The start of the NBA season is just five days away and the Thunder still have to make decisions about the roster. At present, Oklahoma City have 18 players under contract on the roster; the rules established by the NBA only allow for 15 players to be on the roster at any one time. The first two games of preseason have been useful in identifying which players make sense for the Thunder going forward.
Preseason games are not necessarily the best indicator of talent; the lower intensity can mean that the true performance levels of a player are distorted. However, there are a few players who have stood out during the first two preseason games.
Let me be clear, I am not saying that these players are bad but it seems to me that they do not currently fit the Thunder’s aims for the short-term or the long-term. It is possible that we see one of these guys flourish elsewhere but the Thunder have tough decisions to make when it comes to the roster. Oklahoma City have to be objective and consider whether the player is a logical fit on this current iteration of the Thunder.
In the first two preseason games, Jackson has not impressed despite receiving a decent amount of playtime. Jackson could be a decent 8th or 9th man off the bench for a team who is trying to win games but he does not really make any sense on the Thunder. Jackson is 25 and has been in the league for three seasons now; I do not expect much more development out of him.
The Thunder do not need a low-ceiling guy to take one of the precious, bottom of the roster spots; this spot could be used on another, more interesting player. Flexibility is important in rebuilding situations; it would benefit the Thunder to have space to trial out young guys who could develop into useful role players.
As an athlete, Jackson profiles to be the typical Presti guy; Justin is a long-armed, tall forward who can ably switch between both forward spots. However, Jackson does not seem to use his size effectively particularly on the defensive end.
There were a few moments in the Bulls game where Jackson lost track of his assignment on defense and this breakdown placed additional pressure on his teammates to cover over those errors. Moreover, Jackson seemed pretty slow on the court and this would be a concern down the line if he is tasked with guarding fast, explosive wings.
We have seen players survive in the NBA while being athletically limited; Shane Battier is the perfect example of a player who was a marginal athlete but a very good NBA player. The key for masking a lack of athleticism is great feel for the game. Jackson’s intelligence on the court is pretty suspect. Jackson’s game looked pretty raw and there were times when he looked lost on defense.
In theory, Jackson could be moulded into being a useful 3&D wing but he has already been in the league for three seasons. Justin has had more than enough time to improve his game and become a valuable bench piece for a team. I do not see him growing exponentially in one season when three seasons were not enough to make him into a functional player.
Isaiah Roby was acquired last year by the Thunder in a trade with the Dallas Mavericks; Justin Patton was sent to Dallas and Isaiah ended up in OKC. Roby has played sparingly during his time with the Thunder and spent the majority of his time with the Blue last season.
Roby is another wing in the Presti mould; he is 6’8 and 230 lb. In theory, he projects to be a 3&D forward who could feasibly slot into the motion offense that Coach Mark Daigneault seems to be running. From what we have seen in the first two preseason games, he looks like he needs another year in the G-League to grow as a player.
Roby has had an injury-hit last three years and those injuries have obviously slowed his development as a player. It would make a lot of sense to place him in an environment where he can get regular minutes and focus on refining his skill-set. The Thunder have a glut of wings and will not be able to promise a solid 24 minutes per night.
The Thunder will have to waive Roby and then re-sign him to a G-League contract to keep Roby in house. From that point onwards, Isaiah Roby would remain with the Blue and his progress can be tracked by the Thunder. Isaiah could then be signed by the Thunder in the future if the organisation feels that he could be a solid player for the main roster.
In the first few games, Roby has not been that impressive but he deserves more time to prove his value. Isaiah is just 22 and has not played much professional basketball. There is no sense in writing him off after just one season of basketball.
Darius Miller came to the Thunder as part of the Steven Adams’ trade. Miller missed the whole of last season with a ruptured Achilles tendon; his recovery from that injury is nearing completion and Miller expects to play in the 2020-21 season.
As a player, Miller would fill a role on the Thunder. Miller is a career 38% shooter from downtown and his presence in the rotation would provide the Thunder with another floor spacer. Miller playing minutes for the Thunder would make the team more potent from outside.
However, Miller does not really fit with the current version of the Thunder. Darius is 30 years old and is currently being paid $7m for this season. He could be a useful rotation player for another team but the Thunder currently need roster spots for player development. There is not necessarily the space to accommodate a player who is recovering from a serious injury.
There is an argument for Miller remaining on the Thunder; Darius is a journeyman player who has seen a lot during his eight years as a professional basketball. Miller has a wide range of experiences from his time in New Orleans and his time in Germany. He could be a useful veteran to have in the locker room.
That argument has merit but I personally feel that the Thunder have enough in terms of veteran leadership. Al Horford and George Hill are both known to be quality vets who can lead a fledgling, young side. Miller is not needed to play a vet’s role on the Thunder.
Cutting Miller would incur a $7m cost for the Thunder and it would mean that Oklahoma City would drop below the salary floor. The salary floor is 90% of the salary cap, $98m and waiving Miller would mean that Oklahoma City would be $8m below the floor.
The Thunder have to meet the salary floor before the start of the 2020-21 season; a failure to meet this requirement would mean that certain penalties would be incurred by the franchise. There is an easy solution to this problem would be to cut a cheque to all remaining players. This additional payment would effectively be a bonus designed to meet the $98m minimum.