A Look Back At The 2021 Oklahoma City Thunder

July 13th, 2021

By Alan Lu

When the Oklahoma City Thunder traded away Chris Paul to Phoenix, and let their head coach Billy Donovan go to Chicago, they decided to tear down their team and start the rebuilding process.  They didn’t win many games, as they finished 22-50 on the season, but they had solid seasons from guards Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Luguentz Dort.

The Thunder was expected to be among the worst teams in the league if not the worst, but they actually exceeded expectations and were competitive when veteran center Al Horford was out on the floor.  The Thunder have been collecting draft picks and have been developing their young players well, and they have a very bright future ahead of them.

Oklahoma City Thunder’s star guard, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander played very well, as he was his team’s best player this past season.
(Photo:
Alonzo Adams/USA Today Sports, via Sports Illustrated)

G Shai Gilgeous-Alexander
2021 (OKC): 35 GP, 23.7 PPG, 5.9 APG, 4.7 RPG, 51 FG%, 42 3PT%, 81 FT%, 21.6 PER, 62 TS%, 3.5 WS, .143 WS48

He played very well this past season, and he is a very athletic, big point guard that really excelled as a shooter, scorer, and facilitator for his team.  He showed dynamic offensive skills, and he also rebounded the ball well. 

The only downside is that he missed considerable time due to a foot injury this season.  Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is a rising star that has the talent to make All-Star teams, and he looks to be a very good building block for the Thunder both right now and in the future.

2021 Season Grade: B+
Expected 2022 NBA Role: Starting point guard of the Oklahoma City Thunder
Projected 2022 NBA Rating: 3 stars (4 stars potential)

Oklahoma City Thunder’s Lu Dort played terrific defense all year long. He’s a gritty defender that will make the hustle plays and get stops for his team to help them defensively, even if it may not always show up in the box score statistics.
(Photo:
Alonzo Adams/USA Today Sports, via OKC Thunder Wire – USA Today)

G-F Luguentz Dort
2021 (OKC): 52 GP, 14.0 PPG, 3.6 RPG, 1.7 APG, 39 FG%, 34 3PT%, 74 FT%, 10.1 PER, 51 TS%, 0.3 WS, .011 WS48

It may be rather difficult to evaluate Lu Dort, since he’s more or less, a defensive specialist (and a very good one at that) that played on a bad NBA team this year.  He’s also an on-ball defender that doesn’t get many rebounds, steals, or blocks, and box-score statistics have not tended to fully capture the skills on perimeter defenders, especially from a position defense standpoint.

Dort showed an improved outside shot, and he certainly looked to score more, but offensively, his results were rather mixed.  He still was below league average in most shooting percentages, and shot selection can still be an issue for him.  He’s still not really a facilitator, and it seems that he was over-extended on offense.

Defensively, he was known to shut down some of the higher end players in the NBA this season, though none of that seems to be accounted for statistically.  He certainly made a believer out of Blazers’ superstar guard, Damian Lillard, and Dort was Sports Illustrated’s Ryan Chapman’s pick for the 2021 DPOY.  There’s not much to go off of, but it looks like you’ll just have to take people’s word for it that Dort is one of the best defenders in this league.

2021 Season Grade: B-
Expected 2022 NBA Role: Starting shooting guard of the Oklahoma City Thunder
Projected 2022 NBA Rating: 2.5 stars (3 stars potential)

F Darius Bazley
2021 (OKC): 55 GP, 13.7 PPG, 7.2 RPG, 1.8 APG, 40 FG%, 29 3PT%, 70 FT%, 9.7 PER, 49 TS%, -0.9 WS, -.026 WS48

He is an athletic, skilled combo forward that saw a lot of playing time, but he struggled to make an impact on a consistent basis.  After having played well in the playoffs last year, he saw an amplified amount of minutes, but he seemed to have trouble adjusting to a much larger role this year.

He scored and grabbed rebounds in volume, but he didn’t shoot the ball well, and he didn’t seem to have much of an impact defensively.   This was a developmental year for him, and he experienced some growing pains.  Regardless, he is a talented player that could be a solid contributor if he can realize his full potential.

