot riding on the shoulders of Gilgeous-Alexander. In a mostly great second season, SGA had some truly outstanding moments where he flashed superstar/All-NBA potential, but also had a few duds where he vanished. This is to be expected from a young player, especially one in a brand new role.
In the playoffs, he had a tendency to defer to Paul in the big moments which is fine–he’s a young player and CP3 was historically great in the clutch this season–but it could be a problem going forward if not addressed. If SGA truly wants to be The Guy, then becoming comfortable as the primary ball handler and scorer in closing time is a necessity.
Another key element to becoming an elite guard in the NBA is 3-point shooting. While there are rare exceptions, SGA doesn’t possess the unnatural athleticism of someone like Russell Westbrook to overcome limitations outside. Spacing the floor, especially with the ability to take stepback threes off the dribble, is an important weapon in an lead guard’s arsenal. For SGA to reach his full potential, he must gain confidence in the clutch while fine tuning his marksmanship from deep.
Darius Bazley: Finishing at Rim and Swiss-Army Defense
Coming into the 2019-2020 Season, Darius Bazley was a true mystery. He was best known for committing then decommitting from Syracuse as a 5-star recruit, opting to take an unconventional internship with New Balance for a year.
He had some highs and lows typical of a rookie, but he absolutely broke out during bubble play. Bazley broke the Thunder record for youngest player to have consecutive games of 20 or more points, displaying good 3-point shooting, and demonstrating the ability to guard multiple positions. He was so vital in the Rockets series, Billy Donovan’s shortage of minutes allotted to the rookie was a major source of frustration.
After his breakout in the Orlando restart, expectations have skyrocketed for Bazley. But in order for Bazley to maximize his potential, he still needs to work on a few things. First, Bazley has to improve his ability to finish at the rim. Earlier in the year he got to the basket with great ease, but had problems getting the ball to stay down. In the bubble he showcased improved touch in the paint, but in order to score against stockier players in the league, he needs to put on some (more) weight for sturdiness. He’ll need to start finishing through contact, a great asset for getting to the foul line (where he shot nearly 70% for the season).
Bazley’s Swiss Army size and skill allowed him to guard multiple positions during the playoffs, but there is still room for improvement on that side of the court. Mastering defense will allow him to play in any lineup against any opponent, making him indispensable to a team he’s already begun to make better while on the court.
Luguentz Dort: 3-Point Shooting and Other Scoring
Coming into the playoffs, Lu Dort’s value to the team was already known by the Thunder and their fans, but by the time OKC’s season ended, he became a household name in the NBA. The near mythic defensive clinic he put on James Harden during the Rockets series was awe-inspiring. His was the toughest job in the opening round, and he more than exceeded expectations. Not only did he perform brilliantly defensively, he had an offensive breakout in Game 7, scoring over 30 points as an undrafted rookie.
For him to build on this performance, continued improvement on his 3-point shot is a must, as teams sagged (way) off of him when he was on the perimeter. And until he shoots well enough to pull those defenders back, he needs to find opportunities to be productive by moving without the ball, setting screens, and rolling or cutting to the basket.