OKC 2024 Team Preview
- By Lex Gartman, Day 6, 2024
OKLAHOMA CITY -
After a surprisingly strong beginning to the 2023 season, the Barons predictably regressed to the mean as the JBL season wore on. They finished the season with 29 wins (most in the team's short history), and while that probably exceeded most prognosticator's expectations, they were consistently exposed on the defensive side of the court. Their inability to stop opposing offenses put considerable pressure on their offense, and off shooting nights generally resulted in blowout losses. Heading into the 2024 offseason, OKC management's priorities were clear (offseason results in all caps):
1. Improve the defense - MODERATE IMPROVEMENT
2. Improve the defensive rebounding - SLIGHT IMPROVEMENT
3. Build the bench depth - SIGNIFACNT IMPROVEMENT
4. Improve at center - FAIL
5. Acquire young talent - SIGNIFICANT IMPROVEMENT
A closer look:
Starter: Jamar Strickland
Backups: DeVonte Hale (R), Terrence Friel (R)
Strickland was basically the team's catalyst a year ago and the main reason behind the Barons' torrid start to the season. His 20.8ppg and 8.2apg was amongst the All-Star's best seasons in the 31 year old's career. But can he continue playing at that high level at such high minutes?
Enter Hale, the rookie PG from Purdue, and potential playmaker of the future. OKC management was absolutely beside itself when he fell into their laps with the 10th pick after some initial overtures were turned down to move up a few places to secure him. While he isn't as polished on the defensive end as desired, this is an area of his game OKC is comfortable he will grow into. The Barons also signed undrafted Oklahoma rookie Friel, a 6'1" distributor the team had scouted early and often during his senior year in Norman. His initial training camp with the team was not as productive as hoped, but Friel did show he was willing to work hard and put the effort in to make the team.
Outlook: Strickland is still the man in Oklahoma City, but for how long? In the last year of his contract, Strick could be moved to a contender in order to add future pieces to the Baron puzzle. Then again, does a hot start by the team necessitate acquiring talent to win this year, giving him a shot at the playoffs here in Oklahoma? Hale is a clear upgrade at the backup spot when Strick is being rested.
Starter: Idris Berkley
Backups: Javion Edwards
At just 21, Berkley is one of the most intriguing talents in the JBL, but he has yet to take that next step into the elite realm. Will 2024 be the year that he announces his presence with authority? He’ll be entering a contract year and it's likely he will be offered the max next off-season.
Edwards was signed to a cap-friendly 2-year deal (with a player option) for $4M per after spending his first 3 years in Atlanta. A bit of a polarizing figure, Edwards' perceived talents haven't always matched his productivity. But he does play solid defense and has improved his shooting percentage each season, which was enough to convince OKC that he would be a good fit for the franchise.
Outlook: With Strickland's ability to score, we won't know Berkley's offensive capabilities until Hale is running the show. But his training camp was described by OKC's staff as being fantastic, lending more to the thought that this is the future face of the franchise, one that can be built around to compete for titles. The addition of Edwards will hopefully limit the drop-off the team saw last season when Berkley went to bench for a breather.
Starter: James Livingston
Backups: Chris Gibbons, Devearl Stoudamire
Livingston was re-signed by the Barons after an up-and-down 2023 season that saw him average a somewhat pedestrian 10.5ppg. A "jack-of-all trades, master of none" player, Livingston is one of those high energy guys whose value may be expressed with the new hustle stats. But his penchance for disappearing in games frustrated the OKC staff at times last season leaving the hold on the starting 3 very tenuous.
Should he falter, Gibbons would be the next man up. A guy that seems to outplay his ratings, Gibbons started 15 games for the Barons, averaging 8.0ppg while shooting at an impressive 60% eFG, including 41% from 3. Gibbons had an outstanding training camp despite his lazy label. OKC is bullish on Gibbons and can easily envision an even rotation at the SF position. Stoudamire had another outstanding camp for the club after signing with the team from Charlotte. Similar in alot of the aspects of Gibbons, the Missouri-ex could also get quality minutes.
Outlook: For now, Livingston holds the pole position, but this is a position that the Barons finally have some options to combat ineffectiveness. OKC really likes the potential of Gibbons and Stoudamire, and it would not be much of a surprise to see Livingston relegated to an inactive role at some point in the season. SIDE NOTE: OKC will be VERY keen on watching current Renegade Josh Damaska from afar as the team's scouts were very high on the ex-Villanova rookie in this past draft.
Starter: Roy Ellington
Backups: Isiah Harris, Terrel Timmins, NaQuan Thames
Ellington is what he is: a decent scorer, a solid post defender, and a solid rebounder. He hit a lull in the season where he wasn't giving the team much on the offensive end of the court, but he was the team's most consistent rebounder all season long. He also has the size and strength to hold his own at the 5, which provides the team with much-needed flexibility.
Harris is a guy whose offensive abilities make the coaching staff drool, but has yet to really put it all together. He had an excellent camp focusing on his defensive abilities, and if he can continue improving, he will provide an interesting contrast to what Ellington offers. Timmins was added for his beef and strength. While he won't offer much offensively, his ability to play tough, hard-nosed defense is something that will always have value here in Oklahoma City.
Outlook: It's still Ellington's position, but Harris is the wildcard. The staff also likes what Timmins brings, and if Harris doesn't take a leap forward, the team has no problem bringing in the banger to loosen up opposing big men.
Starter: Preye Crooks
Backups: Kellon Aldridge, Dondre Mitchell (R)
Crooks averaged 13.4ppg last year, but saw his defensive rebounding numbers fall into unacceptable levels for a starting 5 in the JBL. At 33, the Englander is likely winding down a solid career, while being asked to take on more of a mentor role into the upcoming season.
Aldridge was acquired last season from Philadelphia for a 2nd-round pick and frankly has yet to impress. The undersized center should compete with Crooks for starts, but if he falters, the team drafted Mitchell with their 2nd round pick and won't hesitate in playing the rookie. Mitchell had a solid career in his 4 years at Arkansas, and should provide instant defensive and rebounding help. AT 6'10" and just 204 pounds, Mitchell is probably the league's Least BMI winner, so the team will be sending McDonald's Happy Meals to him every half hour.
Outlook: The center position was a clear need for Oklahoma City going into the offseason and the team simply did not get the job done. Portland's Dorian Sylvester and Austin Bryant and Chicago's Rasheed Stone were Baron priority targets, but we simply did not do enough to secure their services. It was a learning experience in failure and we do not intend to make those same mistakes going forward.
To start 2024, the Barons will most likely trot out the same starting 5 as it did last season. That isn't necessarily a bad thing, but it isn't really a good thing either. OKC simply does not have the horses to run with the thoroughbreds of the league yet, but we do feel that we have positioned the team to succeed in the near future. The Baron backcourt of Hale and Berkley should be the team's cornerstones for the forseeable future, but the frontcourt is admittedly lacking. I think this team will be around the 30-33 win mark in 2024, but can get up to 37-38 if things really go our way. As a floor, I do not see us going under 25, even if we have to endure an injury or two. Any way you slice it, bring on the new year!