When the Thunder selected both Jalen Williams and Ousmane Dieng in the lottery last summer, neither player was necessarily on any team’ big board at the particular time during the draft. That didn’t stop Sam Presti, though, and it’s easy to see why.
Both Williams and Dieng have been very pleasant surprises for a youthful Thunder team that still looks just a step behind. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander’s heroics has carried OKC to a 10-13 record, but without his MVP-level of play, the Thunder would be a lot further away from a .500 record.
Some games, however, SGA’s lack of help on the floor is evident, and has even costed the Thunder games. That’s where the pair of rookies come into play. Both of Oklahoma City’s youngsters were key in last week’s games, and even though Dieng will likely continue moving back-and-forth between the Thunder and the Blue, each player brings something different and unique to the floor. In his first week back with the team, Dieng netted two strong performances with six points, two triples and two blocks, following it up with 10 points on 5-of-6 shooting.
Williams, who was viewed as an NBA-ready prospect, has been just that. He recently won the NBA’s Western Conference Rookie of the Month behind 10.7 points, 3.1 rebounds and 2.6 assists while shooting 52.9 percent from the floor. His performance against the Spurs last week caught the eye of the league, as he dropped 27 points and six rebounds on an ultra-efficient 11-of-15 shooting. Every game, Williams pulls out another tough finish around the rim that rookies simply shouldn’t be able to do. He clearly has one of the highest ceilings on the entire team.
Both Dieng and Williams are growing individually on the court as the season goes on, but the most impressive thing, is that both are contributing to winning on the floor right now. Oklahoma City is a better team when the rookies are playing freely on the floor.
As they grow and get more court time, it’s imperative that the rookies grow and develop chemistry with the current core. Williams and Dieng are able to play with the Thunder’s top players on a nightly basis, and it’s clearly making them better as players. The future is bright for OKC’s two rookies, who have already started contributing to winning basketball.
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