Photo Credits: Alonzo Adams/USA Today Sports
The last time the Oklahoma City Thunder suited up, newcomers Josh Hall and Moses Brown recorded 25 and 24 points, respectively, in a lottery-shifting season-finale. Fast forward to today, Hall and Brown join a collection of six members from last year’s run now off of the team. In their place, ten new faces, including a quintet of rookies, have been assigned to Mark Daigneault’s infantry — and the battle has begun.
The Oklahoma City Thunder are slated to make their preseason debut Monday evening against the Charlotte Hornets at the newly unveiled Paycom Center, in Oklahoma City. The game is set to tip-off at 7 pm CST and will air on both the Thunder mobile app and the franchise’s website via live stream.
The Thunder’s injury report lists Vit Krejci, Derrick Favors, and Kenrich Williams out for Monday, while for the Charlotte Hornets, they will be without the services of forward Jalen McDaniels, and guard D.J. Carton.
Oklahoma City rumble into preseason play following a 22-50 regular season, ultimately concluding with the franchise garnering the fifth-best pick in the NBA Draft.
Despite the Thunder’s aforementioned influx in young talent, the spotlight heading into this game solely rests upon fourth-year guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. Gilgeous-Alexander took collosal strides last season, taking a center-stage role with the group to average 23.7 points, 4.7 rebounds, and 5.9 assists in a 33.7-minute palate. The 23-year-old looked all but locked to contend for end-of-season hardware last season, but a plantar fasciitis injury suffered in March pushed ended the former Wildcats’ year to a mere 35 games. While playing, SGA led the Thunder to a 16-19 record across appearances, but a 6-31 dropoff ensued with his departure. After 196 days, Shai’s expected to make his grand return.
Alongside Shai’s cast of sidekicks, second-and-third year pieces in Lu Dort, Darius Bazley, Aleksej Pokusevski, and Theo Maledon will be entrusted in larger roles.
With the Thunder shuffling the deck, five players are set to hit the hardwood for their professional debuts. Of the most anticipated, No. 5 pick Josh Giddey is set to play following a five-minute Summer League stint in which the guard sprained his ankle, and could not return. Giddey presents the Thunder another oversized weapon as the 18-year-old clocks in at 6-foot-8; the staggering part of all this — he’s played a true point guard thus far in his career. The Thunder’s second first-round pick, Tre Mann, slips into one of the Thunder’s recent sweet spots. The 6-foot-5 guard is proficient in pick-and-roll offense, creating space at the perimeter, and excelling at both shooting on-and-off the ball, making him a potential firecracker in scoring efforts. As for second-round picks, Jeremiah Robinson-Earl has excelled expectations to this point leading the Thunder’s Summer League team in points while being highly regarded throughout training camp. Aaron Wiggins, the No. 55 pick, has also outperformed his draft slot posting the second-highest scoring output in Summer League while also being a multi-positional defender on the other end. Vit Krejci, Oklahoma City’s 37th pick in the 2020 Draft, is set to debut for the Thunder after a years worth of rehab. The 6-foot-8 guard wields a decorative passing and finishing game, while having the mystique of a potential breakout candidate.
The Hornets will not make life easy for the Thunder, however. Charlotte enters their preseason looking to capitalize off of a 33-39 record from last season. Atop the list of Charlotte’s returning crew rests 20-year-old LaMelo Ball. Ball hits the deck fresh off of winning the Rookie of the Year award on averages of 15.7 points, 5.9 rebounds, and 6.1 assists. In assistance with Ball, members Terry Rozier and Miles Bridges, among others, are in a position to make a jump with the franchise.
In what may be the game’s most intriguing storyline, the Hornets’ No. 11 Pick, James Bouknight, is active to play in Monday’s contest. Bouknight, age 21, became the player of choice for a large band of the Thunder fanbase heading into the July NBA Draft. Reports suggested the UConn guard had met with members within the organization for workouts and dinner conversations, but Thunder GM Sam Presti elected to go another route with Josh Giddey. Scouting profiles largely agreed Bouknight would bode well with Shai Gilgeous-Alexander as an off-ball shot creator, but the franchise’s ultimate pick in Giddey adds a more of a playmaking element to the roster. Given Giddey’s roster flexibility, it’s hard to predict if the two rookies will match up, but it will cause some commotion if that is the case.
This contest marks the first of four preseason games for the Thunder.