Photo Credits: Brandon Dill/Getty Images
Teeing off the season’s second-half commencement, the Oklahoma City are at crossroads at 15-21. Not only does their record provide wiggle room to strengthen their lottery odds (currently placed 9th), but also with the 11th easiest record, plunging ahead in the standings isn’t out of the equation. Questions aren’t just brought up in the win/loss category however, the biggest issue may come from how minutes are dispersed.
The landscape of the Oklahoma City Thunder has been completely transfigured between the season tip-off to today. Players who were seen as fillers now have serious cases for big minutes and a flurry of men have spiked in production in their opportunities.
With the recent recalling’s of Ty Jerome, Aleksej Pokusevski, Josh Hall, and now Moses Brown, the Thunder’s roster had sprouted to 16. Wielding only 24 minutes at grabs, fitting everyone in deserving roles will be tougher than ever.
Specifications: 10-20 minutes
The big three of Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Lu Dort, and Darius Bazley should not see any dip in minutes moving forward.
SGA’s play has spoken for itself this season. The third-year guard took the grips of the offense after Chris Paul’s venture to Phoenix, he hasn’t looked back. Shai’s season averages of 23.2 points, 5.1 rebounds, and 6.2 assists scream superstar in the making, but it doesn’t even speak for his recent play. The 22-year-old torched defenses in his February campaign (10 games) posting numbers of 25.4 points, 4.9 rebounds, and 6.1 assists across 34.5 minutes. His biggest breakthrough though, came from outside. OKC’s wonderboy shot blistering percentages from deep, going 47.4% off 5.7 tries a contest.
Shai’s averages of 34.0 minutes a game will not see any sort of drop.
Lu Dort’s season may be a tad less glamorous than his 19-20 Cinderella story against James Harden, but the 21-year-old still improves every given day. Dort’s defensive stats through the first half garnered Defensive Player of the Year status in Tuesday’s article on the Thunder’s midseason award show, but he’s no one-trick pony. Dort’s improvements across 12.3 points, 3.5 rebounds, and 1.5 suggest he’s only on the up-and-up.
Given Lu’s sharp play on both sides, his 29.7 minute average won’t be leaving.
Darius Bazley’s first half of play has been sporadic. The 20-year-old peaked in early January and February with barrages of double-double’s and 15+ point outings, but those hot-steaks only came with droughts. Despite this, the prowess the point-forward flashes to get around the basket makes him special, and a few more interior finishes would’ve left his point averages in the 13-15 range. Baze’s 29% showing from outside has hurt him thus far as a sur-35 mark from distance nets the forward freakish potential.
There’s no way Daigneault or the remaining crew diminish Bazley’s 30.7 minute role. If anything, it may go up.
Specifications: 20-30 minutes
Theo Maledon, Al Horford, Hamidou Diallo, and Isaiah Roby shouldn’t see much flicker in appearances.
Theo Maledon’s strong start to the season near-locks the 19-year-old into a full-time gig at the starting two. Maledon’s fitting next to Shai reminisces that of George Hill in his opening to the year, and given a 15-year gap, Presti should be leaning toward Theo.
Al Horford has been pivotal to the Thunder’s success at this point and his 28.2 minute role will either remain — or be wiped. The 34-year-old has impressed this season, but the franchises’ emphasis on youth could likely move him at the right price. Horford’s structural schedule leaves him out on back-to-back’s, that won’t change. His resurgence should if anything bolster his time, but his age either sticks him in a similar role or in another jersey by the deadline.
Hamidou Diallo wavered under Billy Donovan’s reign — that’s not happening with Daigneault. Diallo will miss Thursday’s matchup against the Mavericks (groin) and with no timetable potentially more, he’s going to be in full-swing once back though. The 22-year-old’s 11.9 point average ranks highest amongst the bench unit, and his 2.4 assists produced make him a viable ball handler. The guard’s 23.8 minute usage may fall slightly due to Jerome’s emergence, but regardless he’ll be playing a fair share of time.
Isaiah Roby ranked runner-up in the team’s Most Improved Player ranking this week, there’s a real reason why. Roby diverse frame at 6-foot-8, 230 pounds opens the door for the 23-year-old to run from the 3-5. The Swiss Army Knife only racked up 21.3 minutes a night this season, surprisingly 30 of his 12 games were starts. His time will never cut short on back-to-backs solely off of Horford’s limitations, but a full-time job needs to be carved here. Posting 8.6 points, 5.4 rebounds, and 1.8 assists, Roby slips right in as a small-ball five or a tradition forward. That sort of flexibility is necessary and given all the glimpses of greatness 36 games in. His 21.3 minutes are secured, and potentially even increasing in the coming months.
Battling for Minutes
Specifications: 10-20 minutes
Minutes get sparse down the line, expect guards Ty Jerome and George Hill, forwards Kenrich Williams, and Aleksej Pokusevski, in addition to big man Mike Muscala vying for minutes.
Ty Jerome and George Hill are undisputedly in a positional battle. In a situation where George Hill plays for the Thunder this half, his role would need to be that of the season’s opener, or at bare minimum close to starting time. The 34-year-old has links to multiple different franchises and with the timetables really not aligning, he’s almost a surefire trade deadline mover. If Hill were to return, value becomes key so even a brief return to the starting unit makes logical sense, but a mutual holdout may too.
A case where Hill gets instated in the lineup almost certainty causes fallout between Jerome and his spot on the floor. OKC’s 4-guard rotation has worked seamlessly going through interchangeable parts in Jerome, and Kenrich Williams pieced with foundational members in SGA, Maledon/Hill, and Diallo. The fear is if Hill comes back, Jerome gets lodged into a role that of Williams — inconsistent playing time.
