Photo Credits: Alonzo Adams/USA Today Sports
The NBA is revving back into action. To some, the regular-season tip-off may sound like the start of the season, as for others, it may open for preseason or training camp play. However, before the big lights, all 30 franchises stir up the onset of training on Media Day.
Oklahoma City brought in the action Monday.
Throughout the three-hour event, all but three Thunder players (D.J. Wilson, Rob Edwards, and Mamadi Diakite) took to the podium. But before the players — Mark Daigneault took to the stand.
Here are the top moments from every Thunder Media Day participant:
Thunder Head Coach Mark Daigneault kicked off the franchises’ Media Day. After capping a 22-50 rookie season at the helm of Oklahoma City, the 36-year-old continued to stress the foundation of youth within the franchise.
“We [The Thunder] have a blank canvas staring us in the face,” said Daigneault. Everything is unwritten. It’s important to understand your history and past before you tackle your present.”
For reference, the Oklahoma City Thunder placed the youngest roster last season (23.4 avg. age), and following four rookie selections this past draft — they enter training camp as the youngest camp in the league at an average age of 24.4.
Despite the youth, Mark Daigneault isn’t shying away from the potential speed bumps that may come with the roster.
“There is no shortcut. It is not going to be easy, and we don’t want it to be easy… I think we’re layered with a lot of young talent… Because of the age of most of our players, our team is going to be better at the end of the year than at the start.”
In regards to roster construction, Daigneault emphasized the Thunder’s portion of playmakers and their vast capabilities.
“We want versatile players that can do a lot of things out there… Having multiple, versatile ball handlers is not a weakness, that’s a strength.”
Coincidentally, Oklahoma City’s next man to the podium happens to be not only a top-tier playmaker but also a leader — Shai Gilgeous-Alexander.
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander entered his stint with the media immediately honing in on his injury status.
The 23-year-old suffered a plantar fasciitis injury last March, effectively ending his season and his hopes at playing for the Canadian National Team. However, Gilgeous-Alexander noted he felt he was at “150-percent” and that he had felt completely back since mid-summer.
One of the major headlines of Gilgeous-Alexander’s summer rested in the guard signing a five-year $173 million deal with the franchise. With this deal comes a hefty sum of both leadership and responsibility — he stepped up to the challenge.
“[The] job is not done. [The] work is not done… [I] Take it a day at a time, try to get better every single day in whatever area you want to. That’s had success in my career so far.”
As Gilgeous-Alexander enacted last season, his methodology of work has shed success to this point. The third-year guard put on a premier third-year campaign last season recording averages of 23.9 points, 4.7 rebounds, and 5.9 assists. With the impressive stats bear some expectations, one’s in which the guard says he’s prepped for.
“[I’m looking towards] getting better at everything, I don’t know what exact area, but I do feel like I will be better this year.”
It is also worth mentioning Gilgeous-Alexander felt both “faster and stronger” by comparison to last season, though his weight did not receive much of a jump.
Mike Muscala captured the hearts of many Thunder fans last season with a heartfelt exit interview. The Moose picked right up where he left off.
At 30-years-old, Mike Muscala went from an expected buyout candidate to an offseason dump-off; instead, he is back for the next two seasons. Muscala’s late-season regimen highly consisted of riding the bench while sparking a mentorship role next to the roster’s onslaught of young talent. Though Muscala is unsure of his current role, the veteran made it be known he’s willing to do what’s best for the team.
“I don’t have any expectations [for my place in the rotation]. Whatever coach Mark wants me to do, I’ll do.”
Muscala also added that over the summer he has been actively working out and training with some of the roster’s younger guys.
In a tidbit unbeknownst to Muscala, before his interview, the 30-year-old sniper clocks in as the Thunder’s oldest player on the roster. He wants to source a sense of leadership.
“I want to be a leader on this team,” said Muscala. The veteran also highlighted that the Thunder’s core of youngsters will be looking to prove themselves, and he hopes he’ll be able to comfort them, challenge them, and push them through the regular season.
