The Thunder wrapped up their last home game of the 2021-22 season on Tuesday night, which signifies the end of a taxing year. Currently holding a 24-55 record, this was the worst season for the Thunder since their inaugural campaign 14 years ago, in 2008-09, where they finished 23-59.
Somehow, even that season didn’t feel as bad as this one. Was it because of the lack of expectations? Were fans just so excited to have an NBA team that they didn’t care how bad the team was initially? I think it’s a mixture of both, but the second half of last season and this entire season has undoubtedly been the most arduous for the players, the fans, and the media. As a result, the Thunder have a combined record of 46-105 under head coach Mark Daigneault.
The difference between now (2022) and then (2009) is the team’s potential. When the Thunder first came to OKC, they were terrible. They had the pieces, but they lacked the development to compete in the NBA. You may say the same thing about this season’s Thunder team, but it’s a slightly different situation. Kevin Durant and Jeff Green were in their second season, Russell Westbrook was a rookie, and Earl Watson was the starting point guard.
This current Thunder team stars Shai Gilgeous-Alexander who, in his fourth season, is reaching his prime years. Luguentz Dort is in his third season and has established himself as an elite defender and a reliable score when needed. Darius Bazley, in his third season, may not have his role as figured out as SGA and Dort but has also established himself as a versatile defender thus far, with a multi-dimensional offensive game.
Even Kenrich Williams, the team’s backbone, is only in his fourth year.
Those three are young players but are seen as veteran leaders for this even younger Thunder team. That’s something the “OG” Thunder didn’t have the luxury of, at least with the potential of those three guys. Everyone was either a rookie or in their second season, still trying to figure their way in the league.
This time around, the Thunder have the experience to pair with their youth. When mentioning their youth, I’m talking about the talented rookies on the roster: Josh Giddey, Tre Mann, and Aaron Wiggins. That’s not including second-year players Theo Maledon, the mysterious case of Aleksej Pokusevski, and Isaiah Roby, who only has two inconsistent seasons under his belt.
We just witnessed OKC’s last season tanking. The time to start competing comes immediately after the NBA Draft on June 23. We’re not expecting them to be a playoff team next year; we’re expecting them to take on winning expectations again, from an organizational standpoint, down to the players. Why? Simply because they’ll be good enough to do so and because the small market of OKC, mixed with many passionate yet fair-weather fans, can’t handle three-straight seasons where the team they love isn’t in a position to win games.
The writing was on the wall this season: the Thunder have the talent to be ‘decent.’ But, to take that next leap, they’ll need one more cornerstone player that they’ll hopefully acquire via the draft.
This has been a tough stretch for one of the winningest franchises in all sports over the last decade. Let’s get back to our winning ways next season.
PHOTO: DAKOTA JEROME WAHKINNEY