Thunder Up at Lightning Speed - 405 Magazine

Thunder Up at Lightning Speed

Is the Thunder rebuild over? These additions and a growing core might help end it once and for all.

For Oklahoma City Thunder fans, the hard days are past — and it’s time to look toward the future. Last season, the Thunder increased their win total (40) by 16 from the 2021-22 season, when they only recorded 24. After an exciting 2022-23 season full of promise and potential, all eyes in the NBA are on Oklahoma City.

Look at the starters: Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is an All-Star player who’s trending toward superstardom — he even earned placement on the All-NBA First Team last season. Jalen Williams (J-Dub), after his Rookie of the Year runner-up campaign, has put the league on notice with his three-level scoring ability and intangible skills that can’t be taught. Josh Giddey continues to prove his uniqueness as a 6-foot-8 Steve Nash in terms of passing ability and court IQ, with the rebounding ability of a power forward. OKC’s defensive maestro Lu Dort has only improved since first signing his two-way contract years ago. Lastly, rookie Jaylin Williams (J-Will) led the league last year in total charges drawn per game.

That core, plus OKC’s underrated but productive bench unit, helped the team reach the NBA’s play-in tournament, ultimately falling short of the playoffs by one game. The Thunder’s bench ranked eighth in the NBA last season in points, averaging 37.5 points per game. Pairing OKC’s bench with SGA, who ranked fourth in the league in scoring with 31.4 points per game, and J-Dub, who ranked fourth among rookies in scoring with 14.1 points, is a recipe for success.

What will make the 2023-24 season so exciting? The addition of the highly touted 2022 No. 2 draft pick, Chet Holmgren, who missed what should have been his rookie season last year with a Lisfranc injury to his right foot. Former Kentucky guard Cason Wallace was OKC’s top pick in the 2023 draft, and K-State forward Keyontae Johnson was picked 50th. Not to mention, the Thunder finally reeled in the 29-year-old Serbian “rookie” Vasilije Micić, who’s giving the NBA a shot after years of success playing in Europe.

Photo of Thunder rookie Cason Wallace, taken by Addam M. Francisco
Photo of Thunder rookie guard Cason Wallace, taken by Addam M. Francisco

Here’s the rundown on the Thunder’s additions:

Holmgren’s finally here

There’s enough knowledge and hype around Holmgren and everything he has to offer. He’s multiple experts’ Rookie of the Year prediction and is expected to fix OKC’s interior problem with rim protection, with shot-blocking being his forte.

Polished Wallace

My scouting report of Wallace is simple: He’s Dort with slightly less defensive skill but still highly effective on that end of the floor, and he’s a more polished offensive player. I believe Wallace provides Sam Presti a security blanket in case he wants to package Dort in a trade in the future. Regardless, Wallace is a hooper, and Thunder fans are soon to find out.

Keyontae off the bench

Don’t let the fact that Johnson was drafted 50th overall deter you from being excited, because if you saw him in college and especially during Summer League in July, you should be thrilled about what he’ll bring to this team. One of his most accurate player comparisons is OKC veteran Kenrich Williams, one of the team’s most important bench players. Johnson does the dirty work, like Kenny Hustle, but has him beat athletically.

A new veteran, kind of

Micić is intriguing because of what we already know about him as a EuroLeague MVP. He’ll immediately provide depth to OKC’s backcourt and, while technically a rookie, will be one of the team’s elder statesmen at 29. So, hooray for experience, as the Thunder entered last season as the youngest team in the NBA.

OKC will be better this year because they have the same core, who will theoretically only take another step in the right direction this season, and they acquired four more studs for their repertoire. If you haven’t already gotten season tickets, now would be an ideal time to do so. The Thunder’s season tips off Oct. 25.