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The 2022-23 Thunder Bunch

Projecting every player's growth, role, and impact on the Oklahoma City Thunder rebuild this season.
The 2022-23 Thunder Bunch

The regular season is finally upon us. While the Thunder are more likely to contend for another top-5 pick than a playoff run this year, it will be a crucial season for the entire roster. After an intense early phase of the rebuild that furiously cycled a myriad of players looking to establish themselves as core building blocks or reliable rotation pieces, slots are now getting filled and players' futures are being determined as OKC's most premium draft picks and once-distant contract decisions come due. We're projecting every player's performance in Oklahoma City with an eye toward both the 2022-23 version of the Thunder and the contending squad that will eventually emerge from it.

The Star

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander - 6'6, 180 lbs. PG

2021-22 Grade: A-

2021-22 Role: Starter, primary ball-handler and scorer

2021-22 Stats: 24.5 pts (.453/.300/.810), 5.9 ast, 5.0 rbs, +3.4 BPM

Projected role for next Thunder contender: All-Star, best or second-best player, primary or secondary scorer/ball-handler

2022-23 opening day: 24 years old, 5th season

Outlook (Aidan Elrod): The Thunder’s premier trade asset received in the Paul George blockbuster, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander has blossomed into one of the premier 1v1 scorers in the association. For the past two seasons, Shai has played at a borderline All-Star level despite his fluctuation in outside shooting. He’s averaged 24/5/6 over that time and has been one of the more underrated guards in the league throughout his OKC tenure. His combination of elite length, crafty finishing and dribbling moves, to go along with his flexibility makes him the best slasher in the world. He’s simply magic on offense.

Shai Magic
Without the burst or shooting touch of other star scorers, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander uses flexibility, change-of-speed, and a magic bag of tricks to saw defenses in half.

One of the adjustments that will have to be made in Oklahoma City this season is improving the combination of he and Josh Giddey while they share the floor. Both aren’t nearly as effective off-ball as they are on-ball, so a jump in consistent three point percentage for SGA will be huge this year. He is signed through 2027, so he has a chance to be one of the best players on the new generation of Thunder teams that fans hope can make a return and a run in the playoffs. There are many things to be excited about on the Thunder this year and beyond, and Shai is near the top of the list.

The Rookies

Chet Holmgren - 7’, 195 lbs. PF/C

Projected role for next Thunder contender: Best two-way player, All-Star

2022-23 opening day: 20 years old, redshirt season

Outlook (Cray Allred): Everything we said about Chet Holmgren when he was drafted to OKC with the second-overall pick will be true…for next year. Aside from the excitement over his floor-stretching and shot-hawking presence on offense and defense, stoked during that glorious and brief Summer League showing, Holmgren’s ability to remain healthy will be the most pronounced developmental area on which to focus this season.

Chet Holmgren Blocks Everything in Summer League Debut - Daily Thunder
It’s just Summer League, BUT... Chet Holmgren has arrived.

Ruled out for the year after a freak foot injury, health is really the only thing we can track for Chet as an on-court indicator as he recovers and learns on the sidelines until his delayed rookie season commences in 2023-24. How Holmgren heals will be just as important as anything the rest of the ‘22 Thunder draft class accomplishes.

Ousmane Dieng - 6’10, 185 lbs. SF/PF

2022 Preseason Stats: 11.0 pts (.579/.471/.750), 2.4 rbs, 3.2 ast

Projected role for next Thunder contender: Rotation player, secondary playmaking and defensive anchor

2022-23 opening day: 19 years old, rookie season

Outlook (Jayden Rule): A guy who has been on the radar of Oklahoma City GM Sam Presti since he was 16 years of age has performed far above expectations in the preseason, easing some concerns fans had over the front office's decision to give up three future protected first-round picks in exchange for the right to select Dieng at #11 this summer. Standing at 6'10, Dieng is a supersized wing who is exceptionally agile and crafty with the ball in his hands, has a great feel for finding open teammates and invokes immense irritation upon the opposition on the defensive end thanks to his 7'1 wingspan. It's hard not to see the potential there.