The likeliest situation as of now suggests Hill has played his final game in a Thunder jersey, that essentially saves Jerome. As a G-League standout, Jerome was recalled from the Blue and dominated in a four-match set. The 6-foot-5 guard showed promise at all-three levels using his 25.0 minutes to place 9.3 points, 2.8 rebounds, and 3.3 assists. In a bench spot, Jerome projects more as a 15-20 minute player right now, simply due to SGA’s major role and Diallo’s secured time. Think of him as Theo Maledon entering the season, gives you short jolts, and on occasion, takes over the night.
Kenrich Williams has established himself as a do it all wing, but with the return of Aleksej Pokusevski, his numbers may dip.
Williams only stepped foot for 12.4 minutes in each respective January contest (14), even playing seven nights in single-digits. Once the Thunder sent down Aleksej Pokusevski in February, the 26-year-old averaged 26.0 minutes across 16 games. His numbers shot up the boost, dropping 9.1 points, 5.8 rebounds, 2.3 assists, and 1.1 steals in his campaign.
Even with diversified roles and positions, these two member will collide, and coupled with Isaiah Roby’s recent play — this may turn ugly.
It’s pretty evident Williams deserves upwards of 20 minutes, but the potential of rookie Aleksej Pokusevski could push those aspirations in the backburner. Pokusevski looked shaky in his 17 Thunder games, going for 3.3 points, 3.5 rebounds, and 1.1 blocks on 24.7% shooting (17.9% 3pt.) His Blue stint followed with antsy posts of 31.2% shooting and 3.7 turnovers though his 7.9 points, 7.3 rebounds, 4.0 assists covered the cost. Despite clear rough spots the Serbian Assassin’s Sportscenter moments keep you drawing back to him, and for a rebuilding team, 17 minutes doesn’t seem to hard to splurge on.
Both men deserve these minutes for vastly different reasons: Kenrich is proven, Poku has a treasure trove of things to prove. This battle may end of resolving itself at the deadline, but futile run here cuts the edge short on both of these guys.
Mike Muscala notched runner-up in the team’s Comeback Player of the Year award right behind Al Horford. Muscala is pinning career numbers with 9.7 points, and with him connecting on 36.8% of triples, his stock ranks at an all-time high. The 29-year-old has absorbed a mere 18.6 minutes so far, and the roster points that it may not move much.
Muscala falls in a spot that of Al Horford, both players are outside of Presti’s youth movement, but a lack of proven bigs makes them integral. Money Maker Mike as of now keeps his role, and if Horford gets pushed out, he’ll collect more than enough. The deal comes down to if he remains. If Presti can net younger centers next to Moses Brown, Muscala may see himself shipped to a contender. The big man’s contribution to this team are colossal, yet his expiring deal and market could result in a mutual part.
Outside looking in
Specifications: <10 minutes
With the Thunder’s rotation being gulped by a 12-man roster players in Justin Jackson, Darius Miller, Moses Brown, and Josh Hall are on the outside looking in.
Justin Jackson replenished Oklahoma City in their short-handed February squad, though with everyone (for the most part) healthy — he may be parched. The 25-year-old shows off an adequate amount for the team, though his inconsistent shooting (29.1 % 3pt) and fickle runner drop him in the pecking order.
Darius Miller has not had a genuine shot at permanent time this season and may stay that way. Miller started his year slow after a strenuous year-long rehab and has impressed in minimal time with an accuracy of 42.9% from downtown. The 30-year-old as of now stays as a major veteran presence, though just like Muscala and Hill — he could be out for the right price.
Moses Brown crushed the NBA G-League and a serious spot in the rotation is appropriate for his recent play — there’s just not enough food at the table… for now. The 21-year-old only got 7 games of run before Orlando, and it mainly consisted of garbage time. Even with Horford and Muscala, Brown should crack the rotation in the first half, just don’t bank on every game. If the rumors are true and Horford or Muscala are sought after and moved, Brown will play. In terms of stable minutes, a 10-15 minute role should constitute one man leaving with no big coming back (Roby garners time too,) a hypothetical in which both bigs are out make Moses a real player to the second unit.
Josh Hall has been rehabbing on his knee for over a month now, only slipping out for one 15 minute stint with the Blue. The former 5-star beams potential as a point-forward so there’s no doubt Daigneault wants him in, but a constant role isn’t guaranteed. Hall’s boat resides next to Brown’s currently, rowing in for first half time on paltry occasions while working in minutes in garbage time. The forward could slip into real minutes off a few trades, though all the small-forwards getting constant time aren’t swimming in trade discussions. Options like luring over the coaching staff in a Justin Jackson positional battle help, but his approach could be a lot more simplistic. Just as Roby, Maledon, and Williams, have done this season, rising up when filling in for injured pieces make the best option for Hall.
Not even “in”
Specifications: Play pickup ball with Amare Stoudemire
Trevor Ariza gets his own special category for this upcoming second-half. Ariza has yet to report with the team since December tending to family matters, and there’s no reason to believe he’ll decide to do so. The 35-year-old is nothing more than a trade piece for Sam Presti at this point, as his 12.8M expiring and decorated playoff experience could attract some suitors. Ariza’s only indication of playing basketball this year surfaced out of Miami, in which the forward clashed with a 38-year-old Amare Stoudemire and 30-year-old Greg Monroe fresh off the EuroLeague.
At it’s worst, Ariza gets bought out after the March 25 trade deadline. At it’s best, Ariza gets dumped to another franchise in a trade. Either way, the Thunder gain an extra roster spot (barring a trade) that can be used for upgrading contracts, or bringing in potential prospects.