One of the most common questions from Thunder fans this season has been: “Which players will be sticking around?” or “Do you think _______ is going to be traded or cut?”
I decided to rank every current Thunder player as a core member going forward. Given that some guys are young prospects and others are valued vets, the criteria became “who is most likely to be a rotation player for the next Thunder playoff team?”
The very top and very bottom were fairly easy to rank, while the middle section was extremely tough. But here’s my Thunder Future Player Power Rankings:
1. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. One of these days everyone is going to figure out that SGA is one of the best 10 players under 25 years old. And those are exactly the guys that teams are trying to acquire during rebuilds. And exactly the guys that teams do no trade during rebuilds.
2. Josh Giddey. The second youngest player in the league, winner of every Western Conference Rookie of the Month, owner of the four youngest triple doubles of all time and a top three Rookie of the Year candidate before an injury sidelined him. Yeah, I think OKC will keep Giddey.
3. Tre Mann. Players who can create are at a premium. Players who can shoot are at a premium. Players who can do both are the prize jewels of the NBA. Mann’s placement above Lu Dort may come off as kneejerk. But I’m a believer.
4. Lu Dort. Hands down the toughest player to rank. Some feel Luguentz is in the SGA/Giddey tier of must-keep young core members. Others feel he’s a glorified role player soaking up big usage on a bad team. And then there’s the matter of his upcoming pay day next season. Do the Thunder trade him before he expires so they don’t lose an asset for nothing? Do they pay him good money to be an important part of the rebuild? Do they pay him and then trade him? With all those questions and no clue as to the answers, this placement feels right.
5. Darius Bazley. Baze’s midseason turnaround is the most feel-good and maybe the most surprising storyline of the Thunder season. Written off last year and benched halfway through this year, it seemed the book might have been closed on Bazley. The most compelling piece of evidence: fans are saying Baze should sit games… because the Thunder need to lose them.
6. Aleksej Pokusevski. I mean, if Poku isn’t a part of the next contending Thunder team, what are we even doing here?
7. Kenrich Williams. Kenny Hustle said point blank he wants to spend the rest of his career in OKC. He stands for everything the Thunder value: hard worker, high character, team-first. And he’s a really good, really underrated player. Though he seems too old for the rebuild because of that mature nature, beefy body and 80s mullet-ish cut, Williams is still only 27. The only reason he isn’t above Baze and Poku is because the trade option remains on the table. But the Thunder not trading him when there was buzz of teams seeking him is a sign Sammy wants him to stay in OKC as well.
8. Mike Muscala. All those things I just said about Kenrich Williams, ditto for Moose. Except the hair. Although Mike “Mullet Moose” Muscala has a great ring to it.
9. Jeremiah Robinson-Earl. The rookie big was the big surprise early in the Thunder season. He’s been hurt for so long now that mothers and truckers act like they forgot about Jre.
10. Vit Krejci. The Czech mystery man for much of the season, Vit has shown some feisty promise over the past month. Krejci is shooting 41.2% from three and is coming off his first career double-double. If he can figure out the defensive end and recapture some of his pre-ACL injury athleticism, OKC may have found a diamond in the second round rough who can turn into a rotation player.
Clock is ticking
11. Aaron Wiggins. I like Wiggins. He earned and deserved that Lu Dort/Moses Brown contract special. He’s exceeded expectations as the #55 overall pick. He looks like an NBA player on offense and defense. But as a 23 year old rookie, I’m just not sure how he fits into the long term picture with only so many rotation spots.
12. Isaiah Roby. Too old for a prospect at 24? Not enough size to defend at the 5? Too many prospects ahead of him at the 4? He’s already as good as he’ll ever be? Despite all the questions, all Roby does is produce. The president of the former Breakfast Club is hitting 41.5% of his threes as a stretch big and averaging 8.5 points in only 19 minutes per game.
13. Ty Jerome. Last season, Jerome looked like an dark horse candidate to stick around as a nice bench piece for the next Thunder playoff team with his sharpshooting and playmaking. But this year, he’s struggled with his shot and the ability to stay on the floor. He turns 25 this summer so he’s old for a young prospect.
14. Lindy Waters III. A 24 year old rookie from Norman, Oklahoma who played college ball in Stillwater, semi-pro ball in Enid and G League ball with the Blue just seemed like a heartwarming story and tank helper. But Lindy’s shooting is the real deal and he signed a two year two-way. So we’ll be seeing more Waters wetness for awhile.
15. Theo Maledon. What is it about 2020 Thunder draft picks ruining the lottery odds of 2021 and 2022 Thunder draft picks? Maledon just went off versus the Orlando Magic. Unfortunately, the timing for Maledon’s game of the year helped OKC win a game they needed to lose. Maledon showed flashes his rookie season but has struggled most of his sophomore year. Theo is a hardworking young prospect, but OKC has an excess of young guards and will likely draft, sign or trade for even more.
16. Oliver Sarr. I just realized I put the two Frenchmen back to back at the bottom of the list. Excuse moi, monsieurs.
17. Derrick Favors. The second oldest player on the youngest team in the NBA that’s going through a rebuild. The only player older is Moose, by exactly two weeks. But Mike makes about $8 million less than Favors and shoots about 8 million times better than Favors. Derrick has one year remaining on his contract after this season, and the only question is will he be traded or bought out before it expires.
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Josh Giddey’s season has now officially been pronounced over, and it could be called very soon for Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (averaging 29.0/7.5/5.8 on a “day-to-day” ankle since returning to play on it, post-sprain), Darius Bazley (sprained knee, in the middle of his best stretch of his career), and any Thunder player who so much as stubs their toe over the next two weeks. Seven other players haven’t seen a minute of play since March 1 or before. The team will undoubtedly flirt with another win or two, but this is a sub-NBA quality rotation playing out the string.
The Thunder haven’t left everything to chance. Plenty of those with us on Team Tank are still upset over every minute that has been played by veterans and every successful replay challenge by Mark Daigneault–every move that increases the team’s competitiveness without a long-term payoff will be scrutinized. But chance is just about all that’s left to monitor the rest of the way. Will OKC random their way into those extra wins? Will other rebuilding teams crowding the bottom-4 of the standings defy the odds and pick up a win or two of their own? And ultimately, where will the ping pong balls fall after the records are final?
If, by chance, the lottery turns up decidedly in Oklahoma City’s favor, we can forget about the marginal percentages the team didn’t gobble up along the way. If it doesn’t (like last year), the fruits of a second consecutive rebuilding season will have been capped by suboptimal odds. Cross your fingers for the former.
The juggernaut Suns locked up the one-seed, meaning the 2022 pick they owe the Thunder has locked into 30th in the first round. Sam Lane (SI) looks at some interesting late-round prospects.
Kevin O’Connor (The Ringer) has Paolo Banchero going to the Thunder in his first mock draft. 🤌
God bless writers like Ben Creider and Ross Lovelace trying to analyze the future fit of players like Vit Krejci and Theo Maledon, respectively. I’ve said it before, but playing within this roster against the current stretch of Thunder opponents makes it very difficult to contextualize everyone’s performance, let alone those closer to the end of the bench.
Having said all that, Poku hype videos need no context and are presented here without caveat.