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The Oklahoma City Thunder are a totally new team after myriad changes this past offseason. Here are five big questions facing the Thunder this season.
1. Which is the higher number: Future first-round draft picks owed to the Thunder or the number of OKC wins in 2020-21?
According to my count, Oklahoma City has a maximum of 12 potential future first-round picks that may convey to them from 2021-2026, not including their own. In scientific terms, that’s a s***-ton. However, even though the Thunder figure to be one of, if not the, worst teams in the Western Conference, they will not be 11-61 levels of bad unless Shai Gilegous-Alexander misses a healthy chunk of the season due to injury. So, the nod goes to wins, but no one is better stocked for the future than the Thunder.
2. What is Shai Gilgeous-Alexander without Chris Paul?
That’s the million-dollar question and something that I touched on in my 25-under-25 article on Gilgeous-Alexander.
SGA played very well next to Paul — and the also departed Dennis Schroeder — last season; the two-man lineup outscored opponents by 237 points. Paul allowed for the Thunder to move SGA off-ball, where he functioned anywhere from the 1 to the 3 on either end of the court on a given possession.
This versatility is what made SGA so valuable on a team like the 2019-20 Thunder, a team that arguably outperformed their collective talent level. This season will serve as an important evaluation point for Oklahoma City in their attempt to determine if SGA is their star of the future or simply a vital member of a playoff-caliber team. Outcome B is nothing to scoff at and is needed when making a deep run in the playoffs, but will that be enough for the Thunder faithful?
SGA will likely put up ridiculous numbers this season if only because Oklahoma City doesn’t really have many other viable options. He will be tasked with defending opponents’ most lethal wing threat while also running the team on the other end of the court. It would not surprise me to see his name in the All-Star or Most Improved Player conversations while the Thunder finish 15th in the mighty Western Conference.
3. How many more trades will Sam Presti make before the 2021 trade deadline?
The only player who should be virtually untouchable on the Thunder roster is SGA.
George Hill and Al Horford may draw interest from teams looking to sneak into the playoffs, but neither player is as good as they once were. Hill’s 2021-22 contract is partially guaranteed, which may be enticing for teams looking to take on money, but Horford’s contract is an albatross, that is unless he can return to some modicum of his Celtics form. The oft-traded Trevor Ariza may also be moved or released at some point as well.
That makes three trades at most, but if the over-under is set at 2.5, I’d pretty comfortably take the under. This team just doesn’t have enough intriguing prospects or veterans.
4. What’s the perfect nickname for Aleksej Pokuševski?
“Poku” is a fine, though totally boring nickname. For that reason, here is a list of nominees that are much better* (*all entrees were created by me, so I may be biased, in a span of about 60 seconds):
The Hulkin’ Balkan
The Absurd Serb
The Belgrade Beast
The Avala Tower
The Artist Formerly Known As Poku
5. Would it be worth finishing with the worst record in the league if they knew they could land Cade Cunningham in the 2021 Draft?
In a word: Withoutadoubtifthereisanychanceatbeingthatbadtheyshould. Cade Cunningham and Jalen Suggs seem to be the frontrunners for the top overall selection in next summer’s loaded draft class. Either would fit seamlessly next to SGA and are legitimate franchise cornerstone-level talents. The Thunder should not hesitate to finish with the worst overall record — or bottom five at the very least — if it means landing one of those two. A foundation of SGA and Cunningham/Suggs would be nothing to sneeze at.