Building Blocks: How Impressive the OKC Rebuild Has Been

How Impressive the OKC Rebuild Has Been image

📖 Published on: February 23rd, 2024

✍️ Updated: February 27th, 2024

⏳ 12 mins read


Over the years, we have seen the Oklahoma City Thunder has seen some big changes in their games, and they have done a great job to prove to the league that they have what it takes to ride along with the best teams in the Western Conference. But how impressive their rebuild has been compared to other teams in the league and the previous incarnation of the young Thunder?


Just two years ago, the Oklahoma City Thunder was notoriously claimed to be the “black-eye” of the league. Many fans said that the Thunder would take years to contend and that they wouldn’t have a chance to come up with a competitive squad to build around star Shai Gilgeous-Alexander – who is supposedly the centerpiece of this young squad that is shocking the league one win after another.


Sure, the Thunder joined the rebuilds of the Houston Rockets, Detroit Pistons, San Antonio Spurs, Charlotte Hornets, and many other teams. However, it seems that OKC has managed to end their rebuild faster over these teams even though they started late over some of them. That says a lot about the success that OKC has enjoyed over three short years.


How Impressive the Thunder Rebuild Has Been So Far?


OKC has shined bright this season with all the strides they have made so far. Some even say that the Thunder have a lot left to offer with less than 30 games left in the season. What makes them special is that year by year, the Thunder has continued to improve without any doubt. This just proves how much of a special talent the team has and how well they continue to thrive now more than ever.


By comparison, the Scott Brooks years proved to be one of the special stretches in OKC history, and it can be argued that Mark Daigneault’s coaching has made almost the same result, and we’re still all excited to see what this young team has to offer as the season progresses further. Daigneault's brilliance has unlocked a bigger big three compared to the Durant-era, which focuses on them sharing the ball by turns, as opposed to today's OKC which comes with a more synced trio.


Still, the Scott Brooks-led Thunder became one of the most prominent teams in the NBA. The team reached the Conference Finals in four of the six years that they’ve been in the Playoffs, including a trip to the 2012 NBA Finals. That, by far, has been the best of the Thunder over the years, and it has cemented their reputation of being a playoff team whenever they can contend at the highest level.


A Deeper Look at the Thunder Rebuild


We can’t draw any comparison to the other teams in the NBA when it comes to rebuilds. The Brooks-led Thunder was considered one of the best rebuilds by OKC GM Sam Presti, and he is engineering the same formula that the team had success within this current young core. So let’s compare how the Thunder’s previous generation came up with success in comparison to Daigneault’s version of the Thunder.


The Paul George trade in the offseason of 2019 along with Westbrook proved to be the defining beginning of OKC’s new rebuild. The Los Angeles Clippers traded a lot of picks in that stretch and were absolutely fleeced by the Thunder, not knowing that it allowed Shai Gilgeous-Alexander to be the next man for OKC.


Year One


Year one of the Kevin Durant-era of OKC began when the team moved to Oklahoma City in 2008. This was the same year that the Thunder landed the 4th pick in the draft and picked Russell Westbrook, who would become one of OKC’s premier players. Let's not forget that they also hauled in a steal in Serge Ibaka at no. 24. Still, the developing young Thunder at that time was under PJ Carlesimo before Brooks took over late in the season. They finished 13th in the West with a 23-59 record but with eyes on a bright future.


Year One image


Year one for today’s OKC is a little bit different with Mark Daignault starting in his first year. OKC had one last chance to enter the playoffs before fully kicking off the rebuild in 2020-21. That time, OKC went on to finish the season with a 22-50 record, sitting 14th overall – a forgettable season for the team as they wanted to see more of the grasp that they have in the roster as a whole. They traded away the previous playoff core of Chris Paul, Steven Adams, Danilo Gallinari, and Dennis Schroder, opening up roster spots and amassing an even bigger bag of draft picks.


