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They said rebuilding is hard. They said rebuilding takes time. The Philadelphia 76ers said it takes a process; the Phoenix Suns said you need a timeline.
As the NBA draft lottery approaches, the Oklahoma City Thunder have a chance to expedite this rebuild to a point where playoff basketball is a goal for soon, not a dream for eventually.
The Thunder have the fourth-best odds in the lottery and the rights to the pick of the Houston Rockets if it ends up at No. 5.
That’s important because this is widely perceived to be a five-man draft class. Oklahoma City has two shots at not just a high draft pick, but a game-changer, an All-Star, a potential All-NBA talent.
There’s Cade Cunningham, the 6-foot-8 point guard who has a 7-foot-1 wingspan, elite scoring upside, potentially great defense and strong passing. He could be a top-10 player in the league.
There’s Evan Mobley, 7-feet tall but able to run the court, pass and dribble, and be a defensive anchor with high-level play in both the post and perimeter. A unicorn.
Jalen Suggs is athletic, explosive, good on the ball and off, and led Gonzaga to the championship game. He has already shown that he’s a winner.
Jalen Green, whose high school dunk reels went viral regularly, has tricks in his bag that don’t rely on his athleticism. With a combination of shooting and driving ability, he become one of the better scorers in the league.
And Jonathan Kuminga, who at one point was the No. 1 prospect in the high school class of 2021 before reclassifying and graduating a year early. Moving up a class didn’t change anything; he showed out his potential on both ends of the floor with the G League Ignite alongside Green.
If the Thunder can get one of those picks, they’ll have a chance to develop another potential star next to Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. If their own pick does not fall and that of the Rockets drops to No. 5? The future could start now.
Now, Oklahoma City has done all it can to create its own luck, but the odds still don’t quite favor the team. The Thunder have a 45% chance of remaining at 4 or moving up. They have a 47.9% chance of getting the Rockets’ pick at No. 5. That’s about a 21.6% chance of ending up with both picks and more or less a coin flip of getting one.
And let’s be clear: Even if the Thunder do end up with two top-five picks, it’s unlikely that would spark an immediate playoff berth. Teams whose rotations revolve around 21-year-olds tend to not reach the postseason.
But there’s essentially a one-in-five chance that Oklahoma City gets two players with All-Star potential. There’s a one-in-five chance that this would-be tank job looks more like one year of bad basketball preceding legitimate, rational hope than a half-decade journey that we so often see in teams that put their faith in the lottery.
There’s absolutely no guarantee. The Thunder could end up with pick No. 8 and watch the Rockets use a top-four pick. But with cunning trades and rotation decisions, the Oklahoma City front office has done all it can to boost the odds as much as possible.
On Tuesday night, the Thunder will know whether they’re in position to get one franchise-altering player, whether they’ll have two shots, or if their luck has burst.
The NBA draft lottery is scheduled to begin at 7:30 p.m. Central Time.