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Conversing with the enemy: A Sixers-Thunder preview with Andrew Schlecht

Getting a little insight about Friday’s opponent.

Philadelphia 76ers v Oklahoma City Thunder Photo by Zach Beeker/NBAE via Getty Images

Ahead of most games, Liberty Ballers conducts a question-and-answer session with someone possessing in-depth knowledge of the Philadelphia 76ers’ imminent opponent. Up next is Andrew Schlecht, who covers the Oklahoma City Thunder for Down To Dunk and OKC Dream Team.

How has year two of the rebuild progressed for OKC? What are the bright spots? Is there a clear direction?

The Thunder rebuild right now is about developing talent and preparing for the Draft in 2022 and 2023. As of today, the Thunder have three young players that any team could confidently move forward with: Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Lu Dort, and Josh Giddey. Then, they have a lower tier of inconsistent, young role players in Darius Bazley, Tre Mann, Jeremiah Robinson-Earl and Aaron Wiggins, all of whom have shown good signs.

And then, there is Aleksej Pokusevski and Theo Maledon… and well… they are young. They also have the trio of vets in Mike Muscala, Kenrich Williams and Ty Jerome, and all are consistent pros off the bench that provide shooting.

Overall, the Thunder still have a long way to go with their roster. I’d predict that four or maybe five of these players will still be on the team when the Thunder are good, which is probably a good thing for a team with the fourth-worst record in the NBA.

Josh Giddey is the Thunder bright spot, no question. He’s on pace to eclipse 500 assists and 600 rebounds as a rookie, which has only been done by Ben Simmons and Oscar Robertson. He’s also shown he’s a true pro and cares a lot about winning. Thunder fans are over the moon for the Wizard of Aus.

The Thunder are about to add a second lottery pick to their roster this summer, which will determine what’s next. If they land in the top three, I think their future feels a bit more secure. If they land outside of that? Well… buckle up.

What’s the consensus on head coach Mike Daigneault? How has he fared?

Mark has forged a lot of good will with the fan base this season. He has the Thunder playing hard almost every night (save for that one night in Memphis). The Thunder currently rank 10th in defense, which is more of a testament to the coaching staff than the roster. Mark is a very personable guy, and his “Broccoli over Skittles” routine has made him an endearing character to Thunder fans. (Mark compares hard work to broccoli, and gunning on offense to Skittles… he first brought it up referencing rookie Tre Mann’s minutes)

What’s one matchup you’re keeping tabs on for this game?

I don’t know if James Harden is playing in the game, but it would have to be Lu Dort against Harden. Those two had quite the battle in round one of the playoffs a couple years ago, and it would be a really good first test for Harden in front of the Philly crowd.

Biggest pleasant surprise of the season?

Outside of Josh Giddey being incredible, I’d turn to Tre Mann, specifically his step-back three-ball. It is one of the most smooth step backs in the NBA. He’s likely to get at least one of those off in this game.

Biggest disappointment of the season?

Poku. He’s really struggled this season. He’s one of the worst shooters in the NBA, and doesn’t play with force on either end. Hope is not lost because he is so young, but he certainly has not taken any steps forward this season.

What’s one thing Sixers fans should watch for in this one?

The Thunder don’t give up. This season, they have come back from down 15 or more to win seven times, which leads the NBA. So, if the Sixers get off to a fast start, don’t fall asleep on this Thunder team.