Here at Bricktown Buckets, we will be delivering a weekly notebook with takes on the biggest storylines happening around OKC! This first edition of the Thunder notebook will take a look at the Oklahoma City Thunder rebuild, Rookie Aleksej Pokusevski, and how important it is to have Veteran Leadership!
Finding Solace in the Rebuild
Thunder fans have truly lived a charmed NBA existence. Only TWICE in twelve seasons of OKC basketball, have they had a losing season or missed the playoffs, (2008-2009, 2014-2015). Having had six hall of fame players, including 2 MVPs, has to lead to levels of immense success during the inaugural era of Thunder Basketball. While the Thunder, unfortunately, never won a title during that era, they were almost always in the hunt and an elite team. This season, will not be like most of those years. Thunder fans will have to dig deep and stomach the looming rebuild. It has been on the horizon since KD left for Golden State; the Thunder were just fortunate enough to stave it off until this point.
Success will not be measured by the typical wins or losses to which fans have become accustomed. This season, moral victories will absolutely be a thing, not something at which to snicker. The bottom line is, success will be measured by the developmental progress of the young players, and the Thunder’s Draft selection. If the young players show quality progress, and the Thunder earn a top-five pick in this LOADED Draft Class, (Draft experts are saying this is the best Draft in quite some time, especially at the top), then this season will be seen as a resounding success! Like it or not, drafting players and making trades are the best, most viable avenues for the Thunder to acquire their next superstar players. (SGA may prove to be their Franchise Guy, but in order to win a Title, which the Thunder clearly wants, then they need more than one of that level of a player) OKC didn’t get KD, Westbrook, and Harden without enduring losses and earning top 5 Picks in the Draft. This is Sam Presti’s plan, time to buckle down, and get to work!
The Importance of Veteran Leadership
Heading into the 2020-2021 Thunder Season, OKC’s roster has undergone a dramatic transformation. This season will most closely resemble the maiden campaign of the Thunder in OKC (2008-2009). That team was very young and packed with players who could have still been in college, with a few quality veterans mixed in. Nick Collison, Kevin Ollie, and Damien Wilkins were all established veterans who helped KD and Westbrook navigate that year, and establish a culture of professionalism and quality work ethic. This year, Al Horford, George Hill, and Mike Muscala will be the veteran mentors helping the talented young athletes find their way in the League.
While having a good veteran locker room presence isn’t a necessity for a team’s development, it can often expedite the process, help a team establish good habits, teach player’s some of the finer points and tricks of the trade, and help a team avoid getting discouraged when things become difficult during the grind of the Season. SGA, Bazley, Dort, Poku, and Theo Maledon will absolutely benefit from the knowledge, skillset, and professionalism of quality veterans. SGA, as a primary example, has already shown dramatic improvement in some areas of his game this preseason, demonstrating some of the many things Chris Paul and Dennis Schroder imparted last season. These vets might not get all the attention or put up big numbers, but their role this year will be vital toward the upbringing of this young team, as they enter a new era.
Aleksej Pokusevski, the Thunder’s First Round selection in the 2020 NBA Draft, (17th overall, acquired via trade with Minnesota), will absolutely have free reign to go wild this year. He will be afforded every opportunity to succeed, fail, and learn while playing substantial minutes this season. A large reason the Thunder were so enamored with him was his immense potential. Arguably no one in the past Draft has a higher ceiling than Poku, but whether or not he can hit that level is up to him. It will take dedication, confidence, learning through mistakes, and trying new things for him to reach his full potential.
A 7+ footer with a 9’5 ft. standing reach, ball-handling skills of a guard, accurate sharpshooting from the perimeter, quality passing abilities, sneaky athleticism, and fluid agility make him a true Basketball Unicorn. As for areas needing refinement, he needs to bulk up and add muscle, (which will help him on offense and defense), avoid dribbling into dense traffic with those long arms, (makes it easier for opponents to steal the ball), and improve his paint scoring. As the youngest player in the League, Poku has all the time and physical tools he needs to succeed. The OKC Thunder pride themselves on development and professionalism, which makes this the perfect spot for Poku to reach his immense potential. Being surrounded by quality veterans such as Al Horford, Mike Muscala, and George Hill will pay massive dividends in his development, as well. The main thing to preach to both Poku and fans this season is patience. There will be ups and downs, highlights, and bloopers, but it’s all part of the process. Luckily for Poku, he has demonstrated firm confidence and belief in himself and his abilities, which bodes well for him this year.