In just three years, Sam Presti and The Thunder have built something special

LAS VEGAS – The Oklahoma City Thunder entered the summer league show in Las Vegas with two wins, after winning 2-1 in Salt Lake City earlier in the week. no. 2 picks in the draft, Chet Holmgren, making his debut in the NBA, scores 23 points, seven rebounds, six blocks and four assists in a win over the Utah Jazz.

In the next match, Galen Williams (12th overall) starred with 16 points and three rebounds and stole twice in 22 minutes. In the last game before heading to Vegas, sophomore points guard Josh Gedi was one of the best players of the summer so far when he crossed over his opponent in a pickup setup and put Malik Ellison on a label.

All this is very promising for a young team that has won only 46 joint matches in the past two seasons. Holmgren was the top pick in the 2022 NBA Draft, but don’t lose sight of the other players who picked them – no. 11 picks for Osman Deng (6 feet – 10, 7 feet wingspan), no. 12 Williams picks (6-6, 7-2 wingspan), and No. 34 Jaylene Williams (6-10, 7-1 wingspan) picks. All four are tall athletes and can glide between multiple poses.

“It might not be this year, because this group should know how to play together, but the Thunder will be one of the best defensive teams in the league,” an NBA scout told Yahoo Sports. “While everyone was distracted as to where the others had fallen, Sam Presti drafted a group of guys who are 6’6″, can pass and have a lot of sports. Every single one of them. And you’ll put together with the Jedi, [Shai] Galgus Alexander and [Lu] round? silly.”

Jedi, the 6-8 point guard outside Australia, was the first piece of the puzzle in the 2021 draft when Thunder took him with the sixth overall pick (they also added goalkeepers Tri-Mann, Aaron Wiggins and forward Jeremiah Robinson-Earl). Last season, Jedi was named Western Conference Player of the Month for three consecutive months before being sidelined in February with a thigh injury.

Jedi returned to the field in the Utah Summer League for the first time in four months and seemed comfortable alongside his new teammates. Holmgren consistently found the right spot to break out of a pick-and-pop, and the Jedi found his rhythm making for others when he got into the fairway or got ahead of the ball during the transition. Last season, the Jedi averaged 6.4 assists per game in just over 50 games. During the three games in Utah, the Jedi tossed out 28 coins that left fans admiring his skilled work in the fairway.

Chet Holmgren and Josh Gedi of Oklahoma City during a summer league game in Salt Lake City against the Utah Jazz at Vivent Arena in Salt Lake City on July 5, 2022 (Alex Goodlett/Getty Images)

“It was a relief to be back on the field and playing with these new players on the team,” Gedi said after his first game. “This is our first game together and we’ve found little things and the more we play, it’s going to grow and grow and whatever we find out now in such a short time is just a bonus.”

The NBA staff who tuned in for the first few games were even more impressed with the way Jedi, who is still only 19 years old, took charge of this young team as the overall captain of Team Thunder.

“The way the Jedi takes so much space with the ball in his hands, it liberates everyone on the field,” another NBA explorer told Yahoo Sports. “It will be difficult for these summer league teams to stop the movement of the ball with these people who can see the defense and the way the Jedi gets into the paint.”

In Salt Lake City’s first three games, it wasn’t incredible passes or flashy finishing touches on the edge that were most impressive, but rather the impact on the defense. Thunder wreaked havoc while shooting gaps, running everything and blocking shots all around with Holmgren and 7-foot-1 Aleksej Pokusevski in the paint.

“I’m very excited and this is a special group of guys and I’m looking forward to what we can build,” Geddy said. “I can’t wait for the training camp when we put things in order to start the season.”

Adding veteran players to this group during training camp will only serve to enhance early glimpses of defensive diversity with Dort as one of the best young defenders in the league and Gilgeous-Alexander in the backcourt with Giddey.

The Thunder 38 still has an impressive draft pick (19 in the first round and 19 seconds) for the next seven years, something no other team has done. There is so much freedom and choice as General Manager Sam Presti continues to build something special from the ground up.

With so many future recruiting choices in sight, many are wondering if Oklahoma City will try to deteriorate again next season with French phenomenon Victor Wimpanyama and G League point guard Scoot Henderson awaiting the 2023 NBA Draft.

“We just want to be better than last year,” Gedi said. “As long as we keep getting better and getting better, I think, whether it’s playoffs or not, we’ll be good. We have a group of guys who are working hard and I can’t wait to see where everyone is at the start of the season.”

Several teams are already making year-long moves to position the franchise for next year’s draft.

The Jazz traded with Rudy Gobert and Royce O’Neill and earned five first-round picks and traded a pick in the process. The San Antonio Spurs had three picks in the first round and drafted skilled young players to hide in the G League and develop. Speaking to scouts around the league in Las Vegas, many believe Spurs are setting themselves up for tanks next season to pick the top five. The Indiana Pacers and Houston Rockets are two other teams still in the rebuilding phase.

This leaves thunder. With all the draft picks they have (including one first-round pick and two second-round picks next year), Thunder doesn’t necessarily need to coach another major player to add to this talented young squad. Only one team will land on Wembanyama, a potential client who could be a generational type talent. one only. It may not be worthwhile to sit down players and disrupt the growth and chemistry that this current group can build.

The day after Holmgren enlisted, he called my Jedi right away and wanted to hit the gym as soon as he landed in Oklahoma City. The two went through a practice and ended up in a one-on-one game.

“He hit me straight away and wanted to get into the gym when he got to town, and from that moment on, I knew we were going to have a special talent,” Jedi told Yahoo Sports. “We started solo, and I knew he was going to be a bunch of guys to guard him. He might look skinny, but he’s strong and strong with the ball in his hands. You think there would be any mismatch with a great goalkeeper, the goalkeeper has the advantage, but he can sit back and defend, and yes, he won. In the first singles match.

“I can’t wait to continue playing with him, they are both first-team players and we want to win. What we build here will be special.”

With Giddey already opening up the spaces on the ground in the Summer League and finding Holmgren, Pokusevski, Williams or anyone in the pick-and-pop, it’s hard to imagine the front office shutting things down to disrupt the development of this dangerous young team. The Thunder has quietly shaped the future of the franchise under everyone’s noses and it’s only a matter of time before it all begins together on the field.

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