Year Two


OKC had its first playoff contention in the Scott Brooks era. The team finished with a 50-32 record – a 27-win jump from their previous record. This allowed the Thunder to gain some playoff experience after bowing out of the first round against an experienced Los Angeles Lakers team in six games - which is a considerable win for the team at that point. On top of that, Scott Brooks was named Coach of the Year, and James Harden was added to the roster after the draft, which started the birth of OKC’s big three. It was a sign of things to come for the young team that was starting in the Wild Western Conference.


Year Two image


OKC went on to get the sixth pick instead image


For the current Thunder, this was considered a loss in terms of the lottery, as OKC went on to get the sixth pick instead, landing Josh Giddey – who turned out to be a promising rookie in his own right. OKC finished with a 24-58 record in this campaign, which was a mere two-win improvement over the last season. Gilgeous-Alexander also sat out the rest of the season with an injury, giving the rest of the core more minutes to thrive on the court. That allowed Giddey to play floor general, and he thrived and even set records for the youngest player to ever tally a triple-double in the history of the NBA.


Year Three


With Durant, Westbrook, and Harden thriving as a strong trio, OKC went on to finish with a 55-27 record – the best in OKC history at that time. The Thunder reached its first Western Conference Finals and even had the chance to beat contenders such as the Denver Nuggets and Memphis Grizzlies, before losing to the Dallas Mavericks in the WCF. It was a sign of things to come for this young team as Durant and Westbrook thrived in a turn-based sharing while Harden came off the bench.


The 2022-23 Thunder, on the other hand, went on to select Chet Holmgren with the second overall pick in the draft and added Jalen Williams in the mix with the 12th pick. OKC was seemingly poised to make it to the playoffs, but the Lisfranc injury to Holmgren cost them that possibility. That was until the Thunder suddenly flipped the switch and ended the season with a 40-42 record – a 16-win improvement over the previous campaign. OKC defeated the New Orleans Pelicans in the first stage of the Play-In, however, they went on to lose to the Minnesota Timberwolves for a shot to return in the Playoffs. But what was important that time was the postseason experience.


Year Three image


Year Four


Year Four image


This was a promising story of how a young team of 23-year-olds suddenly waged war in the tight Western Conference. OKC finished second with a 47-19 record. James Harden won the Sixth Man of the Year Award, while Kevin Durant was named the All-Star MVP. OKC went on to push for a sweep over the defending champion Dallas Mavericks, beat a Kobe Bryant-led Los Angeles Lakers, and overcame an 0-2 hole against the veteran San Antonio Spurs that presented a big three of their own and a deep squad, before finally winning the West. The Thunder then lost to the Miami Heat in five games in the NBA Finals.


The Oklahoma City Thunder’s story this season shows how a bunch of 23-year-olds waged war in the tight Western Conference out of nowhere. As of the time of writing, OKC is standing at a 38-17 record and is on the pace to win 56 games at least. The Thunder have been more impressive than ever, with SGA, Williams, and Holmgren clicking well while playing together most of the time compared to the original big three. We haven’t even discussed how good the bench has been compared to the Durant-led OKC.


What to Expect for the Oklahoma City Thunder This Season?


If all goes according to plan and if the pattern serves us right, then the Oklahoma City Thunder are due for an NBA Finals appearance this season. On top of that, it does seem that they are even more poised to become one of the best and youngest teams to ever do so. Experience may be an issue according to some critics, but it is best to believe that OKC is gunning for what they’ve been building for – the Larry O’Brien Trophy.


What to Expect for the Oklahoma City Thunder This Season image


Back in May 2021, Sam Presti said that when the Thunder gets back to the postseason, they want it to be an arrival and not an appearance. While this may be an earlier arrival than anyone expected, there is no reason to expect less from an OKC squad that is filled with young players having win-now talent. This upside is just getting started with OKC, and no longer a team of youngsters learning the ropes of the NBA.


If it is any comfort to all of the Oklahoma City Thunder fans out there, it is safe to say that the Thunder have finally arrived. It’s now a matter of how far their arrival can go further in the 2023-24 season. I don’t know about you, but my money’s on OKC taking home the Larry O’Brien Trophy for the first time.


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