2019-2020 Record: 44-28
Key Returning Players
Key Free Agents
- Billy Donovan (coach)
Fun fact: The Oklahoma City Thunder are the last team in the league without a head coach as of the writing of this preview. They’re going to need to fill that void quickly for us to really nail down the fantasy outlook of their roster, but we can definitely make some key judgment calls in the meantime.
The Thunder are in a bit of an awkward spot, but there’s optimism of OKC fans. Nearly half of the guaranteed salaries on the roster are coming off the books next season, and that’s not even including the team options for Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Darius Bazley. There is also a nice haul of future draft picks beyond this year from the Russell Westbrook/Chris Paul swap.
It wouldn’t be surprising to see the Thunder stand completely pat here and look to make a big splash in free agency next year when Giannis Antetokounmpo and Rudy Gobert are unrestricted free agents, as well as a plethora of mid-tier guys. There will be quite a few developing players available as restricted free agents as well that the Thunder could pair with budding star SGA.
A Chris Paul trade would be equally unsurprising, as CP3 proved yet again during the playoffs last season that he’s still elite when it comes to commanding the floor and raising the ceiling of the guys around him. SGA increased his scoring output by 8.2 points per game over his previous season with the Los Angeles Clippers, for example. Chris Paul is a name you’ll see in rumor mills all year as interest will be robust. The Lakers and the Bucks have already been linked to the 35-year-old point guard, and there are many months ahead before the trade deadline. Championship contenders will be intrigued by his leadership and experience, while tanking teams may be intrigued by his massive expiring contract with the chance to provide their fandom with some fun in the meantime. The Oklahoma City Thunder had a 0.2% chance of making the playoffs to start last season and they almost toppled the Houston Rockets. It was probably the best series in the playoffs. Every team in the NBA should have some interest in a guy that can do that for a franchise.
As Chris Paul goes, so will the Thunder. If he stays on the team, they’ll continue to be competitive night in and night out. If he goes, they’ll turn their attention fully and completely towards a youth movement. I don’t expect them to re-sign Danilo Gallinari. His stated goal is to play for a championship contender and, quite frankly, keeping him will prevent the development of younger guys.
The other headline is that coach Billy Donovan is now out. He recently joined the Chicago Bulls as their new head coach. It’s a tad bit surprising that the Thunder front office decided to part ways with a head coach that had a 60.8% winning percentage, especially considering how well the Thunder played versus expectations. The Thunder will look to hire a new coach that will theoretically help the growth of their young guys: SGA, Bazley, Luguentz Dort, and whoever they draft with the number 25 pick in this year’s draft.
Bottom line: The young guys will get a ton of playtime and the Thunder probably won’t win a lot of games. But everyone said that last year too…
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It will be Chris Paul running the show here until further notice. CP3 increased his scoring output last season since he didn’t have to play beside James Harden. Yahoo! had CP3 ranked 7th in 9-cat by the end of the season and the guy has continued to be elite for over a decade in fantasy hoops. The only thing that might throw any type of wrench in his value would be a trade to another team. Even then, his elite value is safe, as you’ll just see different kinds of stats. On a better team, you’ll see more assists (last year was a career-low) but, if he stays on the Thunder, expect more points like last season.
Take him and take him high, but he is getting up there in age and getting the dreaded DNPs due to “load management” isn’t out of the question. There are sexier options out there, but Chris Paul is relatively safe to take anywhere from the middle to the end of the first round. If he somehow slips to the second round, rush to snag him.
Behind Chris Paul is another intriguing guy in Dennis Schroder. Schroder returns after a career year in OKC, and it couldn’t have come at a better time, as he finds himself in a contract year and looks to remain hot. He can easily duplicate his 18.9 points and 4 assists per game from a year ago, but the question will be his efficiency. OKC keeping Chris Paul will help that quite a lot. He put up his best year on effective field goal percentage over any season by at least 3% thanks in large part to shooting a career-high 38.5% from beyond the arc. Much of that can be attributed to playing alongside a premiere point guard.
Target Schroder aggressively in the middle rounds due to his contract status and possibility of Chris Paul moving to another team. His 30+ minutes per night are safe and OKC is going to require his scoring ability, no matter what happens to Chris Paul. He’ll either reprise his sixth man role or be the starter. He’ll be fine in either capacity.
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is the man of the hour in OKC and you better be reaching for him after seeing the increases in points, rebounds, and blocks over the previous season. Gilgeous-Alexander finished ranked 26th on Yahoo! and it’s not unreasonable to think he could replicate that performance. He’s someone to consider taking from the turn of the first to second rounds if you’re high enough on him. Competitive leagues could see him come off the board in the middle of the first round.
Luguentz Dort returns and had a very impressive showing in last year’s playoffs. Unfortunately, defensive prowess doesn’t really translate to fantasy hoops. Leave him on the waiver wire. Seriously. Don’t even consider the late round flier. He shot a putrid 39.4% from the field last season. The only reason I would consider taking him would be in a very deep league, in which case he could produce late-round value with steals and the potential to become a more efficient three-point shooter.
