One thought about every Thunder player heading into training camp

·9 min read

NBA media day and training camp kick off this month, marking the unofficial start of the 2022-23 regular season.

The Oklahoma City Thunder’s training camp and preseason will span from Sept. 27 to Oct. 13. The regular season starts on Oct. 19. This will be the first time players and coaches will speak with the media in months.

The Thunder currently have 20 players on the roster. That total will need to be cut to 17 by the time the season begins. For the most part, who will make the opening night roster is pretty much figured out save the last couple of bench spots.

Let’s take a look at the biggest question mark heading into training camp for 19 players. No. 2 pick Chet Holmgren will be excluded from this exercise for obvious reasons.

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander

Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

Can he reaffirm fans his desire to stay?

There’s been a lot of unsustainable talk recently from media and fans outside of Oklahoma City over the trade availability of Shai Gilgeous-Alexander.

Even though the talks appear to have no real backing, it has caused concern among the fan base over Gilgeous-Alexander’s desire to stay in Oklahoma City for the long term.

Despite starting the first year of a five-year deal with no opt-outs, several recent examples exist of players with similar contracts asking out of their current situation.

The possibility of Gilgeous-Alexander demanding a trade has always been a sticking point with the fan base, but the level of paranoia dialed up over the last couple of weeks.

The last time he spoke publicly, Gilgeous-Alexander made it known he likes the situation he’s in and is the type of person who will voice his concerns if he had any.

It’ll be interesting to see if he’ll get asked about his feelings toward the team now after the offseason it had with gaining and losing the No. 2 pick for the season.

Josh Giddey

Alonzo Adams-USA TODAY Sports

Shooting. Shooting. Shooting.

When the Thunder added renowned shooting coach Chip Engelland to their staff this offseason, the first player that immediately crossed the mind of fans was Josh Giddey.

It’s well known that shooting is Giddey’s biggest weakness offensively right now, so adding Engelland could pay massive dividends.

It’s unrealistic to expect immediate results from Giddey after just a couple of months working with Engelland. Reshaping a player’s shooting form is a multi-year process that could differ in results due to variables out of the player’s control such as luck.

But I don’t think it’s totally unfair to expect at least some improvement from Giddey. The improvement doesn’t need to be tangible. It can be in his shot base looking better and his process of shooting the ball from deep improving. Preseason and training camp will be the most relaxed environments all season long where Giddey can experiment without fearing results.

Regardless, the shooting dilemma with Giddey will not be answered during training camp or this season, really. It will be a multi-year process that can produce various results because shooting can be an inconsistent skill.

Lu Dort and Kenrich Williams

Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Thoughts on new contract?

I decided to group these two players because they both received contract extensions from the Thunder and were their biggest offseason moves outside of the draft.

After declining his team option, the Thunder signed Dort to a five-year, $87.5 million deal. Three weeks later, the Thunder handed Williams a four-year, $27.2 million extension.

This will be the first time either player will speak with the media since they signed their contracts. It’ll be interesting to see how the negotiations went down for both players — especially for Dort given Thunder general manager Sam Presti said the team was unlikely to agree to a new deal with him just five days prior.

Darius Bazley

Alonzo Adams-USA TODAY Sports

Why the number change?

Darius Bazley changed his jersey number from 7 to 55 over the summer. Coincidentally, it happened right after Holmgren was drafted and asked for the No. 7.

Holmgren clarified during his rookie presser that the number became available as he was picking his jersey number, and that he didn’t have any conversations with Bazley over it.

The reason why Bazley switched numbers and why he chose the rare 55 is unknown.

Jeremiah Robinson-Earl

Alonzo Adams-USA TODAY Sports

Foot update.

Jeremiah Robinson-Earl is more than seven months removed from undergoing surgery to fix a fractured foot. Since then, Robinson-Earl has played a handful of games across the last few 2021-22 regular-season games and 2022 Summer League.

I’m sure Robinson-Earl has put the foot injury behind him and will be fully healthy at the start of the season, but foot injuries are pesky.

It’s noteworthy to see how Robinson-Earl adjusts back to playing regular minutes instead of the limited minutes he’s seen so far in his return.

Aleksej Pokusevski

Jim Rassol-USA TODAY Sports

New lease on his professional life.

The Holmgren news gave several Thunder players a new lease on their careers with Aleksej Pokusevski headlining the group.

The presumed starter now vacates 30-plus minutes to the remainder of the roster for the season. Before Holmgren’s injury, Pokusevski’s prospects for staying with the team beyond next season looked bleak.

