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For most of this season, Thunder fans have focused on the future.
The past is predominately a pain cocktail with two shots of the 2016 WCF and KD’s decision, one shot of Russ being Beverleyed and a twist of Playoff P. (Once the hangover is gone, hopefully the first era of Thunder basketball will be embraced for being a joyous success.)
The present is a rollercoaster of confusion wherein a win loops around to a loss, a loss loops around to a win and when you get off the Thunder game ride, your insides are so out of whack, you just want to throw up.
The one thing all OKC fans, NBA fans, analysts and observers all agree on is that the Thunder have an incredibly bright future. But what players will be here when the next playoff team, or dare I say it, contender, materializes? When thinking on the long term prospects of this team, let’s rate the team’s long term prospects.
20. Darius Miller
Admit it. You always forget he’s on the roster until he randomly checks into every fourth game or you read his name on a fan blog such as this one. A 31 year old coming off a serious injury with an expiring contract equals an easy last place spot on a young rebuilding team. He’s here even though *Trigger Warning* you could argue he’s currently the best Darius on the team.
19. Al Horford
When Woj tweets “Presti has pledged to work with Horford and his agent on finding the center a trade to a team that fits better with this late stage of his career”, you’d think Al had last place on lock down. Woj’s word is as binding as Ned Stark’s, so it’s as likely Al Pacino, Al Roker, Al Franken (he’s good enough and smart enough) or Al B. Sure! will be playing for the Thunder in 2023. But if Horford is traded even one day past the 2021 regular season finale, then he’ll still be in OKC longer than Miller.
18. Justin Jackson
(Editor’s note: Jackson was waived today.)
He’s supposed to be a young player, but he’s the same age as Nerlens Noel. He’s supposed to be a marksman, but he’s shooting worse than Russell Westbrook from long distance. Sam Presti is collecting young shooters like Andy Stitzer collects action figures, and unfortunately J Jax looks like neither. But hey, we’ll always have that game winner against the Bucks. Which may end up costing OKC a top 4 pick. Reminds me of someone else…
17. Mike Muscala
Moose coulda been a truly impactful bench big on all those contending Thunder teams in the past. Moose woulda helped last year’s squad in the playoffs if Billy Donovan woulda played him against the Rockets’ small ball. And Moose shoulda been gone the moment he hit that game winner in the Bubble that ended up costing OKC the pick that became Tyrese Maxey. He’s only low on this list due to his age, but the mutual trinity of admiration Mike, Mark and Sam all have for one another may end up leading to another minimum deal for leadership locker room purposes. Oh, at least OKC learned their lesson and benched him for the season before he could cost the team a top 5 pick. Welp.
16. Tony Bradley
Bradley was a fine young piece to receive along with two second round picks as a return for George Hill. But there’s zero chance the new look Thunder will rotate two centers who can’t shoot long term. And on Thunder Center Survivor, Moses Brown won’t be the one who gets his flame extinguished. As much as it pains me to say it, I think TB12 will be playing in TB longer than TB13 will be playing in BT. (That’s Bricktown, and I know nobody got it until this parenthesis but I couldn’t pass up that letterplay.)
15. Josh Hall
Signing Hall to a two way contract was a no brainer. A five-star recruit and former North Carolina State commit jumped straight from high school to the 2020 NBA Draft… and went undrafted. But OKC knows a thing or Lu about once highly heralded high school players who didn’t have their names called on draft night. The early results are rough, but a 20 year old 6’9” small forward with primo prep pedigree is the perfect project for this pre-playoff period.
14. Isaiah Roby
The President of The Breakfast Club’s season is impressive when you consider this is essentially his rookie season. But at 23 and without an obvious potential elite NBA skill, Roby doesn’t have the upside to match the other young Thunder players–even if his floor is higher than a handful, some ranked above him included. Presti, the architect of the rebuild’s new home, is far more interested in Sistine Chapel ceilings than finely finished floors.
13. Vit Krejci
Did I really just rank a rookie coming off an ACL tear that many draft analysts hadn’t even heard of when OKC traded for his rights in the second round of the 2020 Draft above a player averaging 8.9 points and 5.7 rebounds in his first real season? You know vit. The wonder and fantasy of what could be behind Door #2 always beats out the good but not great known of Door #1. Especially when the prize behind Door #2 comes wrapped in a 20 year old 6’8” point guard package.
12. Kenrich Williams
If this list were based strictly on current overall player ratings, Kenny Hustle would be sandwiched between Canadians like Chris Elliott on the set of Schitt’s Creek. And being 26 makes him the oldest player to rank in the top dozen of the countdown, all the more a testament to his value as the perfect glue guy on the roster of the next Thunder playoff team. But Kenny’s continuing ascension may result in a team offering Sam Presti his Kenrich kryptonite: a first rounder.
11. Darius Bazley
Is this a controversial ranking? This feels like a controversial ranking. There’s almost an equal number of players up above Baze and down below Baze. Possibly a bit of a parallel to the ups and downs of his season if this were the work of a more clever writer. Look, SGA’s BFF is still so ridiculously young and has so much upside that despite his struggles this season, he deserves a spot around the top 10. But everyone in part two of this list also has youth on their side and is currently a better player than Bazley. I’ll admit this one has the most potential to make me look dumb in 5 years. Quite honestly, I hope it does, Darius.
…to be continued.