Fans of the Thunder since the Inaugural season, way back in 2008, have affectionately referred to the early years of the team as Thunder U. The key players on the roster – Russ, KD, Harden, Green, Ibaka were all really young and could have still been in college, so it gave the teams a really fun, and close-knit feel, much like a University Team. With a future rebuild centered around SGA and other young guns looming, it’s time for Thunder U to return as Thunder U 2.0.
I have gone through the entire roster and placed players into one of three categories in relations to Thunder U 2.0 – The Definites who figure to take part in the next chapter, The Maybes who may or may not be along for the ride, and The Probably Nots–players who don’t fit the upcoming timeline.
- Shai Gilgeous-Alexander – The franchise heir apparent, being groomed by Chris Paul, SGA is an extremely talented second year player well on his way to superstardom. He has the potential to reach the lofty heights we envisioned for players such as KD and Westbrook as OKC youngsters. The coming rebuild and embodiment of Thunder U 2.0 starts with Shai, and finding the right players to pair with him.
- Darius Bazley – The Thunder’s first round pick from the 2019 Draft, Bazley was masked in secrecy as none had seen him play for a year. He had taken an internship at New Balance instead of attending Syracuse as a 5 Star Recruit. Bazley flashed some intriguing potential during the season up until its stoppage, and has shown significant improvement during the NBA’s restart. As a mysteriously talented 20-year-old, Bazley figures to be a key part of the Thunder U 2.0.
- Lu Dort – As the reigning Pac 12 Freshman of the Year who earned Conference Defensive Team Honors, it was quite shocking to see Lu Dort go undrafted. The Thunder signed him to a two-way contract, with most expecting him to be a project for down the road. Surprise! Lu went on to become a fan favorite and critical piece of the Thunder starting lineup, displaying elite defensive principles as a rookie. In the NBA restart, he has shown improvement in his offensive game, and is proving everyday what a huge mistake (lucky for OKC) teams made by not drafting him. He is secured with a long term, team friendly deal, and looks to be a big part of Thunder U 2.0.
- Hamidou Diallo – Heading into this season, expectations were tempered for Diallo. He had shown moments of promise, but was wildly inconsistent. This season, the Slam Dunk Champion displayed more consistency, particularly on the defensive end. In seeding play, he has made a significant jump, becoming a key rotation player for the Thunder. Diallo looks to have secured a spot in Thunder U 2.0.
- Abdel Nader – Nader is noticeably older than the players listed in the Definites section, but he is still young enough to be part of Thunder U 2.0. Having shown improvement in all facets this season and during the restart, Nader would be a solid player to sign to a team friendly deal and keep going forward.
- Steven Adams – Adams is one of only two players left on the roster from the KD and Westbrook Era, helping bridge the past and future of the franchise. He is a defensive stalwart, excellent teammate, and great culture bearer for the organization. While he is older than the Definites, he would absolutely be a great person to keep in the franchise going forward, as a mentor to the young guns, and as a true NBA enforcer.
- Andre Roberson – Like Adams, Roberson is a bridge between the past and present. Having returned to play in Orlando after missing 2.5 years, his comeback story is truly inspiring and a testament to his drive and character. His defensive knowledge and skill are still a sight to behold. Also, like Adams, Dre would definitely be a great person to bring along for Thunder U 2.0 as a mentor.
- Nerlens Noel – Noel surprised many when he picked up his option and returned this year, as most folks expected him to get a decent payday from another team. This season Nerlens has been a defensive terror off the bench and gives the Thunder a stellar center rotation. Like Adams and Roberson, Nerlens is a bit older than the Definites, but he’s not far enough ahead to prevent him from being part of Thunder U 2.0. If he decides to decline a lucrative offer from another team, the Thunder would likely be thrilled to have him back.
- Mike Muscala – Signing Muscala was a priority for Sam Presti last off-season, as he was envisioned as a key floor spacer for a Westbrook/George team. After George requested and received a trade to the Clippers, Presti allowed Muscala to seek a deal elsewhere if he wanted, but OKC’s offer was still firmly on the table. Mike decided to stay with OKC and has been a true professional, always ready to space the floor when called upon, and a mentor to the young guys. While older than the Definites, Mike would be a great person to bring along for Thunder U 2.0 as he is a great vet, consummate professional, and lethal floor spacer.
- Kevin Hervey – As a player on a two-way deal, Hervey has not received much Thunder playing time this year, but is an intriguing prospect. After working himself back from significant knee injuries in college, he was a very productive player in the G League. He hasn’t yet cemented himself into Thunder U 2.0, but his potential and relative team friendly expense give him a shot to make the cut.
- Isaiah Roby – Isaiah Roby came over in a mid-season trade with the Dallas Mavericks, and has played sparingly since joining the team. Spending most of his time with the G League, and sitting out the Restart due to surgery, his case for making Thunder U 2.0 is clouded. His potential and team friendly contract give him a shot to stick around with the team.
- Terrance Ferguson – Heading into the 2020-2021 Season, folks expected a leap from Terrance Ferguson, but he has not lived up to those expectations. This season has seen him miss significant time due to injuries and off the court personal matters, which gave way to Dort taking his starting spot. Ferguson is still young enough and has high enough potential to keep around for Thunder U 2.0, but it isn’t a definite as it seemed before the season.
- Devon Hall – Devon Hall is a three-point marksman from Virginia, and was selected in the 2nd Round a couple of years ago. After spending time in the NBL and G League, Hall earned himself a Two-Way Contract. While he is an older than traditional rookie, he isn’t too far removed age wise from the core players of Thunder U 2.0 and would fit in as a nice vet and floor spacer.
The Probably Nots
- Chris Paul – Chris Paul has been picture perfect this season for the Thunder. He’s been the clear and unquestioned leader of the team, the perfect mentor for SGA and the other young guys, has played at an All-NBA and All-Star level, and has carried the Thunder to a playoff berth. All that said, he isn’t a likely candidate to stick with Thunder for rebuild, as much as fans would love that. He’s 35, in win-now mode, and is a prime candidate to either be traded this off-season or depart the team at the end of his contract.
- Danilo Gallinari – Gallinari came over with SGA in the Paul George trade, and was widely expected to be dealt before this season’s trade deadline. But in this year of surprises, he remains with the roster and is a key piece on the current team. Gallinari is definitely a win now player, and doesn’t figure to factor into the team’s long-term plans. As a free agent at the end of this season, odds are he will likely leave for another team, but he could help the Thunder get assets back in a sign-and-trade.
- Dennis Schröder – The likely winner of the 2019/2020 Sixth Man of the Year Award, Schröder has been brilliant coming off the bench for the Thunder, helping fuel their vaunted Three Guard Lineup. As another player fully in the win now camp, Schroder does not appear to figure into the team’s long-term plans. While he is young enough to stick around, Schroder has made it abundantly clear that he wants to compete, and would like a starting role on a team.
- Deonte Burton – Burton started off with OKC as a player on a two-way deal, and earned a full NBA contract last season as the team rewarded him for his play and potential. This season, however, has not been kind to him. He has sparingly played, been inconsistent on the court, and was suspended for a locker room incident with the team. This season has done little to indicate that he should factor into future plans, but he is still young enough to stick around if the team believes in him.