The NBA season officially tips off October 20 with the Oklahoma City Thunder playing the Utah Jazz.
Once again for the 7th year in a row, our Thunder Reporter Steve McGehee will be there for every game. He recently sat down exclusively with the team's young starters: Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Lu Dort and talked to them about what to expect this season.
The most obvious difference this year when the Thunder take the court: fans back in the seats.
“How much will it help to have some fans here behind you?” Steve asked.
“It’s going to be fun,” Gilgeous-Alexander answered. “My first year here there were a lot of fans, and it brought a lot of energy to the arena, brought energy to the play and I really do miss them and can’t wait for them to get back.”
Fans will likely be cheering for Shai Gilgeous-Alexander for many years to come. He signed a five-year, $172 million maximum rookie contract extension during the off-season. Cementing him as part of the team's young core and face of the franchise.
Steve asked him if he considers himself an All-Star.
“Absolutely. I feel like I’m that caliber of player. Now it’s just time to show the world,” he said.
Another fan favorite, Lu Dort, who made a name for himself during the 2020 playoffs hounding James Harden.
“You like to make contact because you have the frame to do it. You could be a linebacker in the NFL,” Steve observed. “Some guys shy away from it. You’re like bring it on.”
“Yea, just my body I’m able to embrace it. So, why not? Why not use it?” Dort answered.
“Do you feel like you’re the authority guy on this team right now?” Steve asked.
“I mean a little bit. I don’t want to sound like I’m the only one. I feel like we have some dogs. But I mean just to bring that energy from the get-go I feel like I got a big role in that because I always guard the best player,” Dort said. “I set the tone from the beginning.”
Undrafted to starting in the NBA he hasn't forgotten all those teams who passed on him.
“Is that still in the back of your mind to prove people wrong?” Steve asked.
“Oh absolutely. Yea it’s always going to be in the back of my head,” Dort said. “Going through that experience was really hard and I don’t think I can ever forget that.”
The two Canadians will be joined by last year's first round draft pick: Aleksej Pokuševski from Serbia.
“He’s going to be really good,” Gilgeous-Alexander said. “I think we saw glimpses of it last season. He started getting better, started getting comfortable and…experience is the best teacher. He’s got a lot of that. He got his feet wet. The sky’s the limit for him.”
New to the team this year: Overall number six draft pick: Josh Giddy from down under.
“(He’s) really cerebral, really smart,” Gilgeous-Alexander said. “His basketball mind is for sure ahead of his age.”
Keep an eye too on Darius Bazley now in his third year in the league.
“He came straight out of high school to the NBA and I can’t even imagine what that’s like,” Gilgeous-Alexander said. “But I feel like he’s the guy who can get better the more he plays.”
Their coach knows what it's like to have to work his way up. Former G League assistant Mark Daigneault is now in his second year at the Thunder head.
“A player’s coach,” is how Dort describes him. “Just the fact that just outside of basketball you can sit down and just talk about anything. We chat it up for like hours. Our off-season and what we did and stuff like that and that was great. And just at the same time he was coaching the G League for a long time. And me, I started in the G League…we already had a bond and a relationship at first. Just the fact that he knows what it was like to go from the G League to the NBA now.”
All the young players noticeably spent much of the off-season in the weight room.
“You bulked up a little bit I can tell,” Steve said to Gilgeous-Alexander.
“Why thank you!” he answered with a big grin. “I’m a smaller framed guy. I try to get stronger every summer. I feel like I need to with the size of the guys I play against. I feel like that will only help my game.”
Promising they will take that same attitude into the season.
“How patient are you to get this team where it needs to be?” Steve asked.
“The way I look at it is the same as my personal development. You can’t rush it,” Gilgeous-Alexander answered after a long pause. “All you can do is control the present day by day. So, for me it’s the same as this team. The control every day we go into practice. Are we doing things the right way? The winning mentality, winning way. And I think it will take care of itself.”
And the big question from Steve:
“What is it Oklahoma City Thunder going to be this year?”
“Just going to be the young hungry guys. We all know we don’t’ have the most experience. But the one thing we control is the competitiveness. How can we compete every night,” Dort answered.