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If Wordle has become too easy for you these days, I’ve got a new puzzle just a tad bit more challenging: solving the riddle of the Thunder’s 2022-2023 starting lineup and bench rotation.
First off, as with any good brain teaser, we need to set the ground rules.
- Build a traditional 10-man rotation. Five starters, five bench players.
- Assume every current Thunder player is still on the roster.
- Assume Vasilije Micic is not on the roster.
- OKC drafts your choice of Chet Holmgren, Jabari Smith Jr., or Paolo Banchero at pick #2.
- OKC drafts your choice of Jalen Duren, Johnny Davis, Ousmane Dieng, Tari Eason, Mark Williams, Malaki Branham or Jeremy Sochan at #12.
As the proposer of this player puzzle, I’ll be the first one to give it a go.
Before constructing my lineups, I have to finish constructing my roster by filling out my two empty roster spots. I’m putting aside any personal preferences and going with mock consensus. As a result, I’m rolling with Unicorn 8.0 in Chet Holmgren as the Thunder’s pick at #2 and new OKC prototype Ousmane Dieng at #12.
The first thing I like to do is establish the no-brainers. We know without a doubt Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Josh Giddey, Lu Dort, Tre Mann and OKC’s top draftee will be in next season’s rotation. That’s five already. Halfway done. Easy peasy.
Next, I like to slot those players into starters and bench pieces. The lineup visual is a helpful rotation building trick.
Although I’ve slotted Tre as OKC’s backup point guard, I believe SGA and Giddey will be staggered and take turns leading the bench unit while the other rests. Mann can pick up any extra lead guard duties while they both sit. Ideally, the ball should be in one of those three players’ hands at all times. This also effectively eliminates Theo Maledon from rotation consideration. (Pardon, Monsieur.)
In the near sure-thing category, I only came up with two more players. Kenrich Williams is the most respected player in the locker room, a difference maker on the court and a fan favorite due to his verbal desire to retire in OKC and… his hair. And on this team, any lottery pick gets one of those Six Flags fast pass tickets to skip the line for rotation minutes.
Now this is where it gets tricky. Only three spots remain and they’re all reserved for power forwards or centers. Sorry, Ty Jerome and Vit Krejci. Apologies, Lindy Waters and Aaron Wiggins.
You could make an argument for each Thunder tweener big deserving minutes. Mike Muscala is a 7 foot Steph Curry, loves OKC, has patiently chilled the past two seasons and is actually really good at helping a team win. Darius Bazley is a young, athletic defender and rebounder who excelled once he went to the bench. Jeremiah Robinson-Earl proved in his rookie season that he’s a smart, defensive minded big with a jumper. Derrick Favors is in the last year of his contract and if OKC wants to rehabilitate his value and try to get a first round pick–lol just kidding that’s not happening. Isaiah Roby led the Thunder in 3-point shooting at 44.4% and singlehandedly almost tanked the tank because he was better than everyone on the court in OKC’s final few games. And then of course, Poku needs no explanation nor rationale.
Okay, drop Derrick. That still does me little Favors, as I’m left with five guys for three slots.
I just see no way OKC keeps JRE out of the rotation given his age, upside and two-way play. He’s the most natural fit as a defender and shooter in the starting lineup.
Of the four remaining options, Moose and Roby might be the best players. But Baze and Poku are younger and likely higher prioritized in the rebuild. I’ll split the difference.
Nah, I changed my mind. No chance they send Poku to the OKC Blue for the third straight season, right? And Thunder PR cannot miss the opportunity to play Holmgren and Poku, aka The Thin Towers, together. Scratch what I said about the FastPass; Dieng’s going to the G League.
(Final) Final Starters
(Final) Final Bench
That still feels wrong. The #12 pick has to play! Roby is too good for mop up duty! Nevermind, I quit. This is too hard. I’m gonna go play Poeltl.