The 2022-2023 NBA season has been full of surprises as some teams like the Toronto Raptors and Phoenix Suns have been abysmal, while organizations like the Sacramento Kings and Indiana Pacers have exceeded expectations and have been intriguing to watch this year. One other team that shows a ton of grit and determination every night is the Oklahoma City Thunder.

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander has arguably been a top-10 player this season, which has been a major leap from his first two years with the Thunder. Josh Giddey and Jalen Williams have been excellent supplementary pieces alongside Gilgeous-Alexander. Even without Chet Holmgren for the whole season, it does not seem to matter because the Thunder have improved immensely as they can advance to the play-in tournament at the very least.

The play-in tournament is in sight for OKC, but the possibility of rushing their development and letting go of some of their young assets for proven guys could be a disaster for the Thunder organization. Sam Presti has 17 first-round picks until 2029, so he can easily ship several of them for someone like Zach LaVine or Pascal Siakam.

Fast-tracking the rebuild

It is not wrong to add a star to their team, but what should not be done is overpaying for someone of their caliber. A franchise like what the Minnesota Timberwolves did to acquire Rudy Gobert or Ben Simmons heading to the Brooklyn Nets for James Harden are two of the worst trades in the last couple of years. Among the 30 franchises, the Thunder can offer the best package of draft picks because of previous trades they had. For instance, Ousmane Dieng was added to this year’s draft from the New York Knicks for three protected first-round picks.

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Dieng has still not shown flashes of brilliance with the Thunder, but the front office wanted three lottery picks in this year’s draft, so they were able to make it happen. OKC must realize that they are still around 2-3 years early in adding big names to their roster, so they must continue to give repetitions to guys like SGA, Giddey, Williams, and even incredible shooter Isaiah Joe.

A play-in appearance will be remarkable in terms of the games this lineup will experience, especially after being part of tanking over the last two seasons. There is a massive difference to play high stakes contests or matchups that matter in March or April, so this will be a gradual change to the lifestyle of the Thunder players. This must be the next large step in their team construction and not adding a veteran who is not on a similar timeline.

Constant mentorship and guidance are vital for a youthful squad like the Thunder, so they can still add a couple of underrated ones before the trade deadline or offseason. These moves can be executed without letting go of four or five first-round picks because it will not be worth it for OKC. The classic mistake for this year’s trade deadline is negotiating for someone like O.G. Anunoby who seems to command at least three first-round picks, which will not be worth it even if Anunoby’s repertoire fits under coach Mark Daigneault.

The whole discussion in this piece has been on the Thunder’s draft assets, but they can even make it worse if they sell low on someone like Aleksej Pokusevski or Darius Bazley because they want to add any sort of player who will only provide short-term help for OKC. It is tempting to bolster their squad instantly, but the perfect juncture would be during Shai Gilgeous-Alexander’s prime in 2025 or 2026.