The Thunder do not have any expectations entering this season; the only aim for the season will be player development. There is an argument that any progress made by the Thunder cannot be measured in wins.
It is evident that Oklahoma City are rebuilding and could do with another high draft pick to complement the core of young talent that Sam Presti has already assembled. The 2022 NBA Draft is already shaping up to be a strong class. Chet Holmgren, Jalen Duren or even Yannick Nzosa would complete the Thunder’s nucleus and start the long road back to playoff contention.
With all of this in mind, myself and Clemente Almanza will discuss our predictions for the Thunder’s win total for the 2021-22 season.
Trying to work out a prediction for the Thunder’s win total next season was tricky to say the least. For half a season, the Thunder employed fluid rotations and were incredibly proactive in managing injuries as OKC tried to tank. Moreover, Oklahoma City traded away veteran players this offseason which means that the roster is youthful and somewhat inexperienced.
Despite these challenges, I believe that the Thunder’s record will improve and I will outline my reasoning down below. My prediction for next season is that the Thunder will end up winning 33 games and will challenge for a Play-In berth.
This prediction seems wildly optimistic at first glance but you have to consider roster turnover. Over the last three years, the Thunder’s roster has changed greatly between seasons. In the 2020 offseason, Oklahoma City ended up moving on four key players. Chris Paul, Danilo Gallinari, Dennis Schroder and Steven Adams were traded or left in free agency.
This summer has been different for the Thunder. Al Horford and Moses Brown were traded to Boston for Kemba Walker but that was the only notable trade from the offseason. Svi Mykhailiuk, Tony Bradley and Jaylen Hoard have all not returned for the 2021-22 season but none of these players had a material impact on the Thunder’s fortunes last season.
Svi and Bradley were serviceable off the bench but they rarely impacted the game in ways that won games for the Thunder. Hoard played limited minutes and did not ever really impress for Oklahoma City.
The lack of player movement means that the Thunder have carried over the same core from last season. The likes of Theo Maledon, Aleksej Pokusevski and Isaiah Roby all have a year of games under their belt and established chemistry with their teammates.
Continuity and cohesiveness is incredibly important in a game that is dependent on smart movement and intuitive play. The bench unit led by Kenrich Williams was one of the best reserve lineups in the league last season despite the constant changes.
You may not remember but the bench unit was anchored by Kenny Hustle’s defense and Hamidou Diallo’s scoring early last season. By the end of the season, the bench unit was consistently good with players like Ty Jerome and Justin Jackson popping up with decent scoring nights.
The only real loss for the Thunder would be Al Horford; Horford was very productive during his time in Oklahoma City particularly on the less glamorous end of the floor. Al anchored the Thunder’s defense and organised a young team into being a rugged, gritty unit. His communication provided so much guidance to everybody else around him and the Thunder will miss that voice.
The other point worth considering is that the were 16-19 in the 35 games that Shai played. Over the course of an 82 game season, the Thunder would have won something like 37 games. Gilgeous-Alexander carried the team and will likely do the same thing season as well.
The continuity and the impact of SGA will mean that the Thunder will inevitably end up with a higher win total than Sam Presti probably will want. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is just too good for the team to be completely terrible.
Across all betting sites, the Thunder’s over/under odds in win totals this season is set in the low-to-mid 20s. And I would have to say, I can definitely see that.
The Thunder last season outperformed their peripherals in the first half of the season. Despite the team’s net rating and offensive rating being in the bottom five, the team was able to stay around .500 for nearly half the season.
A lot of that has to do with the fact that the team won a bunch of close games early on — eight of their 11 first wins came within single digits. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander was excellent in clutch situations, being fourth in the league in clutch scoring with 4.7 points. SGA won close games for the Thunder.
Usually when a team outperforms their peripherals as much as the Thunder did last season, regression to the mean soon follows. This was seen when OKC’s record plummeted to one of the worsts in the league for the second half of the season.
It is hard to imagine that the Thunder are as good in close situations as they were to start off last season. This team is expected to be one of the league’s youngest rosters, and with youth comes inexperience. Even with an experienced SGA taking a third year jump, I just have a hard time seeing him having enough to overcome the inexperience and raw talent the rest of the roster consists of.
I think another reason why OKC will have trouble getting in the 20s in the win column is just the amount of inexperience and raw talent this team consists of. Outside of SGA and Lu Dort, the rest of the team’s young players have question marks surrounding them this season.
Guys like Josh Giddey and Aleksej Pokusevski have a lot of potential and the team has a lot of faith in their development, but in terms of how they will perform this season, expect a lot of inconsistency and struggles as they adjust to the NBA.
However keep in mind that any struggles this season do not mean they cannot eventually develop into franchise cornerstones. Player development is not linear for most and it comes with a lot of peaks and valleys.
The Thunder’s lack of veterans is also a cause for concern for their winning efforts. Mike Muscala and Derrick Favors are fine players, but it is a clear downgrade on the court when discussing previous veteran’s presence with the recent departures of Chris Paul, Steven Adams and Al Horford. That tends to happen when you continuously flip veterans on big contracts; the quality of talent decays as picks and bad contracts are returned for the rehabilitated value of established players.
Lastly, my final reason why I think the Thunder will struggle to win games, is SGA’s plantar fasciitis. It is important to make clear that this is just a guess and is not a specific insight whatsoever. Plantar fasciitis is one of those chronic injuries that does not really go away and can flare up at anytime. This has been proven countless times in all type of sports.
Thankfully, it appears SGA has moved past this injury and looks ready to start the season healthy, but sweeping a foot injury that made him miss the last two months of the regular season under the rug would be an oversight. If his plantar fasciitis starts to act up at any point during the season, I expect the team to initiate similar precautions in which the Thunder allows their star guard to take as much time as possible to avoid making the injury worse.
If this becomes the case, then the Thunder will have a roster full of young, inexperienced and raw player. Which would be the perfect formula for losing a lot of games.
It would be unfortunate circumstances if this fear became reality, but the possibility of it is non-zero and should be taken under consideration when thinking about how many games the Thunder wins this season.