One Question for Each Thunder Player to Answer in 2023

Luguentz Dort #5, Jeremiah Robinson-Earl #50, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander #2 and Kenrich Williams #34 of the Oklahoma City Thunder (Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images)
Luguentz Dort #5, Jeremiah Robinson-Earl #50, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander #2 and Kenrich Williams #34 of the Oklahoma City Thunder (Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images) /

2022 was a step in the right direction for a young Thunder team hoping to establish itself as a perennial contender. Last week we took a look at some of the key lessons that we learned about each player on the roster over the course of the past year. In this article, we’ll break down one key question for each Thunder player that we hope to see answered before 2023 is over.

Thunder Starters

Can Shai Gilgeous-Alexander continue to make 90 percent of his free throws?

Shai was an 81 percent career free-throw shooter coming into the 2022-2023 season. Through 29 games in 2022, he has taken this aspect of his game to new heights. He’s currently leading the league in free throws made (277), and he’s tied for the lead in overall free throw percentage (93). He should continue to get to the line at a torrid pace considering it isn’t much else opposing teams can do to shut him down apart from fouling him.

Can Josh Giddey be a 35 percent three-point shooter?

Josh Giddey has spoken on multiple occasions about the work he’s been doing with new Thunder shooting coach Chip Engelland. Giddey is attempting fewer three-pointers per game than he did last season, but he has improved his three-point shooting percentage from 26 percent in 2021-2022 to 32 percent through 27 games so far in 2022-2023. Could the ongoing influence of Engelland, one of the most well-respected shooting coaches in the entire NBA, help Giddey further unlock this aspect of his game?

How efficient can Lu Dort be on offense?

Through 31 games, Lu Dort is attempting the least shots per game since his rookie year when he averaged six field goal attempts and one three-pointer per game. His percentages are nearly identical to where they were one year ago. Dort is shooting 40 percent from the field on 12 shots per game and making 32 percent of his three-pointers while averaging five attempts per contest. Is this the most efficient version of Lu Dort that we’ll see?

Will Jalen Williams be a first-team All-Rookie?

Fans have to love what they are seeing from Jalen Williams so far. Williams is scoring nearly 11 points per game while averaging three rebounds and three assists in 27 minutes per game. He contributes on the defensive end as well, and he produces highlight-reel-worthy dunks on a near-nightly basis. He started all but two games in December while averaging nearly 31 minutes a night. He should have plenty of opportunity to continue his run of success, although he’ll certainly have some strong competition for a spot on the All-Rookie first team.

Will Aleksej Pokusevski hold down a starting spot?

Poku started 12 of 61 games during the 2021-2022 season. He’s been a mainstay in the starting lineup more often this season despite playing only two more minutes per game than he did one year ago. He’s been included in the starting five for 23 of the 29 games he’s been active for. He’s increased his scoring from where it was one year ago while averaging over one block per game. Most notably, he’s improved his three-point shooting percentage from 29 percent in 2021-2022 to 36 percent so far in 2022-2023. He got off to a hot start at the beginning of the season and has cooled down more recently, but he’s proving that he can be a regular contributor to this team. The question that remains is whether he’ll primarily contribute from the jump or as a substitution off the bench. Though, with the recent injury, it is unclear how much Aleksej Pokusevski will play in the second half of the season.

Key Reserves

Will Isaiah Joe become a permanent rotation player?

Joe went from averaging six minutes per game through the first 17 games of the season to playing 17 minutes or more during seven of the Thunder’s last eight games. He’s averaging ten points, three rebounds, one assist, and one steal per game during that time with an overall plus/minus of 5.4. His strong play has been one of the surprises of the season and it’s reasonable to expect that he’ll be rewarded with more minutes.

Can Jeremiah Robinson-Earl be a reliable interior defender?

Before Jeremiah Robinson-Earl went down with an ankle sprain, he was averaging nine points and five rebounds per game on 49 percent shooting from the floor and 38 percent from three. His offensive rating jumped from 108 in the 2021-2022 season to 124 through 26 appearances in 2022-2023. At this point, many of the questions about JRE’s game are related to his defense. Robinson-Earl is the closest thing the Thunder have to a true center and he often guards the opposing team’s toughest interior threat. His defensive rating so far in the 22-23 season (113) is the same as it was during his rookie season. For Robinson-Earl to stay on the court – especially when the Thunder are trying to compete – he’ll have to improve his skills on the defensive end.

Is Aaron Wiggins a true three-point shooting threat?

Wiggins shot 30 percent from three on three attempts per game during his rookie season. That’s not much to get excited about. This year has been a different story. Wiggins is only shooting two threes per game through 24 appearances this season, but he’s making 37 percent of his attempts. His scoring is down, but all of his key shooting percentages (including his true shooting percentage) are up from one year ago. Wiggins already looks like a great value considering where he was drafted, and that will become even more apparent if he’s able to keep his three-point shooting percentage above 35 percent.

