If one thing is clear, it’s that Chet Holmgren is the center of the future in Oklahoma City. After being picked by the Thunder number 2 in the 2022 NBA Draft, the versatile 7-foot player immediately became a part of the young core.
After a spectacular show in the NBA Summer League, Holmgren suffered a season-ending foot injury, depriving Oklahoma City of a true center who could play key moments in the 2022-23 season.
This was very evident early in the season, as many of the Thunder’s shortcomings stem from the lack of frontcourt size.
For starters, there have been 14 games this season where the rival center has scored 20 or more points against the Thunder. This includes two games with 30 or more from Nikola Jokic, including a season-high 39 points.
While the Thunder are actually a good rebounding team, production on the glass didn’t come primarily from the frontcourt, as Josh Giddey led the team in rebounds and two of the top four rebounders were guards.
Also, Oklahoma City allows the third-most points in paint (54.6) of any team in the league.
Despite these weaknesses due to squad composition, the Thunder started the season 11-15. They’re still pretty close to the preliminary chart, which begs the question of whether it’s worth taking a pivot before the trade deadline to see what this team might look like.
Ideally, Oklahoma City could identify a big that could be a short-term temporary hiatus for the remainder of this season, but could also help Holmgren move forward as a side or backup.
Even if the Thunder trades for a center and still misses the play-in, the move will be worth it.
For starters, there are a lot of young talents on this roster who would benefit from playing with a real center.
What’s more, this will ensure that the rest of the roster is playing alongside a legitimate big. That could make Holmgren’s debut next season a smoother and less challenging transition for those around him.
The team’s forwards have been asked to play quite out of position at center this season, which would allow them to take it again at the other frontcourt spot until Holmgren’s return. For guards, adding a center as a lob threat and a vertical spacer to the ground would provide tremendous value. It will also do wonders for their defensive plans and give this young squad more opportunities to play as they will in years to come.
Adding a center to this Thunder roster makes a lot of sense for many reasons, mitigating the problems now and potential problems in the longer term.
Regarding goals, there is a lot that can be achieved without giving up important assets.
Bol Bol and Wendell Carter Jr. Bamba’s role has dwindled this season with the emergence of guys like him. It is also reportedly available for trade on the right deal.
Bamba is similar to Chet in that it’s all about being a rim protector and floor spacer and fits perfectly with this squad. He’s only 24 years old, too, and may be part of the Thunder’s long-term plans.
Hayes, who will be entering the free agency this summer, will be on loan for Oklahoma City. With that in mind, this also makes it easy to acquire in terms of an asset swap.
If it were to be traded in and run on the Thunder system, they could have given it a new deal. A super athletic tall, Hayes could also play alongside Holmgren on the road.
Sharpe is undersized at 1.80, but is a legitimate center with the strength and power to hold his own against the traditional talls. He’s just 21 and hasn’t played a major role in the Brooklyn Nets since being drafted late in the first round of the 2019 NBA Draft.
As someone who could make a great backup center when Holmgren returns, Sharpe’s contract is also in check for long enough that the Thunder will be able to part ways with a reasonable presence halfway through to get him. This season can immediately take its place as a start.
It will be interesting to see what Oklahoma City will do as we get closer to the deadline. This can be a clear indication of how the team is progressing the rest of the way. If the Thunder are in a position to make a play-in and are out of the race towards the bottom of the standings, it wouldn’t be surprising if a marginal move would occur. On the other hand, if they are near the end of the ranking, they may be more conservative.
Regardless, adding a pivot will benefit this team in the short and long term.