Derrick Favors entered the Thunder’s scene after a post-draft deal sent the big man to Bricktown alongside a first-round pick for a future second-round pick and cash considerations.
As a 30-year-old veteran, the initial move appeared to be a curveball — not just to those on the outside, but Favors himself.
“I was actually in Vegas when I heard the news. I think it was at like 11:00, 12:00 at night. I was out in Vegas just having fun, and my agent gave me a call and said, ‘You’ve just been involved in a trade,’ and I was like, oh, wow. I guess that’s when the news broke that I got traded to Oklahoma City, and I was just like, okay, well, I guess I’m going to Oklahoma City.”
Favors expressed almost a sense of shock at learning of his trade destination, however, after speaking with Sam Presti and Mark Daigneault, he mentioned he was happy to be with the team.
The 30-year-old drew comparisons between himself and other veterans during his presser, mentioning the franchises’ knack at bringing on older guys.
“You can see it, with Chris Paul, Al Horford, if you come into a situation like this and you do right, they’ll help you out also.”
Favors noted the business element of the league on Monday, but he did add as long as he was with the Thunder, he’d be a voice for the younger guys to rally around.
After a breakout playoff series in his rookie season, Lu Dort turned up the heat in year two. As for heading into his third year of competition, the Arizona State alum has been putting in work.
“I lost a couple of pounds, and I’ve been boxing, going to some jiu-jitsu, track, playing soccer and tennis.”
Rightfully so, the reporter, The Oklahoman writer Jenni Carlson, replied to Dort’s comments saying that “No one in the league will be happy to hear you’ve been in hand-to-hand combat.”
Dort coined speed and lateral quickness as the result of his multi-sport training over the offseason, but he also noted that he has lost weight since last season.
Dort emerged as a sneaky catch-and-shoot target last season shooting 34.3 percent from distance on 6.3 attempts, but he also fortified the ability to score at all three levels. He’s looking to continue his prominence.
“I had the opportunity [offensively last year], this year I’m just going to stick to the same stuff. I’m just so excited to get back into it.”
When Darius Bazley approached the podium, one thing was evident — the forward was a lot bigger. Bazley thought so as well, even making it a focal point over the summer.
“I took like two weeks off after the season ended then got straight to it. Me and strength coaches got straight to it. I’m glad you noticed. Makes me feel good. I don’t know the exact number I put on. I just know I was working.”
The third-year forward’s summer efforts translated in his physical appearance, and his confidence level heading into the year.
“I’m a lot more comfortable coming into this year, knowing what to expect, what’s in front of me, what the year looks like. This offseason, working on a lot of things, my overall game. I wouldn’t say as much added, just a lot of learning.”
As later signaled by Bazley, he wants to stress possessing large defensive assignments throughout the year.
Kenrich Williams used his time with the media to not make himself the center of attention but instead opted to project light upon his teammates.
The first candidate of note was Shai Gilgeous-Alexander.
“He was locked in since day one of training camp last year. It’s like that this year too. I personally didn’t know he was that good playing against him [last training camp] he is one of the best young players in the NBA. He has a bright future.
When broadening Williams’ peripherals to the entire team, the 26-year-old carried the mentality that if everyone improved, the group did something right.
Ty Jerome’s media presser opened with a joyous tidbit that surfaced less than 24 hours before Media Day. His college teammate, Mamadi Diakite, had been claimed off of waivers by the Thunder.
“He called me right away. That was cool. He brings energy, great teammate.”
Jerome also expressed excitement in opening the year, and hopefully play for the entirety of the season. For comparison, Jerome missed out on all of last season’s training camp and preseason opportunities due to an ankle sprain. Jerome’s nagging injury ultimately led to the guard starting his season with the Oklahoma City Blue, eventually being recalled by the Thunder in late February.
After much anticipation, sixth overall pick Josh Giddey had his Summer League-stint cut short this offseason after succumbing to an ankle injury. Over a month removed, Giddey feels good to go.
