Inside Thunder Training Camp: Media Day Takeaways

“I think we are a better team than at the start of last year,” said Oklahoma City Thunder GM Sam Presti last week.

The Thunder didn’t make any major roster moves outside of the draft this summer, but still feel like they’re in a better place. There’s a belief internally that Oklahoma City’s year-over-year improvement will primarily come from the development of the returning players. That’s not to say the rookies can’t make an impact, but the main driver of improvement will come from others.

With the 2022-23 NBA season just a few weeks out, training camp is officially underway around the league. To kick it off, the Thunder held Media Day at Paycom Center. It was an opportunity to hear from players about what they worked on during the offseason and what they expect for the upcoming season.

There’s quite a few moving parts as it relates to the Thunder organization, but insight was given at Media Day. What were the primary takeaways with camp, preseason games and roster decisions on the horizon?

Ty Jerome’s Exit

Just hours before Media Day kicked off, it was announced by a Thunder staff member that Ty Jerome would not be taking part in training camp. It appears his time in Oklahoma City has come to an end, as the team and Jerome’s reps work collaboratively to determine next steps for the 25-year-old.

While this isn’t surprising news, it does have a pretty significant impact on the next few weeks. With Jerome included, the Thunder have 18 full-time contract players on the roster, but will need to cut that number to 15. Jerome was certainly on the list of candidates to be cut, which could be part of this mutual agreement to find a new home for him.

Now, there’s presumably three primary players fighting for the one final roster spot in Theo Maledon, Vit Krejci and Derrick Favors. With Jerome out of the mix, it’s one less player for them to battle with for the 15th roster spot.

Aleksej Pokusevski’s Weight

It’s a big season for the 7-footer entering year three in the NBA. He’ll begin to have contract extension talks as early as next summer, meaning now is Aleksej Pokusevski’s chance to prove he’s worth another deal in Oklahoma City.

At the end of the 2021-22 season, he mentioned his main goal for the offseason was to get stronger and faster. Now listed at 210 pounds, it’s clear he made progress on at least the strength front. At Media Day, the Serbian wing mentioned he hit the weights, trained hard and thinks he accomplished his goals.

“I hit the weights. I hope it’s going to show up during the season,” said Pokusevski.

The biggest road block for the 20-year-old to this point has been his slender frame. Now that he’s improved upon that, the decision making will be the next step forward. Remember, Pokusevski is still one of the youngest players in the NBA despite entering his third season.

Tre Mann’s Potential Leap

One thing that really stood out at Media Day was Tre Mann’s stature. The second year guard clearly looked bigger with a more NBA ready frame. He described his offseason, which included a re-designed meal program, eating cleaner, working out, and spending a ton of time working on his body.

“That was the main focus. Getting stronger, bigger and putting more weight on,” said Mann. “The biggest thing was eating the right things and taking my protein at night.”

A microwave scorer, Mann appears to be on track for a breakout season. He only got better as his rookie season went on, which should carry over into the 2022-23 campaign. For scorers like him it’s all about confidence, which he will have plenty of entering year two.

When asked what he wants to focus on in the upcoming season, Mann mentioned he wanted to generate points more efficiently. With the three-level scoring ability he has, efficiency will only take him to the next level.

After a summer splitting time between Oklahoma City and Miami training, could Mann be the most improved player for the Thunder this season? The hope is that he’s able to emerge over the next few seasons the same way Jordan Poole and Anfernee Simons have of late.

High Expectations for Rookies

Again, the Thunder truly believe that most of their improvement this season will come from the players they’re bringing back from last year.

“The stage that we’re in, guys can improve very quickly,” said Thunder coach Mark Daigneault at Media Day.

However, even without Chet Holmgren in the lineup this season following his foot injury, the rookies have already started to impress their new teammates. As such, expectations are high.

“They’re really good,” said Darius Bazley. “They all work hard and are super talented.”

The rookie that is projected to make the most immediate impact is Jalen Williams, who was selected No. 12 overall in the 2022 NBA Draft. At 6-foot-6, he’s extremely versatile from a positional standpoint but also is effective on both ends.

“He’s got what it takes,” said Thunder Star Shai Gilgeous-Alexander of Williams.

From there, rookies Ousmane Dieng (No. 11 pick) and Jaylin Williams (No. 34 pick) should also see NBA minutes this season. With that in mind, there’s a good chance they spend quite a bit of time in the G League system with the OKC Blue. This has been a recipe for success with the Thunder franchise over the past two seasons with how many young guys they’re trying to develop.

“They’re great guys on the court and off the court,” said Mann of the rookies. “I think they’re gonna help us out a lot this year.”

Whether it’s with the Thunder or Blue, the Oklahoma City rookies should have plenty of opportunity to showcase their talent this season.