If you can believe it, the San Antonio Spurs are only about two months away from regular season action, where fans will get to watch Victor Wembanyama in action for the first time next to the likes of Devin Vassell, Jeremy Sochan, Keldon Johnson, and others. And if you count preseason games, the start date is even closer.
I've already spoken a bit recently on how things have quickly come full circle for Spurs fans who, at this time last year, were bracing themselves for what ended up being a historically bad season. But between the enigma that is Victor Wembanyama, the continued development of Jeremy Sochan and Malaki Branham, the return of a healthy Devin Vassell, and plenty of other fun stuff, fans will thankfully have a ton to look forward to this coming season. Personally, though, a revitalized rivalry between the Spurs and the Oklahoma City Thunder may top my list of things I'm excited about.
The battles between the Spurs and Thunder of yesteryear, headlined by the Spurs' big three on our side of the state border along with Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook on the other side, make up some of my fondest basketball memories growing up. But ever since Durant's vilified "next chapter" and a similarly dramatic exit by Kawhi Leonard from the Spurs two offseasons later, that exciting rivalry was left in the dust.
Fast forward roughly five years and two full rebuilds later, though, and the Spurs-Thunder rivalry looks like it's due for a major comeback. Here, I'm going to touch on why that will likely mean lots of good to great basketball for fans of both teams in the very near future.
The Thunder's young core is playoff-worthy
A rivalry is never really a rivalry if the results of games are always lopsided in favor of one team or another, and while the Spurs will certainly improve compared to last season with Wembanyama in the mix, I would advise against thinking that Thunder games will be smooth sailing for the Silver and Black.
Allow me to indulge in a bit of friendly non-Spurs admiration for a moment, as this is something I rarely get to do here at length. When we talk about the Oklahoma City Thunder moving forward, I don’t think we’ll be talking about them as a perennial lottery-bound team that struggles to hit the 30-win mark (see: the Houston Rockets). The Thunder, in roughly four full seasons of rebuilding since the Paul George trade, have put together an incredibly talented young roster that has a significant chance to finally make the jump back into the playoffs in the 2023-2024 season.
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander has undoubtedly turned into one of my favorite non-Spurs to watch in the whole league, and his first All-NBA 1st Team selection this past season likely only marks the very beginning for the 25-year-old scorer. Meanwhile, the Thunder seemingly chose very wisely in the past two drafts having come away with a Rookie of the Year candidate in Jalen Williams along with a jumbo point guard with elite playmaking vision in Josh Giddey. Chet Holmgren is good enough to warrant his own section here; we'll talk about him more here shortly.
On top of all that, the Thunder have compiled several really interesting complementary pieces to those core players, including Ousmane Dieng, Cason Wallace, Jaylin (JWill) Williams, Tre Mann, Aleksej Pokusevski, Lu Dort, and others. When combining that with the boatload of future draft assets the team still holds, it's easy to see the Thunder putting themselves in a really good position to only improve their trajectory, whether that comes in the form of a blockbuster trade or something else.
So, if there's a takeaway to be had here, it's that Spurs-Thunder games are going to be chock-full of general talent and high-level basketball. We certainly won't be watching two teams seeking to out-tank one another, I doubt we'll see a lack of competitive spirit, and I'd wager that one or both teams will be making a serious push for the playoffs barring any injuries or other setbacks. That's a recipe for several fun games to come.