2021 Season Grade: C
Expected 2022 NBA Role: Rotation player on the Oklahoma City Thunder
Projected 2022 NBA Rating: 2 stars (2.5 stars potential)

G Théo Maledon
2021 (OKC): 65 GP, 10.1 PPG, 3.5 APG, 3.2 RPG, 37 FG%, 34 3PT%, 75 FT%, 8.2 PER, 49 TS%, -0.8 WS, -.021 WS48

Maledon played fairly well in his rookie season with the Thunder.  He played much more than expected, and he showed that he can reliably run the team and grab rebounds at the point.  He showed that he is a capable shooter as well, and he also can adequately defend on the court.

On the other hand, he will still need to improve his shooting and scoring on offense.  Right now, he might not project to be a superstar, but Maledon is a steady playmaker that could be a reliable backup point guard in the NBA for years to come.

2021 Season Grade: C+
Expected 2022 NBA Role: Rotation player on the Oklahoma City Thunder
Projected 2022 NBA Rating: 2 stars (2.5 stars potential)

Opinions on Aleksej Pokusevski may be quite divisive on if he played well or not as a rookie in the NBA. The 7 foot tall point center did show off smooth handles and some really promising playmaking skills, and Pokusevski is a talented young player that has a lot of upside. However, it’s also hard to get over his incredibly poor shooting percentages that he also hoisted up both in the NBA and in the G-League this year.
(Photo:
Bryan Terry/The Oklahoman, via OKC Thunder Wire – USA Today)

F-C Aleksej Pokusevski
2021 (OKC): 45 GP, 8.2 PPG, 4.7 RPG, 2.2 APG, 34 FG%, 28 3PT%, 74 FT%, 6.1 PER, 43 TS%, -1.9 WS, -.084 WS48
2021 (G-League): 13 GP, 7.9 PPG, 7.3 RPG, 4.0 APG, 1.1 BPG, 31 FG%, 27 3PT%, 57 FT%, 7.3 PER, 40 TS%, -0.5 WS, -.069 WS48

Pokusevski is a very talented big man that has shown solid playmaking and defensive skills at times, but he still has a long way to go as an overall player.  He didn’t shoot the ball very well in the NBA or in the NBA G-League, and his shot selection can be quite suspect at times.  He also needs to add a lot more strength, and he will need to improve his rebounding.

He’s another tough player to evaluate after having what can be described as at best, an up and down rookie season, and at worst, a very rocky year.  He was really inefficient on offense in both leagues, but it’s clear that he has vast amount of upside, as size, athleticism, and two-way potential could make him a solid player in the NBA years from now.

The jury is still out on whether or not if he can reach his full potential.  Pokusevski didn’t exactly have a great season, but he received a lot of playing time, and he showed off some point center skills and some serious shot blocking potential for the future.

2021 Season Grade: C
Expected 2022 NBA Role: Rotation player on the Oklahoma City Thunder
Projected 2022 NBA Rating: 1.5 stars (3 stars potential)

G Ty Jerome
2021 (OKC): 33 GP, 10.7 PPG, 3.6 APG, 2.8 RPG, 45 FG%, 42 3PT%, 76 FT%, 13.4 PER, 58 TS%, 1.3 WS, .079 WS48
2021 (G-League): 9 GP, 12.1 PPG, 3.2 APG, 2.6 RPG, 1.1 SPG, 39 FG%, 30 3PT%, 93 FT%, 13.1 PER, 54 TS%, 0.4 WS, .095 WS48

Jerome played very well as a shooter and facilitator off the bench for the Thunder.  He shot the ball very well in the NBA, but not nearly as well in the NBA G-League. 

That he made 42% of his threes in the NBA this year is very good for him, and Jerome could be poised to earn plenty of playing time as a regular rotation player for them next season.

2021 Season Grade: B+
Expected 2022 NBA Role: Rotation player on the Oklahoma City Thunder
Projected 2022 NBA Rating: 2 stars (2.5 stars potential)

F Isaiah Roby
2021 (OKC): 61 GP, 8.7 PPG, 5.6 RPG, 1.8 APG, 48 FG%, 29 3PT%, 74 FT%, 11.9 PER, 55 TS%, 1.3 WS, .043 WS48

Roby is a very athletic, energetic combo forward that excelled as a rebounder and defender this year.  He excelled at scoring around the basket, but he will still need to improve his jump shot and playmaking skills.  He played much better than expected, considering he barely played in 2020, and he could be a fixture on the Thunder’s team for the foreseeable future.

