Back in the early 2010s, the Oklahoma City Thunder were the franchise everybody envied.
A superstar in the making in James Harden.
And all of them under the age of 23.
Between 2010 and 2017, the Thunder made one NBA Finals and three Western Conference Finals.
But Harden was traded before the start of the 2012 season – the first crack in the growing dynasty.
Durant then infamously left for the Golden State Warriors after the 2016 season.
And Westbrook was eventually dealt during the 2019 offseason.
On this date in 2012:
The Heat finish off the Thunder in Game 5 of the NBA Finals, giving LeBron James the first ring of his career.
It was also the last game in which Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, and James Harden would play together. All three would go on to win an MVP. pic.twitter.com/UEanfgK57e
— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) June 21, 2020
All three franchise pillars were gone and while they clawed into the playoffs in 2019-20, that offseason was the start of a full-scale rebuild.
OKC finished tied for the fourth-worst record in the NBA in 2020-21 and are off to a similarly slow start this season.
Now the question is whether the Thunder have a strong path for the future.
Thunder Have Treasure Chest Of Draft Picks
For small-market NBA teams, the draft is typically the only way to rebuild.
These franchises are less willing to spend big money on star free agents and those free agents typically don’t want to play there.
They must rely on drafting superstars and maintaining team control through draft rights.
The Thunder will have multiple opportunities to draft potential superstars in the upcoming years.
Oklahoma City’s list of future draft picks reads like a receipt from your local pharmacy.
The Thunder looking at all their future draft picks pic.twitter.com/7JF4ZRCQO6
— B.W. Carlin (@BaileyCarlin) November 18, 2020
They own a league-high 36 draft picks over the next five years; 19 of which are in the first round.
Some draft choices may not convey due to protections, but OKC will have at least three selections in the first round in the next five drafts as of now.
This includes an astounding 2023 draft where they may have five picks.
While it is important to have numerous throws at the dartboard to find a potential superstar, these picks also help in trade scenarios.
The NBA is cyclical, and a new team will eventually begin to rebuild when the Thunders are set to take off.
Sam Presti can use these picks in a trade to acquire another star or some role players to fill out the roster.
No team in the NBA is better set up for success in the draft than the Thunder.
Young Players Developing
As nice as draft picks are, they don’t mean anything if they aren’t turned into quality NBA talent.
The Thunder have plenty of draft picks, but they also have some intriguing young players already on the roster.
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is one of the brightest young point guards in the league.
A 6-foot-6 guard with a 6-foot-11 wingspan is coming off a breakout season that saw him average 23.7 points, 5.9 assists, and 4.7 rebounds per game.
All while shooting 50.8 percent from the field, 41.8 percent from three, and 80.8 percent from the line.
SGA is not alone on this Thunder roster, however.
Dort, already one of the stingiest perimeter defenders in the league, is starting to grow his offensive game.
He’s averaging a career-best 16.3 points per game and taking more threes than ever before (7.6 per game).
Giddey has shown flashes of becoming a Swiss-army-knife type player in the future.
Josh Giddey becomes the youngest player ever to record a triple-double, breaking LaMelo Ball's record
19 years old. pic.twitter.com/dLByXLKKnd
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) January 3, 2022
He just became the youngest player to ever record a triple-double after a massive 17/14/13 game in a loss to the Dallas Mavericks.
Bazley, Robinson-Earl, and Wiggins all appear poised to become valuable two-way wings on playoff teams.
Continuing to develop these players moving forward will be a massive part of the rebuild.
They will either become key cogs in the rotation or can be used as bait to reel in an established star.
OKC may be in the basement of the NBA standings now but are well established to eventually return to the playoffs.
The time between playoff appearances may be shorter than expected.