The OKC Thunder have officially invested in the tank

OKC Thunder guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (2) and forward Darius Bazley (7) talk while sitting on the bench: Alonzo Adams-USA TODAY Sports
OKC Thunder guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (2) and forward Darius Bazley (7) talk while sitting on the bench: Alonzo Adams-USA TODAY Sports /

It’s a new world for Sam Presti who is reinventing how teams navigate rebuilding or tanking phases in the association. The OKC Thunder VP’s aggressive and astute dealmaking has resulted in unparalleled draft capital.  Yet, it turns out simply having a roster void of top 10 talents doesn’t guarantee a losing season.

Instead, this resiliency era club dove into games and until recently was one of the toughest outs for the opposition.  Regardless of who pulls on the jersey, they compete with the same level of intensity. While the players get hat tips for their effort much of the credit goes to head coach Mark Daigneault. In his first season at the helm, Daigneault’s ability to get his club ready to compete is unparalleled.

The combination of effort and quality game plans has produced highly entertaining matches and surprising wins against elite clubs. Clearly, the winning culture and compete level is thoroughly embedded within this organization.

Through two-thirds of the season, the Thunder are one of seven teams who haven’t lost more than three games in a row (that standard is on the line this evening). This presents a bit of a dilemma for Presti given the 34 accumulated draft picks over the next seven years (17 potential first-round picks, 17 potential second-round picks).

In order to capitalize on the draft stock, the stark truth is the Thunder need to slide down the ladder and lose more games. It sounds almost blasphemous to promote losing, yet improving the odds of getting a top draft pick in a class deep with talent is essential, particularly in this first year of the rebuild.

OKC Thunder get creative with tanking efforts

To that end, it took over 40 games to figure out precisely how to accomplish the dual goals of growing the talent while simultaneously padding the loss column.

Presti traded away the majority of the veteran talents for more draft picks. Al Horford and Mike Muscala are the only remaining vets. Horford has been shut down for the season although he’ll remain with the team in a mentorship role as Presti searches for a trade partner this offseason.

Additionally, the team isn’t rushing players back from injuries allowing them to fully heal. That’s not to imply players are rushed back under normal seasons. Rather, it’s common for players on a competing team to return as soon as possible but with the mandate to lose OKC can err on the side of getting everyone 100 percent healthy.

The main change is a focus on the young players and their development. For rookies Theo Maledon and Aleksej Pokusevski it equates to both getting starting assignments and experience facing opponents’ top stars. The learning curve is steep but each is benefitting from the experience.

Others on the roster are witnessing the benefits as well. Moses Brown emulated Luguentz Dort turning his two-way contract into a full-time varsity deal.  No doubt, Kenrich Williams was a name inquired about at the deadline. The Thunder kept him and it seems like he’s created a niche for himself within the core.

Several players on the roster are getting opportunities to shine via increased playing time and specific roles they can shine in.

Recently a new tweak has been added to the mix. The front office is signing players to 10-day contracts to get a better look at them in the Thunder system. It’s a common practice for teams headed to the postseason to utilize this practice as they seek to fill gaps in roster depth.

It’s unusual for a tanking team to utilize this method. However, it makes sense as Sam Presti is determined to craft his perfect rotation. Just as he invested in Dort and Brown he’s taking a shot at finding a hidden gem who could be the perfect fit.

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Two players were added on Monday via 10-day contracts. — guard, Justin Robinson, and forward Jaylen Hoard. They both were immediately added into the rotation appearing in the match that night versus the Pistons.

Hoard had a solid debut scoring 10 points, grabbing six boards (four on the offensive glass), as well as one steal and a block in a little over 22 minutes. The forward was also one of the few players who netted a positive plus/minus (+2) in the loss to Detroit.

As the team progresses through the final 22 games Thunder Nation can expect more of the same. The quartet who’ve solidified their position in the future core are Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Darius Bazley, Luguentz Dort, and Isaiah Roby. Each is out injured which again represents an opportunity for the rest of the roster to carve out their own role.

The clear side benefit is it seems like the Thunder have finally figured out a way to compile some extra “L’s” as they set their sights on the June 22nd lottery and July 29th NBA Draft.

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