Since this offseason, the word ‘retooling’ has been used by Sam Presti to describe the current crossroads for Thunder basketball. For the first time in a decade, OKC has no headlining superstar on its roster. Instead, they have an elderly Chris Paul and Danilo Gallinari, both subject to be traded, with a bunch of young players and Steven Adams.
Instead of sugar-coating what’s happening to this organization, Thunder fans have mentioned the forbidden word; tanking, to describe this season. When I first heard Presti mention the word ‘retooling’ I thought he was beating around the bush as well, but looking at this team, those two words are more accurate than using the word tank.
The Thunder’s heap of draft picks would make you think that way but the Thunder have an up-and-coming duo on their team already, and one is already approaching an all-star level of play in his second season.
Those two players are Darius Bazley and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander.
On Saturday, Gilgeous-Alexander scored 23 points against the New Orleans Pelicans. That was his fourth game scoring 20 or more points after just six games. He has developed just as expected and taken a huge leap while serving as OKC’s number one option.
While Shai doesn’t have that same aggressive fire Russell Westbrook had while on the court, he has more of a smooth style of play where he still gets the job done. Expect the fireworks and personality to come out as he and the Thunder become more successful. Think back to Westbrook’s first year with OKC. Think back to Kevin Durant’s. They were a little shyer and not as flamboyant as they’ve become. The same will be for Shai and Darius.
In Bazley’s situation, he’s so young and raw that he doesn’t seem to realize how talented he is yet. He has all the potential in the world, but his confidence hasn’t peaked, because…well, he’s 19 years old and only six games into his NBA career. Maybe his breakout 17-point game against New Orleans is what gets him started.
His first few minutes of playing time on Saturday resulted in two-straight missed 3s from the corner. The stroke was there and he was attempting the shot, so we were all just waiting for one to go through the net. Luckily, the third time was a charm. He then followed that up with another three from the wing and a layup. That scoring outburst in just a couple of minutes built up the confidence for him to continue to shoot. That resulted in 17 points on 5-of-10 shooting, including 3-of-6 from three.
Other than players like Kawhi Leonard, who’s a true unicorn when it comes to star players and stereotypes, Shai and Darius have the swagger of budding stars as well. Both are deep into fashion, with Shai already being seen as one of the league’s fashion icons. Though it may seem superficial, these two exude star qualities in multiple ways.
All that explained, is this considered a rebuild for the Thunder? Or are they retooling their roster around Shai and Darius? It’s something to think about.