It is that time of the year once again, the time when we hear sneakers squeak across the hardwood and where klaxons blare at the end of quarters. The Thunder’s season kicks off on October 20th against the Minnesota Timberwolves in what will be a hotly-contested clash between two divisional rivals.
Before then, let’s answer a few questions to try and set expectations for this team as part of SB Nation’s NBA season preview.
2021-22 Season Stats
Team Record - 24-58
Offensive Rating - 104.6
Defensive Rating - 112.8
Chet Holmgren, Jalen Williams, Jaylin Williams, Ousmane Dieng, Eugene Omoruyi, David Nwaba,
Isaiah Roby, JaMychal Green, Vit Krejci, Theo Maledon, Derrick Favors, Maurice Harkless, Ty Jerome
Best Case Scenario for the Thunder in the 2022-23 season
Oklahoma City Thunder make the play-in game and earn their way into the playoffs as the #8 seed.
It might sound unrealistic and far-fetched but I think it is possible that the Thunder could make the playoffs this season if all the chips land their way. It would take an implosion in Portland, usual misery in Sacramento and internal improvement from the Thunder’s youth to achieve this target but the possibility is not completely out of the question.
The Trailblazers are already in the ‘last chance saloon’ of the Lillard era. Joe Cronin had reshaped the roster by adding Jerami Grant and a string of lengthy wings but it is a team that is light on the ground in terms of talent. They may end up being a tough playoff team if Dame plays like himself but they have a short window to gel and develop a winning identity.
The Kings made huge moves by adding Domantas Sabonis, Kevin Huerter and Mike Brown to coach the team but they are still at a crossroad as a team. Sabonis has two years left on his deal and there has been no talk about a potential extension to keep him in Sacramento.
Sacramento have good cost-controlled talent in Keegan Murray and Davion Mitchell who could be future building blocks for the team. If the Kings fail to get off to a winning start, I would not be surprised to see Monte McNair deal Domas and focus on building from the ground up.
If those two teams end up choosing to tank, the race for the play-in is pretty small. Houston, San Antonio and Utah are all expected to tank. By default, that will leave the Thunder as one of the few teams contending for a postseason berth. In a single-elimination format, anything can happen.
Worst Case Scenario for the Thunder in the 2022-23 season
Shai and Giddey miss an extended period of time due to injury and the Thunder fail to land a top-five pick in the 2023 NBA Draft.
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Josh Giddey both spent all of last season feeling out each other’s games without ever finding a way to co-exist. Putting the ball in Giddey’s hands sidelined Shai and vice versa. The only way to encourage cohesion is by playing the two of them next to each other extensively. Injuries would severely disrupt that process.
For the Thunder, tanking and getting a top-five pick is a good outcome. Sam Presti would then have the opportunity to add another highly talented young player into the Thunder’s core and the long-term outlook for the team would be rosier. A player like Scoot Henderson or Cam Whitmore would fill holes that the Thunder currently have.
Tanking and failing to land a pick at the top of draft would be a gut punch for Thunder fans. It would mean another season of suffering through awful losses without receiving a just reward for continuing to support the team through difficult times.
While this Draft is pretty deep, you do not tank an entire season to land a rotation player, you tank to land a franchise-changing talent. This would be the worst case scenario by a long shot.
Most Likely Scenario for the Thunder in the 2022-23 season
Oklahoma City push for a play-in berth but fall short in the last few weeks of the season.
I think this is probably the most likely scenario for the Thunder given how the team has performed so far. Josh Giddey, Tre Mann and Aleksej Pokusevski have all looked to have significantly improved as players.
We have not seen Shai Gilgeous-Alexander play a minute in preseason due to injury but if Shai can play at the level that he did towards the back end of last season, he will win the Thunder a lot of close games.
Oklahoma City may be young but Gilgeous-Alexander knows how to close out tight games. Over the last three years, we have seen him lead the Thunder to wins against better opposition. His statistics indicate that there is no reason to expect any different going into the new season, Shai is a top-draw clutch performer.
That being said, the Thunder are not the deepest team in the league and an injury to the ‘Big 3’ would seriously damage the Thunder’s ability to win games. Given Shai’s recent injury history, I do not feel comfortable forecasting him to complete an entire 82-game season. As a result of this, I think the Thunder will lose winnable games when Shai is hurt.
The Player I am excited about going into the 2022-23 season
Tre Mann had an up and down rookie season. Mann really struggled to make an impact during the first half of the season before finishing strong with a run of efficient scoring performances. He seemed to work out how he could maximise his skill as a space creator without dribbling air out of the ball.
Over the offseason, Tre added muscle so that the ball would not be so easily dislodged whenever he attacked the basket. In preseason, we have seen Mann’s newfound strength allow him to brush off defenders and finish at the rim. Tre has turned a weakness in his game into a positive and it has only made him more dangerous as a scorer. Tre is a legitimate three-level scorer now.
I am very excited to see what he does with the Thunder’s second unit. The addition of Jalen Williams will mean he has no playmaking responsibilities; his only job will be to score the ball and embarrass the opposition. It will be a ton of fun to see him drop defenders and put together highlight reels on a nightly basis.
Predict your team’s win/loss record for the season
Predicting wins and losses is not easy but I think 31 wins is a reasonable expectation for a young team that should in theory develop year on year. Adding 7 wins onto last year’s win total is pretty tangible when you consider the fact that the Thunder have gotten better by adding solid rotation pieces like Jalen Williams and Ousmane Dieng.
Predict your team’s conference seeding
#11 in the Western Conference
Earlier in this article, I said that the most likely outcome for the Thunder is that the team will push hard to make the play-in but end up missing the tournament in the last few weeks of the season. I predict the Thunder to finish #11 and to meet this outcome for a few different reasons.