2021 Season Grade: B+
Expected 2022 NBA Role: Rotation player on the Oklahoma City Thunder
Projected 2022 NBA Rating: 2 stars (2.5 stars potential)

Roby’s contract is non-guaranteed next season.

F Kenrich Williams
2021 (OKC): 66 GP, 8.0 PPG, 4.1 RPG, 2.3 APG, 53 FG%, 44 3PT%, 57 FT%, 14 PER, 60 TS%, 2.8 WS, .096 WS48

Williams played very well this past season.  He did a great job of making shots efficiently, and his shooting improved exponentially this year.  He also passed and defended well, and he was a good role player for the Thunder to have this year.  If there’s any one major thing that he needs to improve on though, it would be free throw shooting.  Still, Williams has definitely proved that he is worthy of being a regular rotation player on the Thunder’s team (if they choose to keep him) next season.

2021 Season Grade: B+
Expected 2022 NBA Role: Rotation player on the Oklahoma City Thunder
Projected 2022 NBA Rating:  2 stars

Williams’ contract is non-guaranteed next season.

C Tony Bradley
2021 (PHI/OKC): 42 GP, 7.1 PPG, 5.7 RPG, 66 FG%, 69 FT%, 20.7 PER, 68 TS%, 2.7 WS, .192 WS48

Bradley wasn’t quite able to get regular playing time in Philly, as he was behind Joel Embiid and Dwight Howard, so they dealt him to Oklahoma City during the middle of the season.

Regardless, Bradley played very well in his role as a backup center off the bench.  He excelled as an inside scorer and rebounder, and he played solid interior defense when he was with the 76ers this past season. 

He’ll definitely need to find a way to get more playing time, but in looking at his statistics, he surely seems to at least be a favorite from an advanced metrics perspective.

2021 Season Grade: B (B+ w/PHI, B w/OKC)
Expected 2022 NBA Role: Fringe roster player, possible back end rotation player in the NBA
Projected 2022 NBA Rating: 2 stars

Bradley will be an RFA at the end of the 2020-21 NBA season.

F Gabriel Deck
2021 (OKC): 10 GP, 8.4 PPG, 4.0 RPG, 2.4 APG, 48 FG%, 13 3PT%, 82 FT%, 16.1 PER, 55 TS%, 0.5 WS, .120 WS48
2021 (Euroleague): 32 GP, 8.8 PPG, 3.7 RPG, 1.2 APG, 49 FG%, 41 3PT%, 84 FT%, 13.8 PER, 60 TS%, 2.3 WS, .144 WS48
2021 (ACB): 21 GP, 10.0 PPG, 4.0 RPG, 1.5 APG, 53 FG%, 33 3PT%, 86 FT%, 16.7 PER, 65 TS%, 2.4 WS, .237 WS48

Deck was signed late in the season, and he produced mixed results for his team.  On one hand, he excelled as a scorer, rebounder, and facilitator on the court.  On the other, he really struggled to knock down three-point shots this past season.

The Thunder signed him to a fairly sizable contract, though he will be on a non-guaranteed contract next year.  In analyzing his performances overall this season, he appears to have the skills to compete for a rotation spot on the Thunder’s team next year.

2021 Season Grade: C
Expected 2022 NBA Role: Rotation player on the Oklahoma City Thunder
Projected 2022 NBA Rating: 2 stars

Deck’s contract is non-guaranteed next season.

G-F Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk
2021 (DET/OKC): 66 GP, 8.5 PPG, 2.5 RPG, 1.7 APG, 41 FG%, 33 3PT%, 76 FT%, 10.4 PER, 53 TS%, 0.3 WS, .010 WS48

After having a very good 2020 season last year, Mykhailiuk seems to have regressed this season.  He didn’t shoot the ball nearly as well with Detroit to start the year. After being traded to Oklahoma City, his ability to make two-point shots picked up, but he never quite regained the outside shooting touch that made him a coveted role player in the first place.

