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With Lauri Markkanen and his $17 million a year contract officially not coming soon to a Paycom Center near you, the Thunder’s 2021-2022 roster is fairly ready to rock and roll.
My gut and the Thunder’s massive cap space and multiple TPEs say there’s still likely to be a trade or two to be made, say taking on a contract like DeAndre Jordan’s for an asset. And there are a few question murky marks currently, namely whether or not the reports of Gabriel Deck going back to Europe are true, whether or not Vit Krejci’s overseas contract buyout guarantees an NBA deal and whether the Thunder decline Charlie Brown Jr’s team option today or if they wait until tomorrow.
But for the fun of this exercise and because it’s really difficult to come up with new content in the dog days of the NBA summer, let’s play the percentages and pretend the Thunder are going to keep Gabriel on deck, get Vit and pull a Lucy on Charlie Brown.
The 15 players on the roster are slated to be Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Theo Maledon, Josh Giddey, Lu Dort, Ty Jerome, Tre Mann, Kenrich Williams, Aleksej Pokusevski, Vit Krejci, Gabriel Deck, Darius Bazley, Isaiah Roby, Derrick Favors, Mike Muscala and Jeremiah Robinson-Earl. The two two-way players are Josh Hall and Aaron Wiggins.
There are only two players you can say with 100% certainty are starters, the pride of Canadian County, Oklahoma: SGA and Dort.
So who will take the other three starting spots on a team focused on the future?
Small forward starting candidates: Giddey and Poku. The argument for Giddey is simple. He is the highest upside prospect on the roster outside of SGA. He is the highest drafted player in OKC and rebuilding teams don’t pick guys at #6 to bring them off the bench. Poku has a nice case as well. He is the highest upside prospect on the roster outside of SGA and Giddey. He is the incumbent starter and showed real flashes of star talent as the season progressed last year.
Power forward starting candidates: Bazley, Poku and JRE. Bazley’s argument is he was the starter last season and is still too young to give up on given his physical profile. And umm. He has had some really fun offseason workout videos. And uhh. He’s good friends with SGA? Poku needs to start on this team and if Giddey gets the go at the 3, then the starting 4 should be sporting a fanny pack. JRE is probably the best fit and weirdly the most NBA ready, but on this squad he will likely either start at the 5 or come off the bench.
Center starting candidates: Favors, Muscala, JRE and maaaybe Bazley. Favors’ case is a no brainer. He is a proven vet who would provide the closest thing resembling rim protection on this squad. And if the Thunder want to pull a Presti Special and flip him, they’ll need to showcase that he can still provide value for a contender on a team friendly contract. Muscala would be fun because he’d provide SGA some much needed space and give Mark Daigneault an idea what the young guns look like with a shooting center. JRE is probably the second best defending big on the roster, so if Favors gets Horforded, the second round rookie has a real chance to start. Bazley as a small ball 5 doesn’t make much sense if OKC wants to win games, but victories will take a backseat to developing young players for one more season. Baze at the 5 allows OKC to get weird and roll out an all-upside youth unit of SGA-Dort-Giddey-Poku-Bazley.
Now is the part where I’m supposed to take an educated guess at what Daigneault will do and get flamed for my takes. Here goes nothing.
My official guess for the 2021-2022 Thunder starting lineup: SGA-Dort-Giddey-Bazley-Favors
It pains me to put Poku on the bench. But Giddey’s fit with the reserves is near impossible given the glut of guards. And it feels like Aleksej is optically easier to bench than Baze, who will be given another opportunity prove himself while Poku continues to hit the weights before he attempts to bang with starting bigs.
Compared to the bench, sorting out the starters is relatively easy. Attempting to work out how the Thunder are going to give Theo Maledon, Ty Jerome, Tre Mann and Kenrich Williams (and maybe Josh Giddey) backup guard minutes would stump Will Hunting.
But because there’s nothing else to ponder for now, I’ll take my stab at the bench rotation in my next journal. At least we won’t have to worry about JRE’s minutes going to Lauri Markkanen.