The Oklahoma City Thunder are on Track to Championship Contention

Jan 6, 2021; New Orleans, Louisiana, USA; Oklahoma City Thunder center Al Horford (42) and forward Darius Bazley (7) and guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (2) talk in the fourth quarter against the New Orleans Pelicans at the Smoothie King Center. Mandatory Credit: Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

The Oklahoma City Thunder currently sit in the 11th seed, with an 8-11 record. Although the team’s current state is bleak, fans should remain optimistic because GM Sam Presti has put this team in a position to contend for a championship soon.

Draft Picks

Jan 30, 2021; Stillwater, Oklahoma, USA; Oklahoma State Cowboys guard Cade Cunningham (2) shoots a foul shot against the Arkansas Razorbacks during the second half at Gallagher-Iba Arena. Mandatory Credit: Rob Ferguson-USA TODAY Sports
Rob Ferguson-USA TODAY Sports

Over the past several years, Sam Presti has become notorious for stockpiling draft picks. The Thunder currently have 16 first-round draft picks through 2027. Having all this draft stock, OKC could improve the team solely through the draft. Starting with the 2021 NBA Draft, they can potentially land the #1 draft prospect Cade Cunningham. Coincidentally, Cunningham plays for the Oklahoma State Cowboys, where he is averaging 18.2 points per game. Standing at 6’8 with a 220-pound frame, Cunningham has drawn comparisons to Luka Doncic and Ben Simmons. If Cunningham is anything close to the aforementioned names, it is safe to say NBA stardom is in his future.

Even if the ping pong balls don’t land in the Thunder’s favor, the 2021 draft is littered with star talent. Cunningham may be the cream of the crop, but other prospects such as Gonzaga’s Jalen Suggs and USC’s Evan Mobley are projected to be great NBA players.

With a top 10 pick, OKC can acquire a player who is ready to make an impact immediately. The Thunder can also choose to place their draft attention down the road on the 2023 NBA Draft, where they can draft LeBron James Jr. OKC has wisely put themselves in a position where they can draft a star-studded player to go along with the young talent presently on the team.

Young Talent

Jan 8, 2021; New York, New York, USA; Oklahoma City Thunder's Shai Gilgeous-Alexander reacts after sinking a basket during the second half of an NBA basketball game against the New York Knicks, Friday, Jan. 8, 2021, in New York at Madison Square Garden. Mandatory Credit: Seth Wenig/POOL PHOTOS-USA TODAY Sports

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, without a doubt, is the franchise’s best player. At only 22 years old, Gilgeous-Alexander is averaging 21.8 points, 6.3 assists, and 5.3 rebounds. In his three seasons as a pro, Gilgeous-Alexander has improved his averages across the board. Now that he is the number one option on this Thunder team, there is no reason to believe that he will slow down.

Luguentz Dort put the NBA world on notice with his defensive effort on James Harden in the 2020 playoffs. When guarded by Dort, Harden shot 17/54 for the series. Dort’s defensive ability was put on display by limiting the NBA scoring leader to 32% shooting. In the same series, Dort became the youngest player to score 30 points in a game 7. The biggest question mark for Dort last season was his ability to shoot from deep. This season, Dort is shooting an impressive 38% from three. The most impressive part about this improvement is that it is coming on twice as many attempts. In the modern NBA, the 3-And-D wing has become a pivotal piece of a championship team. Dort is exactly the type of player OKC needs going forward. The 2nd year guard is currently averaging 12.4 points and 3.3 rebounds this season.

Another Big 3?

June 4, 2012; San Antonio, TX, USA; Oklahoma City Thunder guards James Harden (13) and Russell Westbrook (center) and forward Kevin Durant (35) react against the San Antonio Spurs during the second half in game five of the Western Conference finals of the 2012 NBA playoffs at the AT&T Center. Oklahoma City beat San Antonio 108-106. Mandatory Credit: Brendan Maloney-USA TODAY Sports
Brendan Maloney-USA TODAY Sports

With a multitude of draft assets and the continued development of their young players, OKC can boast the best young talent they’ve had since the days of Durant, Harden, and Westbrook. After falling short in the 2012 NBA Finals, the Thunder traded James Harden to the Houston Rockets. Management chose to trade Harden away because they were unwilling to pay the luxury tax required to keep him. This decision was ultimately the wrong one. Harden would go on to be an 8-time All-Star and win the 2018 MVP award.

It’s no secret that high-level talent is needed to win a championship. In just a few seasons, Gilgeous-Alexander and Dort have shown their game-changing capabilities. OKC can add to their solid foundation by effectively using their draft assets, whether it be drafting a generational talent or trading their picks for an established superstar. One way or the other, OKC will be contending for a championship in no time.

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