He played unselfishly and he was able to rack up some assists, but he struggled to knock down shots consistently, and he didn’t defend well when he was on the court.  Mykhailiuk will need to shoot the ball much better and improve his defense to prove that he should be a regular rotation player next season.

2021 Season Grade: D (D w/DET, D w/OKC)
Expected 2022 NBA Role: Fringe roster player, possible back end rotation player in the NBA
Projected 2022 NBA Rating: 1.5 stars (2 stars potential)

Mykhailiuk will be an RFA at the end of the 2020-21 NBA season.

C Mike Muscala
2021 (OKC): 35 GP, 9.7 PPG, 3.8 RPG, 45 FG%, 37 3PT%, 92 FT%, 14.7 PER, 60 TS%, 1.3 WS, .096 WS48

Muscala is a skilled stretch big that can shoot and score the basketball.  He possesses versatile scoring skills, but he doesn’t seem to bring much else to the table.  He has struggled to get consistent playing time over the years, but his ability to knock down jumpers could enable him to make a team’s rotation in the NBA next year.

2021 Season Grade: C
Expected 2022 NBA Role: Fringe roster player, possible back end rotation player in the NBA
Projected 2022 NBA Rating: 1.5 stars

Muscala will be an unrestricted free agent (UFA) at the end of the 2020-21 NBA season.

F Jaylen Hoard (Two-Way)
2021 (OKC): 19 GP, 6.1 PPG, 3.4 RPG, 1.3 APG, 50 FG%, 68 FT%, 13.4 PER, 55 TS%, 0.5 WS, .070 WS48
2021 (G-League): 15 GP, 9.7 PPG, 4.8 RPG, 2.0 APG, 49 FG%, 19 3PT%, 77 FT%, 15 PER, 62 TS%, 0.6 WS, .087 WS48

Hoard showed that he can finish plays around the basket, and he is an athletic combo forward that projects to be a defensive specialist.  He also can pass the basketball.

On the other hand, he has not shown much of a jump shot, and it doesn’t appear as if he will be able to shoot threes in the NBA any time soon.  He’s played fairly well in limited minutes in the NBA, but Hoard may be a situational use, sort of role player due to his limited skill set on offense.

2021 Season Grade: C-
Expected 2022 NBA Role: Fringe roster player, possible back end rotation player in the NBA
Projected 2022 NBA Rating: 1.5 stars (2 stars potential)

G-F Charlie Brown
2021 (OKC): 9 GP, 4.4 PPG, 1.9 RPG, 1.0 APG, 30 FG%, 24 3PT%, 90 FT%, 4.1 PER, 42 TS%, -0.1 WS, -.032 WS48
2021 (G-League): 13 GP, 12.5 PPG, 5.5 RPG, 1.9 APG, 1.7 SPG, 45 FG%, 35 3PT%, 82 FT%, 13.1 PER, 58 TS%, 0.2 WS, .021 WS48

Brown struggled in his brief time with the Thunder this past season, but he fared better in the G-League.  In the 19 games that he’s played over two years in the NBA though, Brown has struggled to prove that he would be worthy of getting rotation minutes, and he didn’t exactly dominate in the G-League, either.

2021 Season Grade: D-
Expected 2022 NBA Role: Fringe roster player, possible back end rotation player in the NBA
Projected 2022 NBA Rating: 1 star (2 star potential)

F Josh Hall (Two-Way)
2021 (OKC): 21 GP, 4.1 PPG, 2.8 RPG, 1.3 APG, 30 FG%, 11 3PT%, 50 FT%, 1 PER, 36 TS%, -0.9 WS, -.126 WS48
2021 (G-League): 1 GP, 2 PPG, 1 APG, 20 FG%, -14.3 PER, 20 TS%, -0.1 WS, -.352 WS48

Hall saved his best game for his last, and he scored 25 points on 21 shots in his team’s regular season finale in their surprise win over the Clippers.  He also showed some rebounding and passing skills, and Hall is an athletic forward that showed enough upside coming out of prep school for the Thunder to give him a two-way contract this year.