Whilst I'm obligated to state that it is just the preseason, it's hard not to be excted at how much of a positive Dieng was out there on the court despite being heralded as a big-time project in need of considerable development before producing. His shot was believed to be his biggest weakness coming out of the NBL, where he converted just 27% of his three-point attempts. But his form has looked noticeably better, leading to more buckets. He no longer brings the ball across the side of his face as he did back in the NBL; it's now a clean, one-motion shot.

The Waiting Game: Ousmane Dieng and Jaylin Williams
How Ousmane Dieng and Jaylin Williams made it, and how they could make the Thunder future brighter.

Check out this slow-motion clip. No hitch, ball brought straight up, straight release, good set-point, feet turned slightly, good balance, and good follow-through. The only flaw is the thumb flick, which can be trained out of him after some more work with Chip Engelland, the Thunder's new shot doctor.


And look at how crafty his handle is below:


OKC is used to these 6'10 shot-creating wings with Kevin Durant and Paul George being two prominent players in the team's history. Dieng even wears #13, this could become a nightmare for Thunder fans if they fail to tell the difference between Dieng and George. It's extremely promising that Dieng already feels comfortable breaking out an array of dribble moves to get to his spots. Next time he just has to have the confidence to let that step-through go after he gets a defender like Jalen Duren in the air. He could've even thrown it off the backboard to himself, but I may be getting ahead of myself there.

Now, it's obviously too early to crown Dieng as the next superstar wing scorer of the NBA, but his performance throughout this preseason should be enough to excite fans about his monumental potential as a shot-creating and playmaking wing who can be disruptive on the defensive end.

Jalen Williams - 6’6, 195 lbs. SG/SF

2022 Preseason Stats: 14.4 pts (.610/.222/.769), 5.2 ast, 1.8 stl

Projected role for next Thunder contender: Rotation player, secondary playmaking and defensive anchor

2022-23 opening day: 21 years old, rookie season

Outlook (Rule): Jalen Williams--also known as 'JDub', also known as 'Santa Clara Jalen Williams'– was taken with the 12th pick, well ahead of second-rounder Jaylin Williams. However you choose to distinguish between the two, Jalen Williams is what many basketball fans refer to as a "hooper".

It's not a stretch to say that Williams may be the most versatile player taken in the lottery. He's a 6'6 wing with a freakishly long 7'2 wingspan, big hops and an NBA-ready frame. He's a fantastic playmaker, particularly out of the pick and roll, more than capable of creating his own shot with his SGA-esque slithery handles. He was an absolute sharpshooter in his college days and projects as a very disruptive point-of-attack defender. It's a struggle to point out one true weakness this guy has.

Jalen Williams’ Ascension
Jalen Williams skyrocketed to the 12th pick in the 2022 NBA Draft. Will he soar even higher with the Thunder?

Williams has a strong case for the most impressive rookie in the NBA this preseason, turning in an absurd 61% from the field and leading all rookies in assists per game. What might be the most impressive stat from any player this preseason, let alone amongst rookies, is the 13-assists he recorded against Maccabi Ra'anana. Yes, Maccabi Ra'anana is a team from the 2nd-division of Israel professional basketball. BUT, 13-assists from a rookie remains impressive in any pro setting.

This is a great pass in a roll-like situation with Jaylin. After realizing he had the defender off his feet, he knew he could drop it down for the easy, open dunk.


Williams can play anywhere from 1 through the 4. He'll see minutes as the Thunder's backup point guard thanks to his impressive passing and ball-handling, but he also may see minutes as their starting power forward because of his long wingspan and ability to shoot it off the catch.

He's shown some impeccable touch at the rim, converting on an elite 82% of his attempts from within three feet, many of which were made through contact and at tough angles.

Exhibit A:


Exhibit B:


Williams has been extremely effective so far and has everyone speculating about his potential, including teammate Kenrich Williams who claimed he was "going to be an All-Star one day." Williamses stick together, clearly.

It'll be interesting to see how much of the ball Williams will get this season as there are multiple guys higher than him in the ball dominance pecking order, but we've seen how his cutting and catch-and-shoot ability allows the rock to be taken out of his hands without rendering him ineffective. If Gilgeous-Alexander and Josh Giddey miss time, we'll see a much more prominent role for Williams. But whatever happens this season, JDub's potential is sky-high and it's looking like the Thunder have a good one on their hands.