“The ankle is good, back to normal. It was frustrating. I was looking forward to playing in Summer League, but the medical team and me took the right steps. We made the right decision not going back out there.”
As with how the 18-year-old is transitioning over to NBA play, he’s up to the challenge.
“The season is coming really fast. I’m trying to take it day by day. I’m looking forward to it. I’m excited for it… We have a young team, [the leadership] has been good. In practice, I’m in the weight room, with the offense, learning the system. They’ve been really good for me.
Giddey used the word “excited” when asked about how he feels playing next to Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. The Aussie noted that an adjustment period might be in place since both SGA and himself are ball handlers — but he believed they will work in unison, even throwing out improved off-ball skills as a goal.
Josh Giddey emerged into the Thunder mainstream as an unknown of sorts. However, the Aussie guard has had a longstanding relationship with the franchise, and the state of Oklahoma.
“[Playing for Oklahoma City] This is like a dream, we always use to joke about this a year ago. Imagine I end up in Oklahoma with Hannah down the road [at ORU]. It’s a perfect situation for us. We are all here already. It’s perfect for the family.”
Giddey’s journey to the Thunder marks his first trip to the United States, though moving from place to place has never caused issues for the 18-year-old.
“I moved out of home when I was like 15, I’m used to it now. My family helped me settle in. My agent is here, he lives in L.A., the transition hasn’t been hard. I haven’t done a whole lot of exploring yet, I’ve been so busy, but I’ve heard all about the food [in Oklahoma City].”
A vast portion of fans waited in anticipation of Aleksej Pokusevski making noise in the Summer League. Instead, the occasion never arose, abstaining from Vegas play as a whole. Pokusevski stated that though he missed out on Vegas, he felt the summer prepared him.
“[My summer consisted of] Just a lot of practice, they told me not to play in Summer League to work on my body. We’ve had a great 2.5 months in the weight room. I’ve seen improvement.”
One of Poku’s main improvements came in the form of strength.
“I made some improvements [strength wise]. I can’t wait for the season to start to see where I’m at.”
The Serbian also brought up that he is unsure of how much weight he’s put on since last year, but the key goal had been building up strength.
“I have a lot of meals during the day.”
Pokusevski, age 19, entered last season at 190 pounds.
Jeremiah Robinson-Earl made one of the smoother transitions from collegiate ball to Summer League contests over the summer. He sees himself pivoting towards the next level.
“I think it was a great experience just to get my feet wet, but I think it’s a great transition. Thunder staff and players have done a great job of making the transition easier.”
Robinson-Earl led the Thunder’s Summer League team in scoring 12.0 points, 7.4 rebounds, and 1.8 assists across five games in Vegas.
One of Jeremiah Robinson-Earl’s sweetest surprises over the summer came from his effectiveness from distance. Robinson-Earl credits much of this due to his work in the gym.
“I’ve been taking a lot of time to work on that.” Later adding that there is major importance in stretching the floor.
Jeremiah Robinson-Earl has become the first-ever No. 50 in Thunder franchise history. For Robinson-Earl, there’s a deeper meaning behind the selection.
“He was super happy when that [selecting jersey No. 50] happened… He got hurt in college, [so he dealt with] not being able to live out his dreams of being in the NBA, so I wanted to honor him with that. He can live through me in that sense of I’m No. 50 because of him.”
The Oklahoma City Thunder selected Vit Krejci 37th in the 2020 Draft; however, an ACL tear dating back to September of 2020 sidelined the guard for the entirety of last season. Now, Krejci is set to suit up for the Thunder.
“It’s good to be back. I dreamed of being back on the court and being with the team.”
At 6-foot-8, Krejci played point guard before making the jump to the NBA, though he believes his role is more about bringing energy to the team.
In Krejci’s year of absence, the guard mentioned he had become good friends with Aleksej Pokusevski and Gabriel Deck.
Gabriel Deck’s offseason had been plastered with rumors. One week, rumors suggested the 26-year-old was off to European play, the next week, murmurs surfaced of Deck returning to Bricktown. After officially joining the Thunder’s training camp, Deck quickly dispelled any rumors of making a return overseas.