Hamidou Diallo also returns and is someone to leave on the wire. He did see increased production last season, but that coincided with increased playing time. His per-36 numbers were essentially the same and they weren’t good.
Darius Bazley will be in a good spot to produce, but he’ll need to improve on his 39.4% shooting to be worthy of a roster spot. He can, and what makes him more appealing than Dort at that same shooting percentage is that Bazley shot 34.8% from beyond the arc. Those are really strange numbers and it means most of his improvement needs to come at the rim. That seems doable for an NBA player going into his second season. His per-36 numbers look solid with 10.9 points per game and 7.8 rebounds to go with 1.3 blocks per game. He’s even more appealing if the Thunder go the youth direction, so he’s worth a late round pick and a roster spot as a stash assuming he can see increased opportunity.
Abdel Nader could come back on a team option, but isn’t appealing in any format. He’s also 27 year old and doesn’t quite fit the mold the Thunder are trying to build. Terrance Ferguson will come back on guaranteed money and is young, but is equally unappealing.
If the Thunder re-sign Danilo Gallinari, he could see some time in the swing position. Lu Dort could also see some time here, but my guess is that they’ll look to sign someone via draft or free agency to help in this position. If they don’t do that, Bazley becomes very appealing as the only real option.
At power forward, the Thunder will be featuring a giant black hole. No joke. Sans Danilo Gallinari, there isn’t anyone on the roster to adequately fill this position. The Thunder should be busy looking, as there isn’t a great chance Gallinari is re-signed.
Mike Muscala will be returning on a partially guaranteed contract, but he’s 29 years old so I wouldn’t look for the Thunder to invest in giving him a lot of playing time. His per-36 numbers are nice with 14.2 points, 6.8 rebounds, and 2.5 assists on 41/38/82 shooting splits, so he’s always someone to monitor for DFS. Nerlens Noel fits that same mold, but I wouldn’t draft either of these guys in a season-long league. Deonte Burton is a hard avoid in all leagues, even if the Thunder pick up the team option.
Continue to monitor this situation throughout the offseason because whoever ends up getting signed will have a lot of opportunity in OKC. They could opt for an older veteran on a one-year deal who has good locker room presence, but it’s more likely they’ll pursue a young player hungry to prove themselves and willing to sign a team-friendly contract. The salary cap shrinking is a very real and serious thing to think about right now for a lot of teams, especially in smaller markets.
At center you’ll have perennially overlooked Steven Adams at the helm in a contract year. Yahoo! had him ranked number 81 at the end of last season in 9-cat head-to-head and that’s probably an accurate spot. If you find yourself in need of a center towards the end of the middle rounds, he doesn’t have a huge upside but is likely to stay put in OKC and produce at a steady rate, assuming he doesn’t get injured or supplanted by a younger player.
It will be interesting to see if the Thunder bring back Nerlens Noel. If they do, I’m considering him towards the end of all my drafts. He had a bit of a revival last season in a reserve role, as he saw more minutes than his previous two seasons. His per-36 numbers have always been outstanding and they’re buoyed by the defensive stats. Last season, though, Noel averaged 14.3 points, 9.6 rebounds, 1.9 steals, and 2.9 blocks per game. Aside from scoring, production in the rest of the categories was down. If he’ll agree to a team-friendly short-term contract, he could be in line to produce late round value, playing roughly 20 minutes off the bench.
- Who will be the new coach?
- Billy Donovan is out. The Thunder have publicly said they are going to go for a “lower profile” coach. At the top of their wish list is Will Weaver, the current coach of the NBL’s Sydney Kings. Weaver would be good as a developmental coach and has worked with Kenny Atkinson, Brett Brown, and Sam Hinkie, among others. Bucks assistant and Mike Budenholzer protege, Charles Lee, is also a candidate. Lee is only 35 years old. Either way, it’s clear the Thunder are focused on bringing someone in to develop their young talent, which bodes well for SGA, Lou Dort, and others.
- Who will the Thunder draft?
- They don’t have a high draft pick, but the thing to like here is the opportunity. Two starting forward positions are up for grabs and you could make the case that center and point guard are as well. SGA is really the only safe asset on the roster. Players like Daniel Oturu, Isaiah Stewart, and Tyler Bey should be available that late and would make for excellent big man additions to this squad. Look for them to draft a project as they are far from “win now” mode.
- Will Chris Paul be traded?
- I truly think this is 50/50, but for the good of CP3 fans he should be traded to a contender. The Thunder are going nowhere fast and he’s at the twilight of his career. If Chris Paul heads to the Lakers or Bucks, SGA would dominate the ball with Dennis Schroder seeing increased usage as well. If Paul stays, he’ll put up elite numbers on a mediocre team. This will be a storyline until a resolution is reached.