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Thunder Journal: 23 Things We Learned in 2023

Thunder Journal: 23 Things We Learned in 2023

23. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander somehow got better. When SGA finished last season #5 in MVP voting and First Team All NBA, the general feeling was that he hit his ceiling. Incredibly, Shai has been an even more efficient scorer and taken his defense to a whole new level.

22. Chet Holmgren is a total gamechanger. So many times in close losses last season, Thunder fans were left wondering, “Does OKC win this game if we had Chet?” The answer, it turns out, most times would have been yes.

21. The reports of Josh Giddey’s demise were greatly exaggerated. Speaking strictly of his performance on-court, it seemed the consensus was the Giddey experience in OKC was on the outs after a slow start and a seemingly clunky fit. Not so fast. In his last 11 games, Giddey is averaging 12.9 points, 6.2 rebounds and 4.7 assists on 55/49/85 shooting splits. And the most promising stat: on the season, he’s up to 37.5% from deep.

20. Jalen Williams can shoot. JDub was an electric all-around player as a rookie but his final numbers didn't do one particular phase of his game proper justice. He shot just 35.6% from three due to a slow start. Jalen was a great shooter at Santa Clara and his sophomore NBA numbers are showing that promise. He is shooting 43.5% on over 3 attempts per game.

19. Lu Dort is a man of his word.

Lu said in offseason interviews that he was focused on being a more efficient player and taking better shots. Done and done. Lu is boasting career highs of 45.4% from the field, 41.8% from three and 60.7% true shooting.

18. OKC tightened the rotation. Remember all the hubbub last season when Mark Daigneault would play end of bench or 2-way players because OKC was focused on both winning and development? This season, 2-way player Keyontae Johnson has played a grand total of 6 minutes, Lindy Waters has averaged 7.9 minutes in 12 games and Olivier Sarr has averaged 8.4 minutes in 8 games. Tre Mann is averaging 8.5 minutes and Poku has only played in 7 games.

17. Cason Wallace was the right pick. Excellent perimeter defense, hyper efficient scoring and 43.2% from downtown. Hard to ask for much more from the #10 overall pick. This would be an opportune time to brag on the fact that I had Wallace ranked at #6 on my 2023 Big Board, but I would never.

16. Isaiah Joe is the best three-point specialist in OKC history. Sorry, Daequan. My apologies, A-Mo. Lo siento, Alex Abrines. But the title goes to Strokin’ Joe.

15. Vasilije Micic’s playmaking translated. Micic has played more minutes recently. And while his shot still isn’t falling as he presumedly gets accustomed to the NBA three-point line, his EuroLeague passing wizardry is fully intact. Vasa is averaging 8.7 assists per 36 minutes. And more than the number of dimes, it’s the ooh-ahh nature of his passes and anticipation that has impressed.

14. Davis Bertans puts up more shots per minute than Lil Jon. In the time it took to write this, Bertans attempted five threes.

13. The Thunder will be in OKC for at least the next two generations. Oklahoma City citizens voted overwhelmingly for a new arena, which means the Thunder are in town until at least 2050… when Chet Holmgren will be nearly 50 years old.

12. Loud City has returned. Six straight sell outs at The Paycom Center. And I don’t have any advanced analytics on stadium decibel levels, but going by the ear test, I can definitively say the OKC crowds are absolutely getting louder by the game.

11. Aaron Wiggins needs more minutes. I copied and pasted this one from the 22 Things We Learned in 2022 list, which I copied and pasted from the 21 Things We Learned in 2021 list. Okay neither of those lists actually exist, but you get it.

10. The goaltending rule. What we’ve learned about this rule is that we’ve learned nothing about this rule. And apparently neither have the refs.

9. Approximately 270,000 trade machine screenshots and podcast segments feature OKC trading for Lauri Markkanen. Or Pascal Siakam. Or Nic Claxton. Or Nikola Vucevic. Or OG Anunoby (d’oh!).

8. Chip Engelland needs a lifetime contract. This is not your grandpa’s OKC Thunder. The Thunder currently have 10 players shooting above 40% from deep. I don’t know how much of that is Chip and how much of that is the players, but we best not take any chances.

7. The Thunder beat bad teams. OKC has only lost to two teams below .500 and both were playoff teams last year and may be playoff teams this year: the Warriors and Hawks. Not to mention, OKC is combined 4-3 against Golden State and Atlanta. But the true cellar dwellers like the Blazers and Spurs and pre-Ja Grizzlies? OKC runs them off the court.

6. The Thunder beat good teams. Snapping the Clippers’ 9 game win streak. Beating the champs on the road. Twice. The West leading Wolves. The NBA best Celtics. And that’s just in the past two weeks.

5. Thunder will have at least 3 reps at All Star Weekend… but maybe 5. SGA is a lock. (He should be a lock as a starter but that’s a conversation for another day). Jalen Williams is a lock for the sophomore squad. Chet Holmgren is a lock for the rookie squad. Two questions remain. Will Cason join Chet on the rookie squad? And will Isaiah Joe be invited to the Three Point Contest?

4. Mark Daigneault is the Coach of the Year frontrunner. Daigneault was the COTY runner-up last season after OKC’s 16 game improvement. No way he could improve the team by that much again, right? OKC is on pace for 57 wins this season… which would be a 17 game improvement.

3. Chet Holmgren is the Rookie of the Year frontrunner. Coming into the season, every NBA analyst would’ve told you that it would take a special, too-great-to-be-denied season from any rookie not named Wemby to stop the most hyped prospect since LeBron James from bagging the ROTY trophy. But Chet’s got that underdawg in him.

2. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is a real MVP candidate. And not just as an “I’m just happy to be included” participation award. The buzz is growing. Joel Embiid is still in the driver’s seat to repeat, but SGA is right there with Jokic and even slightly above Giannis and Luka. If he can transform the black eye of the league into a Top 3 seed in the West in two years, Shai has a real shot of becoming OKC's third MVP winner in a decade.

1. The Thunder are back. The young, exciting team that every national talking head is buzzing about on every sports show, podcast and blog. A blossoming Big 3. A top 5 player in the league. A 7 foot unicorn. A deep squad filled with players that can shoot and defend. Fans making the Paycom Center look and sound more like Prime Peake by the game. More nationally televised games. An ascent up the West standings. The promise of an appearance, nay an arrival, in the postseason. The biggest thing we learned in 2023… is it feels a lot like 2010.