OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — The injury bug usually waits until midseason to start bothering the Oklahoma City Thunder.
This time, it attacked in the offseason.
No. 2 overall draft pick Chet Holmgren was ruled out for the season after suffering a foot injury last month. Now, top returning scorer Shai Gilgeous-Alexander will miss at least a few weeks with a sprained ligament in his left knee.
Those injuries got much of the attention at Oklahoma City’s media day on Monday.
Gilgeous-Alexander averaged 24.5 points, 5.0 rebounds and 5.9 assists last season before getting shut down with a sore right ankle. After the All-Star break, he averaged 30.4 points on 54% shooting in 13 games and scored at least 30 points 10 times.
He had recovered from the ankle injury but got hurt during a recent workout and woke up with stiffness in the knee. An MRI revealed a grade 2 MCL sprain. While he’s expected to miss preseason action, he may be ready for the season opener.
“I feel a lot better,” Gilgeous-Alexander said Monday. “Headed in the right direction for sure. In terms of a timetable, we’ll see.”
But Monday wasn’t all about injured players. Forward Darius Bazley, who averaged 10.8 points and 6.3 rebounds per game last season before breaking a bone in his right knee, bulked up from 208 pounds to 220 and changed his jersey number from 7 to 55.
Guard Tre Mann, who averaged 10.4 points per game last season, came in with several new tattoos sprawled across a significantly more muscular arm.
And there are other rookies ready to take the spotlight.
Frenchman Ousmane Dieng, a 6-foot-10 forward, averaged 8.9 points and 3.2 rebounds for the New Zealand Breakers last season. Jalen Williams, a 6-6 guard, averaged 18 points and 4.2 assists last season as a junior at Santa Clara. Jaylin Williams, a 6-10, 240-pound forward, averaged 10.9 points and 9.8 rebounds per game for Arkansas last season.
They will force players such as second-year forward Aaron Wiggins to be at their best during training camp.
“Guys are going to be really gritty, really aggressive with the mindset to kind of prove themselves,” Wiggins said. “Everybody has something to prove. I think it calls for a very competitive training camp. It’ll be a fun one. It’ll be one where we all kind of get to test one another and see where we stand and how we can fit in.”
Josh Giddey has high expectations after making the All-Rookie second team last season.
The Australian guard averaged 12.5 points, 7.8 rebounds and 6.4 assists per game last season and was named Western Conference rookie of the month four times. He recorded three straight triple-doubles just before going down for the season with a sore right hip.
But he knew he had work to do in the summer. The 19-year-old made just 26.3% of his 3 pointers last season.
“I spent a lot of time obviously focusing on areas I need to get better at — shooting the ball, in the weight room a lot,” he said.
Guard Lu Dort signed a contract extension after increasing his scoring output from 14.0 points per game two seasons ago to 17.2 last season.
He had surgery on the torn labrum in his left shoulder in March, and he’s ready to go this season. He said he wants to become a better decision maker when he attacks the basket.
Now heading into his fourth year, he also wants to be more of a leader.
“I can have a bigger role, just being a little more vocal,” he said. “Just the fact that I went through some of the stuff that the young guys are going through right now, I feel like I can help them and talk to them and all that.”
Gilgeous-Alexander was a force for Canada's national team this summer, highlighted by a 32-point performance against Dominican Republic in July.
“I got to play with some guys I grew up with, so that was a good time,” he said. “And then it just kept me in a little bit more basketball shape going into the summer. Obviously games are different, the flow and stuff, so that was good, just for like reps. And then just representing my country — something that I’ve always wanted to do.”
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