In addition to Deck showing his devotion towards Oklahoma City, he also showed gratitude for the short stint he played last season, and what is to come.
“I’m very happy that I got to experience these last ten games of the season. We’re getting ready to work for another season.”
Similar to Darius Bazley, Theo Maledon entered his presser a lot bulkier than a year ago.
As the team leader in minutes last season, Maledon mentioned the opportunity had been beneficial towards his development.
Maledon honed in on the ball-handling within the Thunder roster, calling it a “great thing.” The 20-year-old also mentioned that competition is bound to happen within the guard spots, but he sees it as a healthy practice.
The Oklahoma City Thunder double-dipped in guards the last draft, selecting Tre Mann at Pick No. 18 following the selection of Josh Giddey. At 6-foot-5, Mann’s scouting report outlined a three-level scoring game. Mann described his game in a similar fashion.
“I think I’m versatile so that I can play either on the ball or off the ball, and also I can score and make plays for my teammates, so whatever coach needs me to do, I think I could do that. Whether that be on the ball or off the ball, making plays or scoring.”
In his time practicing with the roster, Mann noticed that Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is a lot shiftier in-game than he expected.
As the 55th pick in the draft, Aaron Wiggins joined the Thunder as their first two-way contract addition. Wiggins understands the motions of his deal, and the emotion going towards the process.
“In terms of knowing what to expect, to a certain degree, I have an idea, but I’m excited to go through it.”
For reference, the Thunder have converted two-way contracts to standard contracts for three consecutive years with Moses Brown, Lu Dort, and Deonte Burton.
Wiggins posted an impressive Summer League campaign. He’s ready for the next stage.
“[I’ve been] Continuing to learn, take from Summer League what we learned about the way the Thunder play, carry it on and take it into the last two months so I’m prepared and ready… I’ll have the opportunity to get better and play with a group of guys. I’m super excited.”
Paul Watson Jr.
As Oklahoma City’s second two-way signee, Paul Watson Jr. also recognized the lineage of former two-way players to come through the Thunder.
“I try to not look at it [my deal] as being a two-way, I just look at it as another opportunity, another shot in this league. I look forward to what’s ahead… [Prepping for the Thunder was about] getting my body right and letting my agent handle those things outside of that. I worked out with these guys, learning the environment. I really enjoyed it, and we were able to get something done.”
After shooting a career-best 46.9 percent from three last season, Watson Jr. prides himself upon his sharpshooting ability.
“It’s [shooting is] the biggest thing that’s gotten me into this league. That confidence comes from repetition, staying focused, staying consistent to that craft.”
When asked about the Blue being in Oklahoma City, Watson Jr. mentioned the proximity between the two organizations and the easy transition that will come between the two teams.
Isaiah Roby teed off his conference mentioning his attendance at the Oklahoma vs. Nebraska football game a few weeks ago. Roby, a recent graduate at Nebraska, noted “tension” building up in Clay Bennett’s suite — though he considered the event a good team bonding experience.
As a result of rest and injury, Isaiah Roby assumed a part-time role at the starting five last season. Over the summer, the 23-year-old has broken down numerous accounts of film and where his game stood a season ago.
While initially opening at the five, teammate Shai Gilgeous-Alexander instilled some wise words into Roby, saying, “You earned this starting position, we believe in you, you have everything to gain and nothing to lose… In Roby’s documentation of the role, he said, “Teams saw me as a guy who took open shots, and when a center closed out on me, I drove on him hard.” Roby saw teams adjusting to his play throughout last season and has taken the time to watch the film at the five since.
In another balancing act last year, Roby also bounced between college assignments and NBA games, using a lot of his travel time to knock out work. As a result of him graduating last semester, Roby said he’ll most look forward to “more sleep.”
With the extra energy, Roby had his priorities locked while being interviewed, coining himself a “point center”, and a player who can defend at all five positions.