More than just a hot start: OKC Thunder midseason report card

The OKC Thunder are out to prove that this is more than just a hot start to the season, and as we issue mid-season grades, it certainly feels like OKC is legit.

Dec 14, 2023; Sacramento, California, USA; Oklahoma City Thunder guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (2)
Dec 14, 2023; Sacramento, California, USA; Oklahoma City Thunder guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (2) / Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports
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Grading the OKC Thunder bench:

Cason Wallace, G, OKC Thunder: A

The Thunder traded up in the 2023 draft to get Wallace with the No. 10 pick. Obviously, he was their guy and they hoped he could eventually be a contributor, but he already is in year one.

Coming in as a defensive-minded prospect, he already fits the mold of an Oklahoma City player. However, his offense was not far behind as his NBA career began.

Wallace is averaging about seven points and has been a great shooter in his first half-season in the league. While he has fallen a bit from the league-leading percentage he was at earlier, the Kentucky product is nailing 41.4% of his shots from beyond the arc.

Through all of this, it is already clear that coach Mark Daigneault and the Thunder have an abundance of trust in Wallace. So far, he has filled in every time a starter has missed a game and has excelled.

More specifically, Wallace’s production and impact are almost always positive, independent of his playing time or role on the floor. 

Isaiah Joe, G, OKC Thunder: A-

The Thunder got lucky before last season when the Philadelphia 76ers decided they no longer wanted Joe. Safe to say, that is not a decision the Thunder will be making.

Carving his way into the rotation as a sharpshooter, Joe made a name for himself to end the 2023 season and was lights out to begin this season.

Shooting 42.4% from 3-point range on five attempts, he has been the catalyst of the Thunder’s scoring off the bench.

However, it would be irresponsible to explain Joe's impact on Oklahoma City this season without mentioning his vastly improved defense.

Sure, he is not a lockdown defender like Dort or Wallace, but so much of defense is about effort, which Joe never lacks.

His improvement on that end has made him a much more desirable option as the season goes along. It’s also why, despite his shooting slumps over the past few weeks, Joe has still been an integral piece of the Thunder’s wins.

Kenrich Williams, F, OKC Thunder: B+

Williams does not do anything spectacular, but he does do everything.

The most experienced bench player in the Thunder’s regular rotation has been the ultimate glue guy for the team in recent years and has helped them become a top team in the West. While Williams will see limited minutes many nights, there is no question that he will be an impactful player in the postseason.

Despite not playing in the playoffs yet, Williams fits the mold of exactly what the Thunder will need. He has shot 41% on his threes this season and has been an effective small-ball center.

Although it is not out of the question that Oklahoma City trades for a traditional backup big, Williams has shown he can hold his own inside and space the floor on the other end.

Jaylin Williams, C, OKC Thunder: B

It has been a rough adjustment for Williams to go from the starting center last season to sometimes not seeing the floor this season. Yet, he has remained a reliable option on a number of levels.

While his shooting has taken a dip since last season, making just 34.3% of his 3-point attempts, his defense has been great. Specifically, the Thunder can use him in a potential playoff matchup against the Denver Nuggets.

Nikola Jokic is notable for his carefree attitude in the regular season, but Williams still showed signs of a solution for him come May. With a 240-pound frame, the second-year player is uniquely fit to deal with some of the more stout big men that Oklahoma City has dealt with this season.

Aaron Wiggins, G, OKC Thunder: B+

“If they keep Dublin, I’ll be in the dunker spot when you need me.”

That was Wiggins’ response to Gilgeous-Alexander’s latest clever Instagram caption, and it is a perfect example of how he plays. As one of the smartest cutters on the team, Wiggins is always running around offensively, finding his spots.

It seems that he gets open at a ridiculous rate. Although his teammates cannot always find him, he breaks down the defense with some of the small things he does.

Like many other Thunder players, he has been a great 3-point shooter this season, making 48.6% of his looks. Meanwhile, he is also one of the Thunder’s most active defenders.

Simply put, Wiggins makes things happen. The former Maryland Terrapin may not get the same opportunities as guys like Dort, but he has shown he can hold his own against some of the toughest matchups on the perimeter.

As a team defender, he is also capable of breaking plays up consistently. He can’t always be in the perfect spot, but he will always be somewhere that catches his opponent off guard.

