How should the Thunder rebuild around Shai Gilgeous-Alexander?

Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images
Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images /

The Oklahoma City Thunder appear headed toward a rebuild, but how should they complement ascendant young point guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander?

With head coach Billy Donovan out the door and point guard Chris Paul potentially following him, the Oklahoma City Thunder appear headed for a rebuild. However, after trading Russell Westbrook and Paul George last offseason, the team has the assets to build around new centerpiece Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, a promising young player who improved on a strong rookie season as a sophomore.

Gilgeous-Alexander came into the NBA out of Kentucky with a pro-ready game and has only improved as a scorer since gaining a larger role in Oklahoma City. Even the Clippers were hesitant to trade him in the deal that eventually landed Kawhi Leonard and Paul George in Los Angeles, as the young point guard’s play suggests All-Star potential.

The Thunder have Danilo Gallinari and Andre Roberson coming off of their books this offseason, so Oklahoma City should have some spending power in free agency. However, a subpar free agent class may not catch Sam Presti’s eye in 2020.

Bringing Gallinari back may be a priority, as the veteran’s playstyle aligns very well with what Gilgeous-Alexander brings to the table. However, with Presti looking toward the future as far as draft capital goes, tying up so much many in an aging veteran may not be the right play. Oklahoma City will likely let Gallinari walk, that is unless it’s possible to bring him back on some sort of short-term deal. Roberson, meanwhile, is as good as gone, with Lu Dort filling his role admirably and providing a bit more of a scoring threat at a cheaper price point.

Dort is likely to start alongside Gilgeous-Alexander for the foreseeable future, assuming Paul is moved. Trading the 35-year-old point guard will dictate how Oklahoma City spends in the offseason and could land the team with even more draft capital.

Steven Adams should remain a part of the team’s plans as a pick-and-roll threat and dominant presence on the glass, and considering his trade kicker, other teams may be unwilling to take on his contract. While he could walk in free agency after next season, Oklahoma City could explore other big men in the coming years like Andre Drummond, Rudy Gobert, Marc Gasol, Hassan Whiteside, or even Serge Ibaka. Of that group, Drummond may align best with the team’s timeline at age 27.

Once the Thunder get a pick-and-roll complement for Gilgeous-Alexander, landing shooters and another dominant scorer should be the next priorities. If Presti truly wants to accelerate his rebuild, he could trade some of Oklahoma City’s many first-round draft picks for a star like Bradley Beal, who the Washington Wizards could be willing to part with at the right price.

Beal would be a tremendous fit alongside Gilgeous-Alexander, as a volume scorer who can knock down the 3-point shot. landing a shooting guard like that alongside the young star could keep defenses guessing and lead the Thunder back to the postseason in short order.

However, considering his contract extension, a trade for Beal is unlikely unless Washington is willing to finally give in to a rebuild. He’s exactly the type of young star that the Thunder should want to put next to Gilgeous-Alexander, but if it is not feasible, adding complementary wings in the mold of Gordon Hayward or Kelly Oubre could be a solid play.

Both are set for free agency in 2021 and could be attractive options at a reasonable price point. With Gilgeous-Alexander thriving in the pick-and-roll and around the rim, adding shooters will be crucial, and while free-agency will be helpful, the draft is Presti’s main tool.

Per Business Insider, the Thunder have as many as 15 first-round picks in the next seven years, and trading Paul could cause that number to rise even more. While most of the acquired selections figure to be late in the first round, packaging those for a player or pick could (and probably should) also be an option.

That kind of draft capital could be a useful piece in any trade, but waiting until 2026 to spend all of them could cause Oklahoma City to miss its window to build a true title contender. Consolidation is the most attractive option, and with Presti working magic in the past, the veteran general manager should not be doubted.

Rapid improvement should not be expected barring a trade for a young star, and the Thunder do not figure to be a major player in the upcoming draft. However, the complementary pieces for Gilgeous-Alexander exist in free agency, and adding cheap, young wings or bigs through the draft could fill out Oklahoma City’s depth.

Make no mistake, the young point guard is the face of the franchise with Paul’s future with the team in doubt. Gilgeous-Alexander was better than most people realize in 2020, and only figures to improve from here.

He is the first piece in the long process of executing Presti’s vision for the roster, and his All-Star potential should excite Thunder fans. However, landing complementary scorers and maximizing both the pick-and-roll and drive-and-kick will be imperative, as playing to Gilgeous-Alexander’s strength will maximize Oklahoma City’s talent.

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