By Dylan Welch
Many bright, young faces have jumped onto the Thunder’s roster in the past two years. We’ve seen Oklahoma City add four rookies in each of the past 2 NBA drafts. That’s a lot of intake so quickly for a 15-man roster. With more draft picks still on the way, Oklahoma City will have to make tough decisions regarding who will make their final roster. The Thunder already must make such decisions this offseason.
Currently, the Thunder have two roster spots over the allowed amount by the NBA. The Thunder will need to get rid of 2 players via trade or waiving to meet the required amount of 15. They have until the start of the season, but given their lack of choice so far, we can assume they’ll take their time. Some possible names to be cut are Derrick Favors, Vit Krejci, Theo Maledon, and Ty Jerome. All are either not on the team’s current timeline or have been pushed out of the rotation by recent selections in the draft. My guess is that the team will finalize a buyout agreement with Derrick Favors and waive Vit Krejci. They are the oldest of the group and haven’t been on the team as long as Ty and Theo.
Now, as for the players who will make the roster, what is their current status on the team? Several players on this year’s roster need to improve to keep their spots secure for the future. In an exercise to lay out whose roster spots are safe and whose may not be, I will be tiering all Thunder players based on prominence in their role and what this year means for them.
Tier I: Core Players: Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Josh Giddey, Chet Holmgren, Luguentz Dort
These are all players that Thunder fans should be familiar with, now and in the future. The team intends on keeping these players when they start to be competitive again, and they should be expected to be the majority of the team’s starting 5. Gilgeous-Alexander and Dort each acquired via trade and signing, respectively, and have led the team through its’s rebuild over the past two years. Holmgren and Giddey were each acquired in separate drafts during this Thunder rebuild and seem to bear the star talent that should soon blossom in Oklahoma City.
Tier II: Rotational Players: Kenrich Williams, Tre Mann, Jeremiah Robinson-Earl, Aaron Wiggins, Jalen Williams, Mike Muscala
This next group of players rounds out who will be seeing playing time for most of the year for the Thunder. Each of these players have shown that they have serious talent, whether it be in the regular season, G-League, or Summer League. Strong showings from Jalen Williams and Aaron Wiggins in the Summer League indisputably puts them into the rotation. Jeremiah Robinson- Earl and Tre Mann’s play last season also earns them consistent minutes. Recent contract extensions given to Mike Muscala and Kenrich Williams this offseason also locks them into the rotation.
Tier III: Needs to Improve: Aleksej Pokusevski, Darius Bazley
This short tier shows players drafted by OKC who may not be on the roster much longer if they don’t show improvement this year. If Darius Bazley doesn’t take strides in his offensive game, this may be his last year in the NBA. Pokusevski has less to be worried about, but he needs to start being more consistent unless he wants to be out of the rotation. Both need productive years to earn their way back into the rotation, or they may be off the roster.
Tier IV: G-League Guys: Ousmane Dieng, Jaylin Williams, Lindy Waters III, Eugene Omoruyi
Each player, minus Omoruyi, could likely get significant time on the Thunder next season. If the season goes sour and the team starts to tank, these players could be called up to get some reps. Ousmane Dieng is likely to see the least time in the G-League and may even belong in the tier above, but will likely get some stints on the Blue throughout the season. Jaylin Williams won’t be getting as much playing time on the Thunder as second-rounders in the past two years have. Lindy Waters III may get his contract converted if he plays strong enough this year. Eugene Omoruyi should get some small minutes for the Thunder but big minutes for the Blue following an impressive summer league performance.
Tier V: Fringe Guys: Theo Maledon, Vit Krejci, Ty Jerome, Derrick Favors
These are the players discussed earlier. More impressive players have bumped Jerome and Maledon out of the rotation in the past season. Favors and Krejci make little sense on the team, considering their age and fit. As said before, I would prefer to cut Krejci and Favors to finalize the roster. This tier could welcome several more players next season as the Thunder will continue drafting 3 or 4 times per draft for the next several years. The Thunder will continue to sort out their rotation using their bounty of draft picks, leading to more and more falling out of a role in Oklahoma City.