Ousmane Dieng, F, OKC Thunder: C+

The Thunder’s young project still looks like a work in progress.

While he has not gotten many opportunities with the Thunder, he has made the most of his time in the G League. The strides he is making there have translated to the NBA in small stretches.

With his frame, Dieng should be a viable option for the Thunder in the future. Considering his lack of NBA success, he should be easy to sign to an extension in 2025 if nothing changes.

Dieng makes sense as a backup forward in certain matchups, and giving him some opportunities to make mistakes and develop is the key to his eventual role on the Thunder.

While his 2023-24 season looks to be about as successful as his rookie year, the small things are coming together, and that is all Oklahoma City can ask from him as it navigates the top of the conference.

Vasilije Micic, G, OKC Thunder: C+

Micic finally came over to the NBA in the offseason, and through his first few weeks in Oklahoma City, it looked like he was not cut out for the league. But patience has been key, and the former EuroLeague MVP has become a contributor.

He came over with a reputation for his excellent passing, and he has not disappointed. The 30-year-old guard has averaged eight assists per 36 minutes, the best on the Thunder.

Although he has only averaged 12 minutes per game and is a questionable defender, Micic has been a catalyst for the Thunder’s offense at times and is showing that he can be a legitimate option for Daigneault as the season progresses.

Tre Mann, G, OKC Thunder: C+

While Mann has been afforded little opportunity this season, he has not been bad.

With just 13 appearances, Oklahoma City seems ready to move on from Mann. Even with the limited minutes, the third-year guard has shot it well. He is 20-of-40 overall and 8-of-19 from 3-point range.

Add in that he made his only free throw this season, and he is technically having a 50-40-90 campaign. Sure, Mann’s defense has not been great throughout his career, but he has made clear strides as a player in 2023-24.

Ultimately, it has been disappointing that Mann has played so little this season. He has NBA talent and will get to shine at some point, but it almost certainly won’t be in Oklahoma City.

Davis Bertans, F, OKC Thunder: C

After being added to the Thunder’s return in the draft night deal for Cason Wallace, Bertans was never guaranteed a role on this team. While he has not contributed much, his shooting ability will always make him an option.

Bertans is 9-of-22 from beyond the arc this season, good for 40%. With only 12 appearances, the eighth-year forward has not been given an opportunity to show off his elite shooting stroke.

But with the Thunder at 28-13 and Bertans not fitting the mold of a typical Thunder player, it is hard to argue with that decision.

Aleksej Pokusevski, F, OKC Thunder: D

An injury-riddled offseason likely ruined Pokusevski’s make-or-break season. Still, he has only got on the floor seven times and has more turnovers than made shots this season.

With his spot as the Thunder’s premier development project being taken by Dieng and his spot in the rotation gone for good, his time with the Thunder will likely be done after this season.

As a 7-footer who could dribble, shoot and make some great passes, Pokusevski looked like he was always an offseason away from being the guy Oklahoma City needed. 

Lindy Waters III, G, OKC Thunder: C+

With 15 appearances, Waters has had a different path than some of the others with limited opportunities. Most of his time on the court has come in the flow of the game, not garbage time. 

As Daigneault has said in the past, Waters is someone he can trust and has had a mostly neutral impact when he gets in games. While his reputation as an outside shooter had not come through in the past, Waters has shot 41.7% from 3-point range this season.

As the two-way player with the most action this season and players such as Mann and Pokusevski not in the Thunder’s plans, Waters is a strong candidate to get his contract converted to a standard deal as he did last season.

Olivier Sarr, C, OKC Thunder: C

While Waters is a strong candidate to have his two-way contract converted, Sarr may jump in front of him if the Thunder do not acquire another big by the trade deadline.

Although he got some run in the first few games while Jaylin Williams and Kenrich Williams were out of the lineup, Sarr has only played in five games since mid-November. He has some ability to stick around the league for some time, but there’s a possibility he never gets a chance to show that with the Thunder.

Keyontae Johnson, F, OKC Thunder: C

Johnson is nearly impossible to give a grade to. He has only played in two games with the Thunder and scored his first NBA bucket a few games ago.

Still, he has looked solid in his 23 total minutes and could be a player to watch over the next couple of seasons.

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