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Thunder Journal: Twitter Mailbag

Thunder Journal: Twitter Mailbag

It’s time to open up the Twitter mailbag and answer some of the most popular questions from Thunder fans over the past week!

How many years do you think until the Thunder are back in the playoffs?

My official prediction is OKC will make the postseason again in the 2023-2024 season. Josh Giddey and Tre Mann will be in their third years. Whichever (hopefully) top-5 pick the Thunder select in the 2022 NBA Draft will be in his second year. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander will 25 years old, basically the first of his prime years. The Thunder will have gone through three rebuilding playoff-less seasons, so the team and fans will be itching to compete again. And most importantly, Kemba Walker’s dead money and Derrick Favors’ contract will be off the books so OKC can go shopping. Whether it be for a disgruntled star or a prized free agent or some combination of both, the Thunder will be able to open up their wallet and their war chest of draft picks.

The Thunder shouldn’t draft Jaden Ivey, right? We don’t need another guard.

This seems to be the popular opinion on social media, and I totally get it. Between Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Josh Giddey, Lu Dort and Tre Mann, all of OKC’s best young players are guards. And yet, I still am not against OKC taking another one if the best player available when they draft happens to be a guard. Yes, a power forward or a center is the biggest positional need for this team. But the true biggest need is superstar talent. When you’re rebuilding, always take the best talent and then figure out fit later. Besides, the great thing about SGA and Giddey is that they’re 6’6” and 6’8”, so they have positional versatility. Ivey brings a raw fury of athleticism that this team needs; both for the difference it would make in the win/loss column, but also for the fun and excitement a high flyer brings to the fan experience. Let’s put it this way: would you pass up the opportunity to draft the next possible Ja Morant and take the next possible Julius Randle instead… just because a big is a greater need than a guard?

Do we still believe in Poku?

Good timing for this question. Check out what Aleksej had in his February fanny pack: 11.0 points, 5.9 rebounds, 1.9 assists and 1.1 blocks per game on 48.8% from the field and 38.2% from long distance in 24 minutes per game. Yeah, it’s only one month. And yeah, it’s the shortest month in the calendar. But we are seeing some promising signs of real development. 2021 Poku’s go-to move was tossing up a 3-pointer as soon as he got the ball, regardless of how deep the shot was or how well he was defended. 2022 Poku is playing patiently, taking better shots and making better decisions. Poku is younger than potential lottery draft picks Keegan Murray, TyTy Washington, Tari Eason, Walker Kessler, Mark Williams and Ochai Agbaji. A wavering belief in Poku all depends on your expectations of Poku. Will he become a true unicorn and star in this league? Probably not, because chances are low for any raw project player to reach those heights. But will he become a solid two-way rotation player while providing loads of viewing entertainment and joy? The arrow is pointing up.

Do you think the Thunder should go after Bradley Beal?

Russell Westbrook’s one-year Wizard teammate has been coveted by Thunder fans (and really, all NBA fans) for years. Setting aside the fact Beal has consistently insisted he wants to stay in Washington, the logic makes sense. He’s a scoring savant without a star teammate in the prime of his career. While I 100% support the idea of OKC trading for a star leading up to the 2023 season, Beal will be 30 years old that summer. Oh, and he’ll be a free agent. If you trade for Beal this offseason, you give up a bonkers amount of assets for a guy who can walk after one year. If OKC wants Beal, trading for him isn’t the way to go. Sam Presti can offer him a pretty appealing deal that no other team can match: a max contract, housing within walking distance of Braum’s, and the opportunity to chase a ring with a young team featuring Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Josh Giddey, Chet Holmgren and Victor Wembanyama.

Was Tre Mann the biggest steal in the draft?

Mann was picked at #18 overall and his play since getting starter’s minutes has shown why he was Presti’s guy at #16. When Houston came calling for Alperen Sengun, OKC knew they could grab two more future first round picks and still nab Mann two picks later. Tre averaged 14.6 points, 2.9 rebounds, 2.7 assists and 1.1 steals in February in 30 minutes a game. Tre would make the All-Rookie-Steal-of-the-Draft Team along with Herb Jones, Bones Hyland, and Cam Thomas, but he wouldn’t quite take home the Biggest Steal of the Draft trophy. That honor would go to Ayo Dosunmu, the Chicago Bulls’ #38 overall pick. Projecting long term, though, I wouldn’t trade Tre for any of those players. (Shout out to Jeremiah Robinson-Earl and Aaron Wiggins, by the way. The entire Thunder draft class would get Biggest Steal votes.)

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Sam Presti has been with the Oklahoma City Thunder since its inception in 2008, serving as the GM when the team moved from Seattle to OKC.  The Thunder’s success during his tenure is nearly unmatched, and he had the foresight to draft at least three potential hall of famers in Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, and James Harden.  So, it’s really no surprise when Presti receives compliments from those around the league.

Now, when LeBron James speaks, assumptions to get made.  A few weeks ago, LeBron spoke glowingly of Presti: “The MVP over there is Sam Presti. He’s the MVP… Sam Presti, I don’t understand this guy’s eye for talent. He drafted [Kevin Durant], Russ [Westbrook], Jeff Green, Serge Ibaka, Reggie Jackson, Josh Giddey and the list goes on and on and on. This guy is pretty damn good.”

With James’s Los Angeles Lakers struggling despite a wealth of superstar talent, one Eastern Conference GM has connected LeBron’s effusive praise of Presti with a master plan to lure the third-longest tenured GM to Los Angeles to replace current Lakers GM Rob Pelinka.

But no.  Just no.  It’s not going to happen.

As you’ve seen from the moment LeBron left Cleveland for Miami, LeBron has a very specific team building style–stack as many superstars together, contracts, draft capital, and consequences be damned.  That is the polar opposite of how Sam has approached team building from the moment he was hired.  Presti is strategic, calculated, and methodical.  Every single decision is reducible to a formula.  The most recent example of this is from the 2021 NBA Draft, when Alperen Sengun was sitting there at pick 16 for the Thunder.  And what did Sam do?  He traded pick 16 for two future firsts (2022 and 2023 picks).  It wasn’t because Presti didn’t think Sengun was full of potential (he liked Sengun).  It was simply the math.  Two mid-first-round picks is better than one mid-first-round picks.

Do you really think LeBron James, who is singularly focused on the names on the back of the jerseys, would appreciate Presti’s deliberate manner?  Do you think the Lakers and the supposed glitz and glamor aligns with Presti’s guarded style?

No.  Just no.  It’s not going to happen.

John Napier

The Bolts:

Despite another monster performance from Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, the Thunder fell to the Kings, 131-110.

Darius Bazley went on Twitter to proclaim himself as the best rapper in the NBA, and Clemente Almanza (OKC Thunder Wire) followed the ensuing response.

In a Mock Draft by Jonathan Givony and Mike Schmitz (ESPN+), the Thunder take Jalen Duren (Duke) at number 4.

Mark Deeks (Forbes) asks whether the Thunder are about to have an alpha dog problem.  “In particular, the pairing of Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (acquired in the trade of Paul George) and Josh Giddey (drafted sixth overall in the 2021 NBA Draft) potentially gives the Thunder a quality backcourt of the future. For that to truly be the case, though, the two will have to find a way to optimally cohere, and as good as they both are, that is not going to be seamless.”

The injury bug is spreading in OKC.  Currently, Lu Dort, Kenrich Williams, Mike Muscala, Ty Jerome, and Josh Giddey are out with injuries, and Aaron Wiggins suffered a right ankle sprain last night to add yet another injury to the list.