On the other hand, in his pre-draft evaluations, Hall looked to be a raw, project player that looked to be very far from being ready to contribute at the NBA level, and that precisely was the case on most nights.  Unfortunately, he did not shoot, score, nor defend well on a consistent basis.  He really struggled to make jump shots on offense at either the NBA or at the G-League level.  Hall may still be far away from being ready to play in the NBA, and he will likely need to spend a full season in the G-League next season to hone his game.

2021 Season Grade: D-
Expected 2022 NBA Role: Fringe roster player, possible back end rotation player in the NBA (or Rotation Player in the G-League)
Projected 2022 NBA Rating: 0.5 stars (2 star potential)

Were Members with the 2020-21 Thunder, But Have Since Been Traded:

F-C Al Horford
2021 (OKC): 28 GP, 14.2 PPG, 6.7 RPG, 3.4 APG, 45 FG%, 37 3PT%, 82 FT%, 17.4 PER, 54 TS%, 1.6 WS, .101 WS48

Horford is a solid, veteran center who brought a welcome presence to the team.  He excelled on the offensive end, and he did a good job of shooting and passing the basketball to help his team this year.  He also defended well, and he made the Thunder a competitive team when he played this season.

They were 11-17, and they were 11-33 without him, so clearly, Horford had a sizable impact when he was on the floor.  The Thunder may have felt that they were a little too competitive with him in games, so they shut him down for the season so that they could increase their odds to get a high draft pick this year.

2021 Season Grade: B+
Expected 2022 NBA Role: Starter or good bench player on the Boston Celtics
Projected 2022 NBA Rating: 2.5 stars

Side Note: Al Horford was traded to the Boston Celtics.

C Moses Brown
2021 (OKC): 43 GP, 8.6 PPG, 8.9 RPG, 1.1 BPG, 54 FG%, 62 FT%, 18.8 PER, 57 TS%, 2.6 WS, .138 WS48

Brown played very well this season, and he was able to establish himself as a worthy member of the Thunder’s rotation.  He excelled as an interior player, and he was very efficient as an inside scorer this season. 

He also did a good job of rebounding and blocking shots.  He will need to improve his playmaking skills and continue to improve his on-ball defense, but Brown could be a solid rotational big man on the Thunder’s team next season.

2021 Season Grade: A-
Expected 2022 NBA Role: Rotation player on the Boston Celtics
Projected 2022 NBA Rating: 2 stars (2.5 stars potential)

Side Note: Moses Brown was traded to the Boston Celtics. His contract is also non-guaranteed next season.

No Longer With the Team:

F Darius Miller
2021 (OKC): 4.1 PPG, 1.3 RPG, 1.2 APG, 46 FG%, 40 3PT%, 100 FT%, 15.9 PER, 69 TS%, 0.6 WS, .156 WS48

Darius Miller actually played very well in his brief time with the Thunder this past season.  He excelled as a shooter and defender, and it was surprising that an NBA team didn’t choose to sign him or pick him up shortly after the Thunder waived him.

2021 Season Grade: B
Expected 2022 NBA Role: Fringe roster player, possible back end rotation player in the NBA
Projected 2022 NBA Rating: 2 stars

G Justin Robinson
2021 (OKC): 9 GP, 2.3 PPG, 1.0 APG, 33 FG%, 29 3PT%, 60 FT%, 6 PER, 45 TS%, 0 WS, .021 WS48
2021 (G-League): 13 GP, 15.5 PPG, 6 APG, 3.4 RPG, 1.7 SPG, 39 FG%, 40 3PT%, 63 FT%, 15.3 PER, 53 TS%, 0.6 WS, .069 WS48

Justin Robinson was a fairly above average starter in the G-League, and he’s shown that he can shoot, run the team at the point, and defend at that level. 

He’s really struggled to shoot or score at the NBA level though, and his lack of size or elite athletic gifts makes it difficult for him to consistently create his own shot in the association.  He’s a fringe roster player at the NBA level, but he hasn’t exactly proven that he should warrant a lot of playing time there yet.