Jaylin Williams - 6’10, 240 lbs. PF

2022 Preseason Stats: 4.0 pts (.533/.250/.538), 7.5 rbs, 2.5 ast

Projected role for next Thunder contender: End-of-bench role player

2022-23 opening day: 20 years old, rookie season

Outlook (Rule): Alright, now this is the Jaylin Williams taken with the 34th pick (also known as 'JWill', also known as 'Razorback Jaylin'). I was critical of the JWill selection on draft night; I felt like he was too similar to Jeremiah Robinson-Earl and OKC had no need for an undersized big man who can't shoot. Whilst I admire his generational charge-taking ability and his beaming smile, so far my view hasn't shifted much.

When it comes to scoring the ball, Williams doesn't have any notable weapon in his arsenal. Most his scoring comes as the roll man, but his height limits his ability as a lob threat which subsequently drags down his value as a roller. With that being said, he has had some nice plays rim running in transition and finishing. I love this gather from him over the defender's head:


There have also been some sweet flashes of playmaking capabilities as well. I really love how he drops it for Lindy Waters here and uses his body to shield the defender off so Waters gets an open look. His passing followed by a screen may be his best offensive attribute as of now.


Passing out of the high post has become an increasingly large part of NBA offenses in recent years with the Thunder never really dabbling in it, but Williams could bring that much-needed presence to the team. This would get shooters like Tre Mann and Jalen Williams some good looks from behind the arc as the defense collapses in on Williams at the elbows.


Whilst he has his shortcomings and weaknesses as a player, he seems beloved by the team and will get the bench going wild when he takes a charge in a crucial moment of a game. I for one can't wait to see those moments.

The Returning Priorities

Josh Giddey - 6'8, 210 lbs. PG/SG

2021-22 Grade: A-

2021-22 Role: Starter

2021-22 Stats: 12.5 pts (.419/.263/.709), 7.8 rbs, 6.4 ast, 4 triple-doubles

Projected role for next Thunder contender: Starter, primary or secondary scorer/ball-handler

2022-23 opening day: 20 years old, 2nd season

Outlook (Brandon Rahbar): The groans of confusion when OKC selected a 6’8 point guard out of Australia seem like distant memories after Josh Giddey’s remarkable rookie season. The prodigious passing and playmaking were arguably already elite tier as a teenager. The hefty rebounding as a point guard continues an OKC legacy. Thunder fans are justified in feeling they have another potential star in the making, but the one big, looming question mark is Giddey’s shooting and efficiency.

Enter Chip Engelland. While it is far too soon to draw any conclusions from such a small sample size, the early results are promising. Josh hit 28 of 53 shots from the field in the preseason, including 8 of 15 three-point attempts. And while not as drastic as the obvious change in Poku’s Pac-Man shooting mechanics, Giddey’s new form passes the improved jump shot eye test. If Josh becomes even an average three-point shooter, the ceiling of this young Thunder core reaches Cameron Payne levels.

Josh Giddey passes like a wizard - Daily Thunder
Manipulating the PNR, quick reads in traffic, and his trademark one-arm swing pass: Josh Giddey is dicing up the NBA.

Luguentz Dort - 6'3, 215 lbs. SG/SF

2021-22 Grade: B

2021-22 Role: Starter, best defender

2021-22 Stats: 17.2 pts (.404/.332/.843), 4.2 rbs, 1.1 stl, 1.1 DWS

Projected role for next Thunder contender: Starter, All-Defense

2022-23 opening day: 23 years old, 4th season

Outlook (Justin Hickey): Luguentz Dort came into the league with a chip on his shoulder. Dort has been through it all, playing on a two way deal before the Thunder signed him to a team-friendly multi-year deal, and then eventually earning his way to a new lucrative contract extension this offseason. He’s enjoying a raise from $1.9 million to north of $15 million for the 2022-23 NBA season. Dort kept outplaying his contract as a hard nosed defender who improved his game each year, and looks like a Sam Presti staple who will figure into a winning culture in Oklahoma City’s near future.

