OKC Thunder: Sam Presti’s eye for point guard talent witnessed all over NBA

With rumors swirling former OKC Thunder point guard Russell Westbrook could be headed home to LA, it got me thinking. What is it about point guards and how synonymous that position is with the Thunder?

Every team has the mandate to develop an identity and a culture. It provides a guiding principle for the players and offers direction for the franchise to aspire to. Catch the two annual matches between the Los Angeles Lakers and Boston Celtics and you’re sure to hear ‘steeped in history at least 10 times on the broadcast.

When Doc Rivers became the coach of the Clippers there was a big deal made out of the bench boss making sure the Lakers championship banners would be covered up for Clippers games. Doc was right,  nobody wants the constant reminder of failing to reach the finals for 50 years let alone the team you share arena space with owns 17 titles.

San Antonio is infamous for playing team ball and finding the hidden gem in every draft class. The Raptors have become known for their development system and ability to turn late first-round and even undrafted picks into core contributors.

As for the Thunder, the team has a reputation of being extremely professional and classy. The community is considered to have more of a college town atmosphere that endears the players who end up donning the OKC Thunder jersey.

Is OKC Thunder becoming synonymous with point guard excellence?

Yet, one of the recent calling cards for the Thunder focuses on a position – the point guard. Throughout the playoffs, it was common to witness former Thunder point guards playing a major role on their new teams.

A glance through the 2021 playoff participants serves up a lengthy list of former OKC Thunder point guards.

  • George Hill played for a short stint in OKC due to a thumb injury prior to his trade to the 76ers.
  • Albeit, Victor Oladipo is more of a combo guard than the point man. Regardless, his injury reverberated through the Heat lineup, and arguably his absence (and lost scoring) was a key factor in the uncharacteristic sweep Miami suffered in the first round.
  • Recent Thunder arrival Kemba Walker experienced a tough season in Boston but like many before him could end up raising his value in OKC.
  • Of all the former OKC Thunder point guards who logged minutes in the postseason, Lakers Dennis Schroder may have struggled the most relative to expectations.
  • The arrival of James Harden in Brooklyn made the Nets title favorites. Harden’s injury was arguably more of a factor for the Nets than the absence of Kyrie Irving.
  • Former Westbrook dance partner Cameron Payne showed out for the Suns. While he wasn’t as successful once Phoenix reached the Finals he was debatably the best sixth man guard of the postseason.
  • To that end, who would’ve thought Reggie Jackson would deliver the kind of A-level performance he offered the Clippers this summer? Jackson is better known for the conflict he dished while playing for the OKC Thunder showed his growth both on and off the court this postseason and should net a sizeable contract for his efforts this offseason.
  • Chris Paul finally reached his first NBA Finals after 16 years and while the Point God didn’t complete the task there is no denying how massive his effect was in leading the Suns to their successful season.
  • Rounding out the group is former favorite son Russell Westbrook who averaged a triple-double of 19 points, 10.4 rebounds, and a playoff leading 11.8 assists per game.

Walker began what could be the exit of several of the above players to new locations. Jackson will be seeking an upgrade to the one-year $2.3 million deal he signed last season to play for the Clippers. Likewise, Oladipo is an unrestricted free agent that wanted to play in Miami but the Heat may not be keen to re-sign him given his asking price and injury history.

Although Schroder was a factor in four of the six games versus the Suns his former Thunder backcourt partner got the best of him particularly late in the series. It’s likely his failure to help LeBron James push LA into the second round will place him in the hot seat as he too enters free agency.

Rumors are swirling Westbrook may be headed home to LA as the Lakers may seek a sign and trade for his services.  In the same Mark Spears Undefeated article the other veteran point guard on the Lakers shortlist is Chris Paul The Point God has a $44.2 million player option that he may exercise to ink a longer-term deal.

Ultimately, several of the former OKC Thunder point guards will have decisions to make this offseason and could be on the move.

Given so much buzz around the team’s former point guards it sort of puts all these silly trade rumors about Shai Gilgeous-Alexander into perspective. Ironically SGA is probably the safest of the above nine (and Harden). And that fact punctuates what GMs around the league are beginning to understand — Sam Presti may well be the best assessor of point guard talent.