Can Tre Mann break out of his sophomore slump?

Mann is one of the few Thunder players who isn’t off to the best start this year. There are signs that he may be close to turning it around. The OKC Thunder assigned Mann to the NBA G-League where he played two games posting 35 and 40 points respectively.

Will Kenrich Williams be the Thunder’s best bench player this year?

Everyone knows Mark Daigneault loves to play with different starting lineups. Nine players have been in the starting lineup for at least three games, including Kenrich Williams. That said, only seven players are averaging more than twenty minutes per game. Six of them (SGA, Giddey, Dort, J-Dub, Poku, and JRE) have started more than half of the games they’ve appeared in. Kenrich is the lone exception. He’s playing 22 minutes per night, but 21 of his 24 appearances have come in a reserve role. He’s pitching in seven points, four rebounds, and two assists per game while shooting 53 percent from the floor and 38 percent from three. The Thunder will take that every night.

How much longer will Darius Bazley be on the team?

Everyone knew the stakes for Bazley were high when he wasn’t offered an extension before the season began. Sam Presti has a reputation for not letting players get to restricted free agency, preferring to extend or trade them before that time comes. Bazley will be an RFA during the upcoming offseason, and the clock may be running out for his time in Oklahoma City. Bazley is a nice player, but it’s unclear to what degree he fits into OKC’s future plans. His playing time has been sporadic this year with multiple DNP-CDs, and he’s averaging fewer minutes this season than he has in his entire career. He’s got some nice skills and could still be a quality NBA player, but nobody should be surprised if he’s playing for another team by the end of the year whether by trade or free agency.

Rest of the Bench

Will Jaylin Williams crack the Thunder’s regular rotation?

Jaylin Williams has some obvious skills. He’s shown flashes of offensive potential during his time in the G-League. Ultimately, it will be tough for him to see regular playing time at the NBA level because of the many young players the Thunder already have who need regular minutes. Perhaps he could see time if the Thunder lose another big man to injury before JRE and Ousmane Dieng are able to come back, but the Thunder also isn’t afraid to play with a small ball lineup.

How big an immediate impact will Chet Holmgren have?

Remember that this list isn’t just about the 2022-2023 season. We’re looking out into the entire year ahead, which should include Chet Holmgren’s NBA debut at the beginning of the 2023-2024 season. Excitement will be as high as it’s been in years to see Chet join a Thunder team that already includes an All-NBA level talent in Shai Gilgeous-Alexander plus several interesting young players. Don’t forget that the Thunder will likely add another lottery pick from the 2023 draft as well.

Will Lindy Waters III get an NBA contract?

Waters will be an RFA at the end of the current season. You can debate whether or not he’s done enough to earn an NBA contract, but that’s likely what he’ll be looking for – either with the Thunder or with another team. Waters has been a great story with the Thunder as a local product (he graduated from Norman North and played four years at Oklahoma State University) and he’s provided solid contributions during his limited time on the court. The issue is that the Thunder will likely be adding another lottery pick to the fold next year along with two second-round picks. Space on the roster is tight, and there may not be room to keep Waters around.

When will Ousmane Dieng stick with the Thunder?

Dieng’s NBA ceiling is high, and there will come a time when he’s playing consistent minutes with the Thunder on a nightly basis. He’s also a 19-year-old who has spent the majority of his time so far this year playing with the Blue. The Thunder have no reason to rush Dieng’s development along, especially with his recent wrist injury. Perhaps they choose to play it slow with him. Eventually, fans will get to see Dieng contributing to the Thunder, and it will be when the coaching staff decides the time is right.

How much longer will Mike Muscala get minutes?

The Thunder resigned Mike Muscala for a one-year veteran’s minimum deal last off-season. He’s playing the least amount of minutes per game since his first year in OKC in 19-20 when the Thunder still had Steven Adams and Nerlens Noel. His shot attempts are also down from where they were one year ago. Muscala is a fan favorite, but he’s also the oldest player on a team that is prioritizing youth and development. What will his role be as the season goes on and once JRE and Ousmane Dieng are healthy again?

Can Eugene Omoruyi function on defense?

Omoruyi is a 6-7 forward on a team that is already small as-is. He likes to play inside, and the results are often a mixed bag. His defensive rating of 111 isn’t bad, but he’s allowing opponents to shoot 58 percent on two-point attempts and 63 percent within 10 feet of the basket. He’ll turn 26 later this season, so he probably is what he is at this point. He’s had some fun moments this year, such as a 22-point outburst against the Toronto Raptors on November 11th, but he’s likely not a major part of the Thunder’s future.

Next. Inside the process of assigning players to the NBA G-League. dark