Dort is now considered a veteran on this team at only 23 years old. He figures to play big minutes this upcoming season as OKC continues to get younger. Minus Chet Holmgren, the Thunder now have three draft picks who could contribute in Jaylin Williams, Jalen Williams and Ousmane Dieng. They also have players returning who showed flashes in their rookie seasons in Josh Giddey, Tre Mann, Jeremiah Robinson-Earl and Aaron Wiggins. He will be one of the captains of the team and his intensity should speak volumes to the newer teammates.

An All-Defensive team is definitely within reach for Dort. And if he can ever get his 3-point shooting up to around 37%, he will be a truly scary two-way player for many years to come. Playing beside Giddey and SGA as the lead ball handlers this season, Dort can focus on shooting and cutting to the basket. With his role stabilized, his biggest goals for this year should be offensive consistency and efficiency.

Tre Mann - 6'3, 178 lbs. PG

2021-22 Grade: B

2021-22 Role: Rotation player

2021-22 Stats: 10.4 pts (.393/.360/.793)

Projected role for next Thunder contender: Sixth man, secondary scorer

2022-23 opening day: 21 years old, 2nd season

Outlook (Rule): It was a rocky start to Tre Mann's debut season with the Thunder, but in the last 24 games of the season, he upped his scoring average to 15 per game on 14 shot attempts. This is often the case with offensively orientated rookie guards. Jordan Poole's 2020-21 season saw him averaging just 5.5 points a night at the end of January but following a stint in the G-League bubble he returned and put the NBA world on notice, averaging 15 a game. It can take these type of players some time to find their footing and settle into the NBA game, but once they do it can quickly become a concern for the other 29 NBA teams.

Mann is one of the best young space creators in the league, possessing such immense offensive talent and prowess as a scorer. He's primed for a big breakout year. He's had a big offseason and is feeling "a lot more comfortable than [he] did coming into last year.” You can never have too many scoring masterminds on one team in today's NBA. Expect him to step into a much bigger role in the Thunder's offense this year with a considerable rise in minutes and shot attempts, perhaps even as the team's second scoring option behind Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. He may not break into the starting line-up on a permanent basis just yet, but will certainly see his fair share of starts in replacement of an injured player.

Tre’s the Mann
Tre Mann is back and ready to set the league on fire in his sophomore campaign.

In a year that most have penciled in as a third straight rebuilding season, Mann will provide a massive spark of thrill and excitement with his dazzling handles and tough shot-making. If he can take advantage of more development time and rise to the level resembling the aforementioned Poole, Tyrese Maxey and Anfernee Simons, the Thunder's future becomes even brighter.

Kenrich Williams - 6'6, 210 lbs. SF

2021-22 Grade: B+

2021-22 Role: Rotation player

2021-22 Stats: 7.4 pts (.461/.339/.545), +13.1 On/Off per-100

Projected role for next Thunder contender: Rotation player, veteran influence

2022-23 opening day: 27 years old, 5th season

Outlook (Rahbar): Kenny Hustle is settling in nicely as the Nick Collison of the second era of Thunder basketball. The locker room leadership, the do-it-all defensive minded bench role glue guy-ness, the effort, the plus minus box scores and the locally iconic hair. But most endearing to fans is Kenny Hustle’s repeatedly outspoken desire to retire in Oklahoma City. And Williams put his (less than he could’ve made elsewhere) money where his mouth is by extending on a very team-friendly contract. As a 27 year young elder statesman, Kenrich will still provide plenty of on-court positive contributions to go along with his off-court influence once this young Thunder team makes its next arrival in the playoffs.

The Rest

Aleksej Pokusevski - 7'0, 190 lbs. PF

2021-22 Grade: D

Role: Rotation player

Stats: 7.6 pts (.408/.289/.700), 5.2 rbs, 1.1 blk per-36

Projected role for next Thunder contender: Rotation player

2022-23 opening day: 20 years old, 3rd season

Outlook (Rahbar): The simplest way to summarize Poku’s development entering his third season: he looks like a real NBA player now. Both physically and by his on-court performance. When Aleksej entered the league, he weighed all of 190 pounds as a true 7-footer. Including the fanny pack. Poku is now listed at 210 pounds. If he continues this trajectory, Year 13 Poku will weigh the same as Shaq.

