The Thunder were a poverty-stricken franchise heading into the NBA’s free agency period, but somehow that translated into huge expectations from many Thunder fans.
Unreasonable or not, there was a fair share of the Thunder faithful that were looking forward to Oklahoma City reeling in some of the higher-class free agents. Unfortunately for those fans, the Thunder ended up with two mid-level free agents, Mike Muscala and Alec Burks.
Reasonable Thunder fans understand the cards OKC have to play with and realize how beneficial and impressive it was that Presti was able to bring in who he did, while still resigning Nerlens Noel, a guy that everyone concluded wouldn’t be re-signed.
The Thunder weren’t getting a starter and you should have known that. Heading into the offseason, their needs were health, bench depth, and improved shooting, specifically within their bench unit. Although OKC’s season ended in the first round of the playoffs for the third consecutive season, Paul George was playing with two bum shoulders, and Russell Westbrook wasn’t 100 percent either. In addition, their defensive specialist, Andre Roberson was still sidelined to injury. This is definitely not me making excuses, but OKC still has a solid core, that’ll at least start the season healthy. Assuming Muscala and Burks will replace minutes from a young, undeveloped Abdel Nader and a rapidly declining Patrick Patterson, the bench just improved from the shooting guard and power forward position.
Barring a seismic trade that sends Dennis Schröder and/or Andre Roberson packing, having a second unit of Schröder, Burks, Andre Roberson/Terrance Ferguson, Mike Muscala and Nerlens Noel looks a ton better than what OKC routinely placed on the court during the ’18-’19 season.
Alec Burks is injury-prone and that’s the only obvious red flag. Other than that, Burks is 6-foot-6, averages 9.5 points per game for his career and was the 12th pick of the 2012 NBA Draft. He’s a career 36.5 percent 3-point shooter and is an immediate upgrade from Nader. Burks also has the ability to create off the dribble but shoots a fourth of his threes from the corner, where he’s never shot less than 39.3 percent since 2014. If the Thunder can get more than 64 games from him, he’ll be a beneficial piece.
Burks hasn’t played more than 64 games in a season since 2014, all due to injuries.
Muscala should and probably will be a replacement for Patterson. Everything points towards that. He’s 27 while Patterson is 30, he probably won’t warrant more than Patterson’s $5.7 million salary, and his upside is higher than Patterson whose career is in its final stages.
Defensively, Muscala is a better option as well. In minutes played with him at the center position, Philly’s defensive ratings were 98.9 and 94.0, and the sample size was about a fourth of the season, which is a sample size sufficient enough to prove that he’s durable defensively. Given those two lineups included Jimmy Butler and Ben Simmons, at least he didn’t hurt their defensive rating. Him being paired with Paul George and Jerami Grant from the starting unit, or Nerlens Noel and Andre Roberson from the bench unit would help OKC’s defensive attack.
Muscala is also a 36.4 percent 3-point shooter, which provides OKC with something they haven’t seen from the forward, or center position off the bench for a very long time.
These two moves aren’t attractive on paper and won’t move the needle for Oklahoma City, but it will strengthen a bench unit that’ll be able to support what Westbrook, George, Adams, and Grant get started. Unlike last season.