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Unlucky lottery sets up underwhelming Thunder offseason

Thunder rookie Josh Giddey

LAS VEGAS, NEVADA - AUGUST 15: Josh Giddey #3 of the Oklahoma City Thunder poses for a photo during the 2021 NBA Rookie Photo Shoot on August 15, 2021 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Joe Scarnici/Getty Images)

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NBC Sports’ Dan Feldman is grading every team’s offseason based on where the team stands now relative to its position entering the offseason. A ‘C’ means a team is in similar standing, with notches up or down from there.

The Thunder are prolific.

At acquiring draft picks.

Taking advantage of its long-range timeline for winning and related salary-cap flexibility, Oklahoma City continued stockpiling picks this summer. The Thunder:

Oklahoma City’s offseason showed why accumulating extra picks is so important. The draft – from the difficulty of out-tanking other bad teams to lottery luck to the unpredictability of teenagers – carries so much uncertainty.

Despite their best attempts to plunge toward the top of the top-heavy 2021 draft – including getting a lightly protected extra first-rounder from Houston in the Chris Paul trade two years before – the Thunder wound up with just the Nos. 6, 16, 18, 34, 36 and 55 picks. Too heavy on depth, too light on primacy. Highly touted Cade Cunningham, Jalen Green, Evan Mobley, Scottie Barnes and Jalen Suggs were all off the board by the time Oklahoma City picked.

The Thunder used the No. 6 pick on Josh Giddey, an intriguing prospect but a clear step down in potential from the players selected ahead of him. Having just turned 19 and carrying a narrow frame, he could get overwhelmed early in the NBA after jumping from Australia. His jumper needs major work. But his size and passing create an upside.

The No. 18 pick yielded Tre Mann (No. 28 on my board). In a terrible value proposition but perhaps worthwhile move for a team overflowing with draft picks and set to return its seven minutes leaders from last season, Oklahoma City traded up with the Nos. 34 and 36 picks to get Jeremiah Robinson-Earl at No. 32. The Thunder took Aaron Wiggins No. 55. Oklahoma City also signed last year’s No. 37 pick, Vit Krejci.

This disappointing rookie class might delay the Thunder’s ascension around Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, who got a max rookie-scale contract extension this summer. Ideally, the money will keep Gilgeous-Alexander content as Oklahoma City accumulates more young talent ahead of an eventual takeoff.

Favors might help a little in the short-term, but if he’s anywhere near solid, expect him to get flipped. The Thunder are obviously comfortable with their veteran mentor being Mike Muscala (re-signed for $3.5 million salary with a team option the following season).

Those veterans don’t move the needle, though. Kemba Walker might have a little, but he surrendered $20 million in a buyout to join the Knicks. That increases Oklahoma City’s ability to gain even more draft picks through salary-dump trades during the season and next year.

The Thunder are doing the rights things by staying patient. Maybe they’ll get better lottery luck next time.

Offseason grade: C-