The Oklahoma City Thunder entered the 2020-21 season focused on their young core of players, led by Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, and three weeks into the season, their youth movement is already showing promising signs.
Riding high off a three-game win streak, which includes victories over the Knicks, Pelicans, and Nets, the 5-4 Thunder look to have hit the accelerator on their rebuild as their young core of players continue to flourish with increased playing time and responsibility.
With an average age of 24 years and 112 days, OKC has the sixth-youngest roster in the league, with their core group of players trending even younger. Four of their five leading scorers this season are all aged 22 or younger, led by Gilgeous-Alexander (22-years-old), Lu Dort (21), Darius Bazley (20) and Hamidou Diallo (22).
In their 129-116 win over the Brooklyn Nets today, SGA and Diallo carved out a piece of history, not seen since Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant.
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Hamidou Diallo are the first pair of Thunder teammates, both age 22 or younger, to each score 25 points in the same game since Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant in 2011. pic.twitter.com/byVPJ1W6OH- ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) January 11, 2021
So how are they doing it?
SGA blossoming into a leader
When the Thunder parted ways with veterans Chris Paul, Danillo Gallinari, Dennis Schroder and Steven Adams in the off-season, the path was laid for SGA to take the reigns of the franchise, and hasn't he done just that.
Through eight games, he's averaging 19.8 points, 6.8 assists and 5.3 rebounds on 45.2 percent from the field and 34 percent from the 3-point line and with the ball in his hands, his playmaking has taken a big leap, more than doubling his assists per game from last season.
Not to mention his confidence in late-game situations, either knocking down big shots for himself or finding open teammates.
Game on the line. #ThunderUp | @shaiglalex pic.twitter.com/v8gtOghMeJ- OKC THUNDER (@okcthunder) December 27, 2020
As he continues to expand his game, don't be surprised if he garners some attention as the Most Improved Player of the Year.
Diallo the energizer bunny
Through his first couple of seasons in the league, Diallo took some time to find his footing, but through eight games this season, he's established himself as the Thunder's most dangerous weapon off the bench.
"It's something that I bring to the table," Diallo's said after his 23-point, 11-rebound performance against the Knicks at Madison Square Garden.
"Every given night, I gotta be the most competitive person on the floor and that's a goal of mine."
➡️ RIM | @hamidoudiallo pic.twitter.com/jvz3R6EyFB- OKC THUNDER (@okcthunder) January 9, 2021
Diallo is averaging a career-high 10.5 points per game in 20.6 minutes and he's making the most of his time on the floor, shooting an efficient 52.4 percent from the field.
His nuclear athleticism is proving to be a handful for opposing second units as he pushes the pace and routinely delivers high-flying finishes above the rim.
Lu Dort...not just a defender
Canadian Lu Dort established himself as one of the league's most exciting young defenders after his impressive playoff debut against James Harden and the Houston Rockets, and while he's continued to make strides on that end of the floor in one-on-one situations, the rest of his game is quickly catching up.
Dort is finding easier ways to score this season, getting free on backdoor cuts and pushing the ball in transition, but most notably, he's become a knockdown shooter from the 3-point line.
Only Mike Muscala has made more threes at a higher rate than Dort for the Thunder, who is shooting the three at 41 percent on 4.9 attempts per game.
In a win over the Utah Jazz in December, Dort showed his two-way ability, knocking down five 3s for a season-high 26 points, while putting the clamps on Donovan Mitchell on the other end.
Gimme that. @luthebeast with that Dort Defense. #ThunderUp pic.twitter.com/UcmM3G30t5- OKC THUNDER (@okcthunder) December 29, 2020
It's only early in the season, but the Thunder as a team are impressing with their defence, which is currently ranked 11th in the league.
Bazley seizing his opportunity
As a rookie last season, Darius Bazley started just nine games, playing 18.5 minutes a night, but this season has been a different story.
Head coach Mark Daigneault has started Bazley in every game so far this season, playing 29.6 minutes per game - second only to Gilgeous-Alexander as he puts up 12 points and 8.8 rebounds per game.
In their narrow win over the New Orleans Pelicans, Bazley single-handedly turned the game in their favour in the third quarter, scoring the first 11 points of the quarter and 15 of the Thunder's first 18, showing how damaging he can be with his explosive scoring ability.
.@bazleydarius has 15 pts to start the second half. pic.twitter.com/Wj9pT2dx7U- OKC THUNDER (@okcthunder) January 7, 2021
Between Gilgeous-Alexander, Bazley, Diallo and Dort, the Thunder have a core group they can build around for years to come...sound familiar?
It's not exactly the star power of the Durant-Westbrook-Harden-Ibaka era, but when you add in the likes of Theo Maledon (19 years-old), Isaiah Roby (22), Kenrich Williams (26) and Aleksej Pokusevski (19), the depth of this young team is going to make life tough for teams as they continue to develop together.
OKC have every reason to be excited.
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