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Jalen Williams' Buzzer Beater Is The Latest Proof That The Oklahoma City Thunder Are No Longer A Joke

What a basketball journey it's been for Jalen Williams. Before I dive into his story specifically, check out the buzzer beater up top, because a big reason why this blog is being written. If you will, above all else, first indulge me on this little tangent that I swear will link back up with Williams and the Oklahoma City Thunder...

I've always wondered about guys who attend mid-major or even more obscure schools and then go on to thrive as professional athletes at the highest level. Like, what's the life plan when you're in college? Do you really have that much self-assuredness that you know you'll make it to the NBA? Do you have the unreal discipline to grind away at your craft, stay in the moment, not worry about your future and chase your dream totally unhibited? With who knows how many factors out of your control working against you?

Like here's an example. Tony Romo at Eastern Illinois. WTF man? You go from there. To undrafted. To a damn good starting quarterback for the Dallas Fucking Cowboys. Think about how nuts that is for a second. Or how about one of Romo's standout wide receivers, Miles Austin? Undrafted out of Monmouth. I don't even know where that is. It's baffling.

Weird that my mind cut to those guys and not MY GUY Joe Burrow, who sat on the bench for three years at Ohio State wondering if he'd ever play. My hope is to one day ask him about that personally. When he's hundreds of millions of dollars richer and stuff. Unlike a certain AFC North rival who refuses to pay their superstar QB...

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OK Jalen Williams! The pride of basketball powerhouse Santa Clara University! Who didn't explode onto NBA radar screens until his junior year when he averaged 18 points per contest. Now he's starting, and thriving for this youth-infused Oklahoma City Thunder squad, a group that is still somehow in the playoff race in the Western Conference.

Once the Tunder made the wise decision to draft Chet Holmgren second overall, I wrote that OKC would be really rocking NEXT season:

Sounds like a Nostradamus-esque call in retrospect. HOWEVER, I'll own up: That was all operating under the premise that they'd be tanking once more, continuing to stockpile future first-round picks, and then either land Victor Wembanyama No. 1 overall, or at long last, cash in on all those assets for some superstar player.

Even with Chet missing his entire would-be rookie campaign, the Thunder are STILL way ahead of schedule thanks in large part to galaxy-brained, unreasonably patient GM Sam Presti striking gold with Jalen Williams on the 12th overall pick. You can't expect late lottery guys to come in and play this well from the jump. Someone must've forgotten to explain that to Williams, who's on an absolute tear over the last two months in particular. Won't be enough to catch Paolo Banchero for Rookie of the Year. Nevertheless, impressive. Most impressive.

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Presti and the Thunder have taken the 76ers' "Trust The Process" process and expanded it into their own stratosphere. It was getting comical, ridiculous, and had to be downright frustrating for the fervent fans in Oklahoma City. The organization kept punting on every single season. It was like Presti and whomever occupies his scouting department were trying to prove their unmatched evaluating prowess by assembling a roster of all young, cheap players and contend for championships, then recycle all of them out and reload somehow, or something? Point being, it was a weird thing that had seemingly no end in sight. Blood-boiling and baffling to watch even from afar as a non-fan of the team.

The Thunder were a shitty team the two seasons before this one, and I felt like there'd be another year of growing pains. Look at their poor Wednesday night opponent, the Detroit Pistons. Tough luck with the Cade Cunningham injury but uh…they're 1-18 in their last 19 games overall. How about the Houston Rockets, who were actually one draft slot behind OKC? They fucking suck too! 

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Had little reason to think the Thunder were going to fare much better than either of those cellar dwellers, if at all, especially once Chet went down. 

But here we are. Sam Presti, you beautiful son of a bitch. You now have Chet Holmgren coming back in 2023-24 to join Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Josh Giddey, and Jalen Williams. Throw in whichever other young Thunder guys you want, plus whomever Presti drafts in Round 1 this year. 

Get this: after the 2023 draft, OKC has fourteen first-round picks through 2029. They've gotten due criticism since fumbling away the Kevin Durant-Russell Westbrook-James Harden era with zero championships to show for it. After many middling campaigns in the twilight of Russ' tenure, Paul George failing to pan out, and some awful lows in recent seasons, it looks like the Thunder are about to make some serious noise here soon — regardless of their playoff fate in the coming weeks.

Twitter @MattFitz_gerald/TikTok