When Aleksej entered the league, he was a staple on Shaqtin' A Fool with his top of the backboard shots and fifth row of Loud City passes. Based on the second half of last season and six games of preseason, those days are gone. I’m gonna kind of miss them. Poku averaged 9.2 points, 5.3 rebounds, 3.8 assists and 1.2 blocks on 47.6% shooting this preseason.

Thunder Journal: Top 5 Preseason Performances

OKC fans’ favorite meme player may not ever reach that tantalizing ceiling (or maybe he will!), but count it as a big organizational win if Poku completes his metamorphosis into a solid rotation player.

Sometimes young, raw projects with upside we were told just need some time to develop...just need some time to develop.

Darius Bazley - 6'8, 208 lbs. PF

2021-22 Grade: C-

2021-22 Role: Starter, rotation player

2021-22 Stats: 10.8 pts (.422/.297/.688), 6.3 rbs, +0.3 DBPM

Projected role for next Thunder contender: Trade fodder

2022-23 opening day: 22.4 years old, 4th season

Outlook (Allred): The Thunder’s first post-Westbrook era draft addition, Bazley’s lengthy history of uneven development in OKC distracts from the fact that he is still one of the younger players on the roster (notably, he’s four years Brandon Clarke’s junior, who the Thunder could have had instead of Baze in that 2019 class).

Bazley has worked to become a formidable defender with the kind of competitive grit that has characterized the Too Tough to Tank Thunder the last few years, with some offensive hot streaks giving hope to fans that he could be a long-term fixture in the frontcourt rotation. Still, if his anemic finishing (only two bigs with as many attempts shot worse than Bazley within 5’)  and lackluster shooting (.501 career TS%) don’t soon progress it’s hard to imagine him meriting an important role for a playoff team–or a significant extension, for which he’s eligible this offseason. He’s grown into his frame and flashed some NBA-level instincts, but looking and feeling the part of an undersized forward won’t make up for such a limiting lack of explosiveness and efficiency.

Isaiah Joe - 6'4, 165 lbs. SG

2021-22 Grade: N/A

2021-22 Role: N/A

2021-22 Stats: 3.6 pts (.350/.333/.935), 11.1 mpg

Projected role for next Thunder contender: Trade fodder

2022-23 opening day: 23 years old, 3rd season

Outlook (Allred): Don’t let the disparity between Joe and others on the Thunder roster fool you: he has shown as much promise as many of the other young OKC prospects but, fighting for minutes on a contending Philly squad, has had much less opportunity to shine. Joe now has some runway to establish himself as either a rotational piece for OKC’s next playoff squad or, if his timeline doesn’t quite match that, an acquisition for another team in a greater hurry to fill a backcourt slot with a standout shooter.

Aaron Wiggins - 6'6, 200 lbs. SG

2021-22 Grade: B+

2021-22 Role: Starter, rotation player

2021-22 Stats: 8.3 pts (.463/.304/.729), 3.6 rbs, 57.3 2P%

Projected role for next Thunder contender: Trade fodder

2022-23 opening day: 23 years old, 2nd season

Outlook (Josh Haar): Although most of what Wiggins provides won't stand out on a stat sheet, the effort and hustle he put forth on defense helped bring energy to the Thunder as a whole last season. His 6'10 wingspan proved effective as well, as he utilized it to his advantage when guarding bigger forwards. Offensively, Aaron showed his worth as a slasher, finding success in reading the ball-handler to position himself strategically near the basket. Ninety-six percent of his two-point attempts occurred within 10 feet of the hoop, and he was able to convert these looks at a 55.2% clip.

In 2022-23, Wiggins needs to take another leap in order to solidify his case for consistent NBA minutes. Specifically, he needs to develop a three-point shot worth defending. For someone who attempted 40.9% of his field goals from deep, his 30.4% conversion rate needs to significantly improve.

