Thunder roundtable: Who will be the player that surprises us the most?

Thunder roundtable: Who will be the player that surprises us the most?

Who could be the Oklahoma City Thunder's next big surprise? Sellout Crowd's Thunder coverage team discusses.

Berry Tramel

By Berry Tramel

| Oct 24, 2023, 7:00am CDT

Berry Tramel

By Berry Tramel

Oct 24, 2023, 7:00am CDT

Rewind to a year ago today, and few of us would’ve predicted what Jalen Williams would become as a Thunder newbie.

The first-round draft pick out of Santa Clara looked like an intriguing prospect, but a rookie sensation? A standout on both ends of the court? A possible pillar on future Thunder contending teams?

No way.

Williams (or J-Dub) was one of the biggest surprises in the entire NBA, but he wasn’t the only one on the Thunder. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander became not only an All-Star but also a first-team All-NBA player. Josh Giddey emerged as a triple-double threat. Jaylin Williams established himself as a charge-taking machine.

With the Thunder’s regular-season opener fast approaching Wednesday night in Chicago, Sellout Crowd’s coverage team is diving into some of the biggest questions surrounding this year’s team. Today, we’re looking at who might provide the next big shock in Oklahoma City.

What player will surprise us all by the end of the season?

Brett Dawson: Cason Wallace was the 10th pick in the draft. He’s supposed to be pretty good. But the more we saw of him in preseason, the more he looked like a right-away kind of fit. Will Wallace play some games in the G League? Maybe. But he sure looks like a Thunder Guy right now, a guard who can play on or off the ball and has great defensive instincts. In time, the guess is he outperforms our expectations for playing time and production. 

Jon Hamm: Wallace was my first thought. But I’m also thinking about another Thunder rookie. No, not the tall, skinny one. No, not the bearded Euro star. I’m looking at Keyontae Johnson. A reach? Probably. But consider the journey of Lindy Waters III last season, which started in the G-League and ended with him playing key minutes in two play-in games. Of course, history is never obligated to repeat itself. But Johnson has me intrigued. He’s hefty for a wing. Stout. A nice jumper that can’t quite yet extend reliably to the NBA 3-point line. He just feels like a guy that will scrap his way into a standard NBA contract at some point. And maybe even into key minutes late in the season.

Berry Tramel: Josh Giddey. The appreciation for what Giddey has done in two NBA seasons has been far below what Giddey has accomplished. And he’s likely to do much more in Year 3. Giddey before reaching 21 years old — which he did two weeks ago — averaged 14.9 points, 7.8 rebounds and 6.3 assists. Here is the list of NBA players who before age 21 averaged at least 14.0 points, 7.5 rebounds and 6.0 assists per game: Magic Johnson, Luka Doncic (twice) and Josh Giddey. OK, so those kind of number comparisons can be fishy. So let’s relax them. Let’s go down to 13 points, 6.5 rebounds and 5.0 assists. And that adds to the club LaMelo Ball and LeBron James. I’m telling you, Giddey is doing things few people on Planet Earth ever have done. He’s headed for great things. Maybe this year.

Jenni Carlson: Give me Ousmane Dieng. He missed considerable time last season as a rookie due to a wrist injury. That slowed his growth for sure. But in summer league and preseason game, we got a glimpse of his skill and athleticism. He’s a solid 6-foot-10, and he’s not even 21 years old yet. Give him more time, more reps, more confidence, and it will be interesting to see what he can become. Honestly, I think that’s what the Thunder wants — to see what it has in Dieng, who was drafted one spot ahead of Jalen Williams, the Santa Clara stalwart — so expect to see Dieng get extended minutes off the bench.

Michael Martin: Jaylen Williams last year came onto the scene late, but solidified his starting spot throughout the play-in tournament. Now with Chet Holmgren healthy, it will put JWill back in his proper role as an effective backup big. This season I think many people will see that there is much more to him than just gimmicky charge taking, but a guy who can legitimately stretch the floor at an above league average clip from 3 coming off last season, playmaker well for his position, defend in space and overall be a nice rotation piece for OKC throughout the season.

 

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Berry Tramel is a 45-year veteran of Oklahoma journalism, having spent 13 years at the Norman Transcript and 32 years at The Oklahoman. He has been named Oklahoma Sportswriter of the Year by the National Sports Media Association. Born and raised in Norman, Tramel grew up reading four newspapers a day and began his career at age 17. His first assignment was the Lexington-Elmore City high school football game, and he’s enjoyed the journey ever since, having covered NBA Finals and Rose Bowls and everything in between. Tramel and his wife, Tricia, were married in 1980 and live in Norman near their daughter, son-in-law and three granddaughters. Tramel can be reached at 405-760-8080 or at [email protected].

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