Now, Pokusevski will get a fair shot at earning consistent minutes and to prove to the Thunder he is worth keeping around for a second contract.

Ousmane Dieng

Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

Can he stay on the Thunder?

Holmgren’s injury threw a wrench in the team’s plans. One of those plans included Ousmane Dieng presumably playing a lot of G League minutes to start the season.

Dieng will get a chance to vacuum many of Holmgren’s minutes if he impresses enough in training camp and preseason. Dieng will likely still receive G League assignments, but if he can get rotation minutes to start the season and keep them, that is a huge win for both parties.

Jalen Williams

Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

Can he crack the starting lineup?

Much like the last two seasons, the Thunder will not have a fixed starting lineup and will likely experiment as the season progresses.

At 21 years old, Jalen Williams is viewed as the most-ready rookie out of the healthy bunch. If Williams can carry his summer league performance into the regular season, it’s only a matter of time before he becomes a regular starter.

Tre Mann

Alonzo Adams-USA TODAY Sports

Can he start off hot?

Across the board, Tre Mann’s performance grew significantly better following the All-Star break during his rookie season. After a slow start, Mann turned it around in February. He averaged 15.7 points on 51.9 true shooting percentage in 31 minutes a night in his final 15 games.

Mann will likely not receive the usage ratings he enjoyed following last year’s All-Star break, but if he can maintain being an efficient scorer, he will definitely avoid losing minutes in a crowded backcourt.

Jaylin Williams

Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Can he stay with the Thunder?

In all likelihood — barring an overly impressive training camp and preseason — Jaylin Williams will start the season with the G League’s OKC Blue.

After that, it’s a matter of how many games Williams plays with the Blue instead of the Thunder. The second-round rookie needs major improvement on his offensive game, but the Thunder have always been the type of franchise to reward those who work hard, and Williams definitely fits that mold.

Lindy Waters III

Bruce Kluckhohn-USA TODAY Sports

Can he stay on the Thunder and earn a full-time deal?

Lindy Waters III is in a unique situation. His two-way deal was signed for two seasons: last year and this year. This means Waters III will be limited to just 50 NBA games until signed to a full-time deal.

Waters III certainly showed out last season. He averaged 36.3% from 3 on nearly six attempts a game, but with the Thunder adding a new rookie class, rotation minutes are going to be hard to come by for an undrafted 25-year-old.

If Waters III impresses enough in training camp and preseason and earns regular-season minutes, the chances of him being signed onto a full-time NBA contract significantly increase.

Aaron Wiggins

Matt Marton-USA TODAY Sports

Can he stay in the rotation?

Aaron Wiggins worked his way from a two-way deal to a full-time deal last season, but that does not guarantee rotation minutes for this season.

Wiggins will be in a battle to get minutes as the Thunder added a new rookie class to their roster. Due to his age (23 years old) and draft status (55th pick), he is a prime candidate to lose minutes due to other players being younger with higher ceilings.

But as Wiggins mentioned in his exit interview, he does not fear dropping on the Thunder development totem pole and welcomes the extra competition.

“That’s how teams get better,” said Wiggins. “You bring in guys that are good, and it kind of increases the competitive level within the organization, within the group. I mean, obviously that’s going to be a big motivation behind not only myself but for a lot of other players to kind of push themselves a little bit harder.”

Mike Muscala

Can he continue to shoot the ball well in OKC?

Alonzo Adams-USA TODAY Sports

Since joining the Thunder, Mike Muscala has had some of his best shooting seasons of his career. In 125 games spanning three seasons, Muscala has shot 39.2% from deep on four attempts a game.

Muscala’s role with the team will likely remain the same. He will not see a ton of game action, but he will be relied on as a locker room leader.

The rest

Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports

Who stays and who goes?

I decided to group the remaining five players together as their immediate future with the team is not secure.

The remaining five are Derrick Favors, Theo Maledon, Vit Krejci, Ty Jerome and Eugene Omoruyi.

Among those five, only three will be on the roster at the start of the regular season. Due to their contract status, Favors (who is set to make $10.2 million) and Omoruyi (who occupies the second two-way spot) are safe bets to take two of those spots.

Which means that the final roster spot will likely come down to Maledon, Krejci and Jerome. The winner will likely be decided based on their training camp and preseason performance.

Regardless of which three make the roster, the decision will not matter in the grand scheme of things for the Thunder. This is just a fun little roster spot battle for players that will likely be at the end of the bench to start the season.

Story originally appeared on Thunder Wire