Even if he isn't part of OKC's long-term plans, he has the chance to showcase his worth to other teams around the league. Finding success could prove beneficial for both Aaron and the Thunder: Wiggins can build his resume to join another club after he's done in OKC, and the Thunder can dangle him as a trade chip for any win-now moves they make in the future.

Next Man Up: Three Players with Opportunity in Chet Holmgren’s Absence
More minutes will be up for grabs in Chet Holmgren’s absence this season. Which Thunder players will take advantage?

Jeremiah Robinson-Earl - 6'9, 230 lbs. PF

2021-22 Grade: B+

2021-22 Role: Starter, rotation player

2021-22 Stats: 7.5 pts (.414/.352/.741), 5.6 rbs, 1.0 DWS

Projected role for next Thunder contender: End-of-bench

2022-23 opening day: 21 years old, 2nd season

Outlook (Haar): The most important thing Robinson-Earl proved his first season is that he fits very well alongside Giddey and Gilgeous-Alexander. Both are very skilled, ball-dominant guards that thrive initiating offense with the rock in their hand. They need to play with a big that's willing to set screens, find his spots relative to the ball-handler and has an ability to shoot from three. JRE succeeded in all these areas and emerged as a primary screener in pick & roll sets.

His sudden knack for sinking threes last season was a pleasant surprise. When Robinson-Earl played college ball at Villanova, he only shot 30.1% over the course of two years. However, he was able to find his rhythm with the Thunder, as he upped his clip to 35.2% on 165 attempts. That's a huge upgrade, and next to playmakers such as Shai and Giddey, this ability to spread the floor is highly valued.

Of course, JRE didn't come without his offensive woes. While the three-point percentage increase was welcomed and appreciated, his efforts inside the arc - particularly near the basket - were lackluster to say the least. He struggled when it came to this section of the court, as he posted only a 42.9% hit rate on shots between 3-10 feet. Couple this with the fact he only hit 33.7% of his jumpers, and it becomes clear Robinson-Earl only thrived at the rim (60.8%) and beyond the arc.

For JRE to take the next step, he'll need to clean up his performance in these offensive spots. If he can become reliable from any area during screening actions, and maybe add a couple more percentage points to his three-ball (37% sounds right for him), he can truly solidify himself as an integral part of the Thunder's future plans to contend.

Mike Muscala - 6'10, 240 lbs. C

2021-22 Grade: B

2021-22 Role: End-of-bench veteran influence

2021-22 Stats: 8.0 pts (.456/.429/.842), 3.0 rbs, 19.7 PER

Projected role for next Thunder contender: Veteran mentor

2022-23 opening day: 31 years old, 10th season

Outlook (Allred): The Moose is one of the overqualified, culture-setting role players OKC has been collecting in addition to the raw, young talent acquired in recent years. As such, his competence as an effective floor-spacing big has not been employed much while the team prioritizes development of said younger players. Muscala appears to be staying in Oklahoma City for the long-haul as a steady, professional influence, but it would be nice if the Thunder’s next foray into contention happened soon enough for his shooting prowess to impact significant basketball games.

Lindy Waters III - 6'6, 215 lbs. SG

2021-22 Grade: C

2021-22 Role: End-of-bench

2021-22 Stats: 8.0 pts(.406/.363/.800), 4.1 3P per-36, 56.2 TS%

Projected role for next Thunder contender: Waiver wire

2022-23 opening day: 25 years old, 2nd season

Outlook (Allred): Waters can shoot. And he’s not a one-dimensional shooter, either, able to move and create off-ball havoc as a relocator in ways that most of the other Thunder shooting prospects cannot. But at the age of 25, stuck on a two-way contract with no obvious openings on the guaranteed 15-man pecking order, Waters has always seemed like a long shot to break his ceiling and hang on as a long-term NBA player. Now that OKC has acquired the younger Isaiah Joe on a multiyear deal, whatever writing was on the wall for the hometown kid is now underscored. If Waters can’t cut it playing for a franchise with the most daylight for talent development in the league, it’s unlikely he’ll do so elsewhere. To make headway, he’ll need an even more brilliant shooting display paired with a newfound semblance of defensive viability in 2022-23.