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As we head into All-Star Break, there are many questions surrounding the Oklahoma City Thunder. Here are the 10 biggest Thunder storylines to follow for the rest of the 2021-2022 season.
When will Shai Gilgeous-Alexander return?
Despite what Josh Giddey’s recent Russell Westbrook impression would lead some to believe, SGA is still the best player on this team. His return to the court will make the Thunder better, which is great for development, competition and entertainment. But not so great for OKC’s hopes for a bottom four finish, which are already dangling by a thread.
Will Mike Muscala play again this season?
Moose and Kenny Hustle have been this team’s veteran super subs. Just like a couple of Nick Collisons, these guys are plus/minus kings and help settle a young squad when they’re on the court. Muscala does so by dropping a handful of long-distance bombs in his handful of minutes. There’s been whispers of a possible ankle surgery this offseason, but it remains to be seen if it will keep him sidelined for the remainder of the season. OKC may want to err on the side of not giving him a chance to hit any game winners and cost the Thunder the next Tyrese Maxey.
Where does OKC finish in the reverse standings?
As it stands now, the Thunder are 18-39 and have the fourth best lottery odds in the Jabari/Chet/Paolo/Ivey sweepstakes. It seems very unlikely OKC could pass the 12-45 Pistons or the 13-46 Magic. On paper, the 15-41 Rockets with Christian Wood, Eric Gordon, Kevin Porter, Jr. and old friend Dennis Schroder should be doable. But Houston has somehow lost five in a row and are 1-9 in their last ten. Even more worrisome are the Pacers, losers of seven straight. Indiana only has one more win than OKC. If the Thunder were to drop to fifth, the odds for a top-4 pick go from 48.1% to 42.1%. Help us, Haliburton.
Will the Clippers ever lose again?
We get it, Ty Lue. You’re a great coach. But now you’re just showing off, winning games over contenders with the likes of Starting Point Guard Reggie Jackson, The Better Morris Brother and The Second Best T. Mann. But Thunder fans would appreciate another lottery pick, please and thank you.
What teams should Thunder fans root for down the stretch?
Get out the pom-poms for the Rockets, Pacers, Lakers and every team playing the Clippers. And just to be safe, the Kings and the Spurs.
Will Josh Giddey make a late Rookie of the Year push?
The Wizard of Aus has swept every Western Conference Rookie of the Month award so far, and all he’s done in February is have his best month yet. Armed with three straight triple doubles, including the rookie game of the year at Madison Square Garden, and leading the team with SGA out, Giddey has finally caught the NBA world’s attention. In the aftermath of the MSG masterclass, the likes of Trae Young, Kendrick Perkins, Kyle Kuzma, Rob Perez and The Ringer have gone gaga for Giddey. It would take a miraculous finish to surpass Evan Mobley, and he’s still a bit behind Scottie Barnes, but if Giddey keeps this up, the hype will only continue to grow.
Will Tre Mann continue to break out?
The Thunder’s other first round rookie boasts the #3 and #6 best single game scoring performances from the 2021 Draft Class. Both outbursts have come in the last two weeks. Entrenched as a starter as long as SGA is out, Mann’s role and usage continue to grow, as does his confidence. If you need a little pick-me-up this morning, go to basketball-reference.com and compare Mann’s numbers to #2 overall pick Jalen Green.
Will Darius Bazley establish himself as a young core member?
OKC has more young prospects than Leonardo Dicaprio. But not all of them will be around for the long haul when the Thunder are a playoff team once again. Barring any trade shenanigans, here is OKC’s no-brainer young core as it stands now: SGA, Giddey, Lu Dort. Personally, I’d add Mann as well. Earlier this season, it seemed Darius had played his way out of the core conversation. But once Baze was benched, and subsequently became a starter again due to injuries, something startling happened. He started playing well. Well, really well, really. His defense, already a positive due to his shot blocking ability, effort and length, has gone to another level. And he’s no longer running into crowds in the paint and throwing up shots. He’s no longer forcing contested threes. He’s playing better and playing smarter. Still only 21 years old, the much maligned Bazley is two months older than Keegan Murray, an upcoming potential top-10 pick. If he keeps it up, OKC will keep him around.
How will OKC manage minutes?
After winning too many games in the first half of last season, the Thunder shut down Al Horford once SGA went out with plantar fasciitis. Big minutes were given to rookies and two-way players Aleksej Pokusevski, Theo Maledon, Moses Brown, Jaylen Hoard and Charlie Brown, Jr. With visions of Chet Holmgren patrolling the paint, Jabari Smith, Jr. ripping threes and Jaden Ivey posterizing Rudy Gobert dancing in their heads, will the Thunder risk letting Shai, Luguentz, Josh and Kenrich winning too many games? Or will they implement Operation Vit and Lindy Minutes down the stretch?
Does OKC make any moves before the season ends?
There’s been buzz that reigning EuroLeague MVP Vasilije Micic is actually, really, seriously, finally ready to come over to the NBA. If so, the Thunder could use their cap space and sign him before the season ends. Micic would either be a big-time talent to add for the next OKC playoff team or, more likely, a valuable trade chip. Once OKC’s season is over, they can trade with any other team once their season ends. Sam Presti could use his cap space for salary dumps to save teams big money. He could decide to stay put and gift every Thunder player a $1.5 million bonus. Or he could sign one of Gabriel Deck’s cousins.