Who will take big steps for OKC this season?

A new-look Oklahoma City Thunder team will suit up for training camp on Oct. 1 as Russell Westbrook gets ready for the Houston Rockets training camp, Paul George gets set for the Los Angeles Clippers camp, and Jerami Grant suits up for the Denver Nuggets. OKC’s most lethal from a year ago are no longer in OKC.

There’s a new beginning afoot for the Thunder, which opens the gate for the new franchise poster boy. Everyone is under the assumption that Shai Gilgeous-Alexander will be that guy. Whether that’s true or untrue, three guys, in particular, will take big steps in the right direction this season.

Hamidou Diallo is expected to take a big step in his follow-up season, and he fully expects to as well.

“With or without the changes it was a year for me to step up, just because I feel like each-and-every year I try to get better and each-and-every year I spend my summers perfecting my game and my craft,” Diallo said Wednesday. “I can’t wait to get out there.”

Diallo only averaged 3.7 points and 1.9 rebounds in his rookie season in 51 games and the highlight of the season was winning the NBA Slam Dunk competition in Charlotte.

While things looked promising for him after the all-star break, he fell out of Billy Donovan’s rotation and wasn’t a factor down the stretch. He suffered an elbow injury shortly after the break, which killed his production, thus making him fall out of the rotation.

This Wednesday, Diallo said that he’s completely over that injury and the recovery that came from the surgery he had to repair it. If that’s true, this season is prime for Diallo to step up, have a bigger voice and increased production.

Terrance Ferguson had the luxury of playing with and having an apprenticeship under both Westbrook, George and an injured Andre Roberson. The Thunder has seen him go from a player that only thrived off athleticism to a player that became a threat from long-distance, and a respected defender.

Ferguson averaged 6.9 points, 1.9 rebounds and 1.0 assists per game and he started all 74 games he played in. In his third season, Ferguson will be expected to apply everything he learned from Westbrook, George, and Roberson and take significant strides while keeping his same level of athleticism. At just 21-years-old, if he takes a step offensively and defensively, and adds that to his pure athleticism, this could be an exciting season for him…and Thunder fans.

One last player that could take a big step is Deonte Burton, who seemed to be the odd man out last year. Although he was arguably better than a few members that regularly suited up for the Thunder, Burton continuously swapped time between OKC’s G-League affiliate and the Thunder.

Burton only suited up 32 games for the Thunder and averaged 2.6 points per game, but weirdly enough served as a spark plug for the Thunder in key games. Just like Ferguson, Burton is an athletic high-flyer that is very capable but lacks some skill. Can he develop a threatening shot? Can he become more of a slasher? He’s decent defensively, but can he further develop that aspect of his game as well? Of the three, I’d predict that Burton will become more of a slashing threat that can defend the ball.

Obviously, these are all predictions based on the players’ performance last season, and our expectations of their upcoming season without three all-star caliber players in front of them. Will they all take steps? We aren’t sure, but if the Thunder plan to be decent this year, these three will have to take steps forward.

A. Suave Francisco

Founder & Editor-in-Chief. National Association of Black Journalists. University of Central Oklahoma.

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