Predicting Thunder’s starting 5, Deck’s status
The NBA off-season happened in a blur from the draft, to free agency to Summer League in Las Vegas.
These last couple of weeks have been calm though, with teams taking advantage of precious time off before the 2021-22 season.
Up next on the NBA calendar is training camp, which opens Sept. 28.
Until then, we thought it would be a good time to answer a few of your Thunder-related questions. Be sure to email questions to email@example.com or tweet them to @joe_mussatto for future Thunder mailbags.
Today’s questions all came from Twitter.
@leah_bh: “Is the Thunder requiring their players to get vaccinated?”
The NBA isn’t requiring players to be vaccinated against COVID-19. The league would have to negotiate with the Players Association on such a mandate.
However, team employees across the league who interact with players and referees must be fully vaccinated, the NBA told its teams in a memo last week.
As reported by the Associated Press, “it essentially covers anyone who will travel with teams, be around the bench areas, have access to home, visiting and referee locker rooms and those working at the scorer’s table.”
Coaches, medical and training staff, equipment staff, front office personnel, team security and media relations staff members are all included in the vaccine mandate.
Team personnel have until Oct. 1 to get fully vaccinated. Those who don’t receive the vaccine will be prohibited from interacting with players or traveling with the team.
Though there’s not a vaccine mandate for players, life as an unvaccinated NBA player will be far more inconvenient.
As multiple outlets reported Thursday, unvaccinated players will sit away from vaccinated teammates in the locker room and on buses and planes.
Unvaccinated players will be tested for COVID-19 on game days and practice days, while vaccinated players will only be tested if they have COVID-19 symptoms or close contact with an infected person.
The Thunder hasn’t said how many of its players are vaccinated, but not all were by the end of last season.
@P_Funk36: “I assume SGA, Dort and Favors start. Do we have a read on the starting forwards?”
I think there are two guaranteed starters: Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Lu Dort. Gilgeous-Alexander is the franchise star and Dort has started 80 of his 88 career games.
Those two are easy.
The forwards and center are trickier to project, but I’ll have some fun and go with Aleksej Pokusevski, Josh Giddey and Isaiah Roby.
Pokusevski has enormous potential, and that alone should be enough to earn him a starting job.
It’s also worth seeing how Pokusevski fits next to Gilgeous-Alexander. The two only played 20 games together before SGA was sidelined with a foot injury.
I’m more confident Pokusevski will start on opening night than I am with Giddey, but you might as well start the sixth overall pick on a team destined for the bottom of the West.
Giddey almost exclusively played point guard last season in Australia’s National Basketball League, but he has the size at 6-foot-8 to play off the ball next to Gilgeous-Alexander. That could be a long-term pairing in the Thunder backcourt.
The argument against starting Giddey is that he should run his own unit given his pass-first play style. But then you also have Theo Maledon, Ty Jerome and Tre Mann as guards who need minutes off the bench. Starting Giddey makes the most sense.
And finally, onto center. Derrick Favors is the most qualified candidate, Mike Muscala is back and Jeremiah Robinson-Earl showed flashes in Summer League.
But I’ll go with Roby, who started 34 games last season and averaged 8.7 points and 5.6 rebounds. Roby split time between center and power forward, but Mark Daigneault seemed to like him best as a small-ball center.
Sure, Roby can get pushed around on defense, but he’s a modern big man who’s shown promise as a ball handler and spacer.
The Thunder wants to play positionless basketball and spread the floor with all five guys able to grab a defensive rebound and push. A starting group of Gilgeous-Alexander, Dort, Giddey, Pokusevski and Roby could do just that.
Notably missing from this list is Darius Bazley, a full-time starter last season who’s still just 21. This will be a crucial prove-it year for Bazley, whether he’s starting or not.
@JohnA18655421: “Can Roby be a star? What role do you see the rookies playing this year?”
I think I’m higher than most on Roby, who has a chance to carve out a solid career as a role player. But not a star.
He turned it over way too much last season, but he’s at least shown a willingness to expand his game both as a creator and 3-point shooter. The Thunder was impressed with how he played in his first full season.
As for the rookies, Giddey will have a prominent role. It’s too early to know about the others.
My guess is that Mann and RobinsonEarl will be regular rotation players. They could also see time with the G League Blue. Aaron Wiggins will bounce back and forth as a two-way player.
@okcargentina0: “I wanted to ask you if you know anything about Gabriel Deck’s future on the team.”
As of today, Deck is still on the Thunder’s roster.
The Argentinian forward is under contract for $3.67 million this season, but it’s not clear how exactly his contract is structured and what his guarantee is.
He’s also under contract for two more seasons beyond this one, but both of those are non-guaranteed years.
Deck’s situation has been bizarre from the beginning. The Thunder didn’t sign him away from Real Madrid until mid-April, and it took a couple more weeks for him to clear immigration and join the team.
Deck averaged 8.4 points and 4.0 rebounds in 10 games.
Last month, multiple European outlets reported that Deck was in talks to return to Spain, this time with Barcelona. The Thunder had no comment on those reports, and the team hasn’t announced anything new on Deck’s status.
At best, maybe Deck is a fringe rotational player in the NBA. His fit with the Thunder still doesn’t make a ton of sense, though. He’s 26 with limited upside.