OKC Thunder have shown the power of being unconventional

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander #2 of the Oklahoma City Thunder (Photo by David Berding/Getty Images)
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander #2 of the Oklahoma City Thunder (Photo by David Berding/Getty Images) /

The OKC Thunder have built one of the best young cores in the entire NBA. After a 16-win improvement a year ago, the Thunder are still expected by many to take yet another leap. However, this will not sway OKC Thunder bench boss Mark Daigneault from continuing to explore the team’s roster.

While many NBA teams attempt to narrow down their rotation to as few as eight players a night to count on, the OKC Thunder have been comfortable mixing and matching different lineups, sharing minutes around the roster, and even getting plain funky at times. “Roster exploration” is what Mark Daigneault calls it. Who was an assistant on Billy Donovan’s staff during the 2019-20 season as he rolled out an unconventional lineup that sparked a top-five-seeded Thunder run.

The OKC Thunder have seen the power of being unconventional, and it paid off in a big way with Shai Gilgeous-Alexander.

At Sam Presti’s annual preseason media session to set the table for Monday’s Media Day, where we will talk to every OKC Thunder player and head coach Mark Daigneault, he highlighted why being unorthodox is such an advantage.

The Oklahoma City Thunder rolling out a three-guard lineup that featured Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Dennis Schroder, and Chris Paul not only allowed the team to compile wins in a year they were predicted to have “0.2 percent odds to make the postseason,” but it also allowed them to gain confidence in Gilgeous-Alexander.

Seeing the then second-year player get minutes on and off the ball and thrive made it easy to hand him a fully loaded max contract extension as the clock struck midnight upon his July eligibility just a few Summers ago despite only playing 100 games.

A year ago, Mark Daigneault used that method to find a ton of valuable lineups that helped the Thunder stock up wins. Few other coaches would feel comfortable having Kenrich Williams play sustained minutes at the five or Josh Giddey and Jalen Williams spending time as the lone “post players” in a given lineup.

Mixing and matching allowed them to have backup plans against many different lineups, keep opponents on their heels, and give much-needed developmental minutes to their youngsters in a variety of spots.

So, if anyone thought Mark Daigneault would be rolling out more conventional rotations this season, think again. It is (rightfully) another year of roster exploration.

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