2021 Season Grade: D
Expected 2022 NBA Role: Free Agent/Fringe roster player in the NBA (Starter or good bench player in the G-League)
Projected 2022 NBA Rating: 1 star (2 star potential)

Head Coach:
Mark Daigneault
2021 (OKC): 22-50, did not make the playoffs
Coaching Career: 22-50, 0-0 in his playoff career

Oklahoma City Thunder’s rookie head coach, Mark Daigneault led his team to more wins than expected, especially early on when they played Al Horford, and Daigneault had a fairly solid first year as a head coach in the NBA.
(Photo:
Dennis Slagle/NBAE via Getty Images, via OKC Thunder Wire – USA Today)

The Thunder traded away Chris Paul, Dennis Schroder, and Steven Adams, and they let Danilo Gallinari and Nerlens Noel walk via free agency, so it was clear that they were tearing down their team to go into a rebuilding mode.

Daigneault had to make sure to get their players to play hard, and to develop the young players to help them get on the right track to develop properly in the NBA.  In his rookie season, they were competent when veteran center Al Horford was in the lineup, and the Thunder ended up winning more games than expected.  Their guards, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Luguentz Dort are developing quite well, as Gilgeous-Alexander is a rising star and Dort is one of the best defenders in the league.

They may not have gained many wins this year, but the Thunder seem to be heading in the right direction, and they have a bright future ahead of them.

2021 Season Grade: C+
Expected 2022 NBA Role: Head Coach of the Oklahoma City Thunder
Projected 2022 NBA Rating: 1.5 stars (3 star potential)

A Brief Summary of the 2020-21 Oklahoma City Thunder’s Season:

It was expected that this would be a developmental season for the Thunder, but it seems that they did better than expected, and they could’ve won far more games if they hadn’t sat Al Horford for the second half of the year.

They were able to play a lot of young players, and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Lu Dort benefitted the most.  Not all of their players played well this season, but they had their growing pains and it’s a learning curve for them.   Now that the Thunder has given their players an extra year of experience, that will help them prepare to play even better so that they can grow and move forward as a team both next season and in the future.

The 2020-21 Oklahoma City Thunder’s Season Grade: C+

The Oklahoma City Thunder’s Projected 2021-22 NBA Rotation:

Projected Starters:
The 6th Overall Pick of the 2021 NBA Draft
F Darius Bazley
G Lu Dort
G Shai Gilgeous-Alexander
G Kemba Walker

Key Reserves:
G Théo Maledon
G Ty Jerome
F Kenrich Williams
F-C Aleksej Pokusevski
F Isaiah Roby

Others competing for a spot in the rotation next season:
The 16th Overall Pick of the 2021 NBA Draft
The 18th Overall Pick of the 2021 NBA Draft
F Gabriel Deck
The 34th Overall Pick of the 2021 NBA Draft
The 36th Overall Pick of the 2021 NBA Draft

Others:
The 55th Overall Pick of the 2021 NBA Draft  – Likely a Stash Pick, or a Player on a Two-Way Contract

Already Traded Away:
C Al Horford
C Moses Brown

Impending Restricted Free Agents:
C Tony Bradley – Not Expected Back
G-F Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk – Not Expected Back

Impending Unrestricted Free Agents:
C Mike Muscala – Not Expected Back

Projected Players Cut From Next Season’s Roster:
G-F Charlie Brown
F Josh Hall
F Jaylen Hoard

Projected Offseason Plan for the Oklahoma City Thunder:
The Thunder have a lot of money to spend in the offseason, and they also have plenty of draft picks this year.  They could use this to sign players to fit around Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, which would likely be extra shooters, scorers, and defenders.

In the draft, they could look to select the best players available in order to bolster the talent and the depth of their team.

The 2022 Oklahoma City Thunder’s Expected Win-Loss Record, and Projected 2022 Season Prediction:
28-54, 14th in the Western Conference

Expected 2022 Season Outcome:
The Thunder could be expected to win more games and be competitive initially, as they will likely experience some internal growth from the players on their roster, but they will likely miss the playoffs in the West next season.

I primarily went to Basketball-Reference and No Trade Clause for research purposes. For more information on my rating scale in terms of how I rate NBA players and coaches, you can find it here. Thanks for reading.

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