Thunder

Flexibility Remains for Perplexing Thunder

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The morning of Tuesday, June 22nd held a lot of anticipation for a lot of NBA teams. The Oklahoma City Thunder was one of them.

In the past decade, the Thunder have only missed the playoffs twice: 2015 when a season convoluted with injuries to Russell Westbrook, Serge Ibaka, and Kevin Durant left them one game shy of a playoff berth, and the 2021 season.

This past year, it’s no secret the Thunder committed to tanking. Sam Presti did everything within the rulebook to enforce a tank and as a result, the Thunder ended up tied for the fourth-worst record in the league. That gave them good odds to land at least one top-five pick, and a chance to land two.

Well… if the morning of the 22nd was bound with excitement, the night that followed was splintered by sorrow.

In good news, OKC didn’t have the worst possible outcome of picks Nos. 7 & 18, but they landed the second-worst outcome: Nos 6 & 18.

Now what?

The Thunder own picks Nos. 6, 16 (via Boston) and 18 (via Miami).

What does Presti do with these options? Does he trade up on draft night to get the higher pick that OKC was anticipating? Does he keep the picks and take stabs at mid first-round talent like he did with Aleksej Pokusevski? If he does keep the picks, who does he select?

The possibilities are endless and our staff couldn’t come to an agreement on what the best options are, so here’s our thoughts on what we expect to happen and who we’d like Sam Presti to pick.

Does Presti make a trade before or during draft night?

Santiago:

Yes – Presti always has a plan. The Thunder came into the season with the idea of losing as many games as possible to get a top player in the draft. I’m not saying Scottie Barnes isn’t a good player, but the top-four players of the draft all have All-Star potential. Cade Cunningham’s definitely going to Detroit with the first pick, Rockets won’t trade their pick…what about all those Cleveland rumors? And what if Toronto decides to trade their fourth pick too?

There are options. Best-case scenario is the Thunder taking Jalen Green, because his fit with SGA in the backcourt seems like a match made in heaven. Whatever happens on draft night doesn’t matter, because in Presti we trust.

But something WILL happen.

Eshan:

Yes – the expectation for the lottery was certainly greater than the eventual outcome. That 14-game losing streak feels worse now but there’s no reason to panic. Presti has proven on multiple occasions that he’s a genius when it comes to the trade market. OKC own three first-round picks in this year’s draft alone, not to mention the rest of their arsenal over the next seven years. Could we see something similar to that draft-night trade from 2018? I’m sure Presti has something up his sleeve to land a top-three prospect in this incredible draft class.

Adrian:

Yes. I think the expectation for this season was to get a top-four draft pick. That’s not to say the prospects on the board after four aren’t enticing, but the consensus around OKC fans and the vibe from the front office points to a desire for Jalen Green. Cleveland is actively shopping the 3rd pick. We have the best trade assets in the league and Sam Presti is a guru. He will make it happen. The best scenario likely involves receiving the No. 3 pick, absorbing Kevin Love‘s salary and trading Nos. 6 and 18 pick plus Darius Bazley and/or Isaiah Roby.

With that being said, SGA is not getting traded. Get that through your skulls. The idea that SGA “doesn’t fit the Thunder’s timeline” is obscene. Why? SHAI. GILGEOUS-ALEXANDER. IS. THE. TIMELINE.

If we keep the picks, who are the ideal selections?

At #6:

Santiago:

Scottie Barnes – the Florida State point forward has a lot of tools to become a very good player in the future. At 6-foot-9, 225 pounds with a 7-foot-2 wingspan, Barnes can do anything– but shoot.

But let’s not focus on his (only?) weakness, because there are so many good things about him.

He can play point guard at his size, thanks to his court vision and high basketball IQ. His patience may be my favorite part of his game. He plays with an SGA-like tempo that allows him to see the whole court and make the right play. On defense he plays his heart out and can guard 1-5 easily.

The Draymond Green comparisons are all over the place, but Barnes is even more explosive than even the Michigan State version of Draymond when going downhill or attacking his defender. It wouldn’t be surprising if a team takes a chance with him like the Bulls did with Patrick Williams last year, but if there are no surprises in this year’s draft, I’ll gladly take him.

With the right development, Scottie can become a star in this league.

Eshan:

Jonathan Kuminga – after a successful season in the G-League with fellow prospect Jalen Green, Jonathan Kuminga is ready to make the jump to the NBA. At 6’8″ and 220 lbs, he has an NBA-ready body, something that can prove to be invaluable for young rookies.

He has all the tools to be a great, versatile defender, with the ability to guard one through four. His athleticism and quickness make him perfect to lock down the opposition’s backcourt. There’s certainly room for improvement on the offensive end, as he shot just 38.7% from the field and 24.6% from three in the G-League Bubble. That shouldn’t discourage OKC fans, though, as rookies are rarely efficient scorers. He might go in the top five, but if he’s still on the board at No. 6, Kuminga’s name should definitely be at the top of Presti and OKC’s list.

Adrian:

Jalen Suggs. In this draft, there is a big three and then everybody else. Cade, Green, Mobley should be the first three players off the board. Then you have to evaluate the best of the rest. In all likelihood, OKC is going to take whoever falls out of Tier 2. I love Scottie Barnes, but there is a world where the Raptors pick Barnes and the Magic pick Kuminga.

That gives us Jalen Suggs, who might be the most enticing pick out of those three for OKC. Why is that, you may wonder? Well, outside of Cade Cunningham, Suggs is probably the most polished player coming out of this draft.

There’s a slight motivation to reach on Kai Jones with no big man rostered in OKC at the moment, but that fix will come later. Suggs is a player who can not only start now, but has All-Star potential and is a near-perfect compliment to SGA. Suggs is the epitome of a combo guard. He can play off-ball and let SGA create, or he can serve as a primary ball-handler and create while Shai is on the bench.

He’s proven he can play on the big stage (NCAA Tournament) and he’s a winner through and through. Outside of Cunningham, there’s no player in this draft class that will contribute to a winning team more than Jalen Suggs. Plus, securing their guard spots long term allows OKC to take chances on the uber-talented bigs and wings draft classes that are coming up.

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At #16:

Santiago:

Usman Garuba – If I truly believed that Alperen Sengun won’t be a lottery pick, I would’ve put his name in here.

But he’s way too good to fall to #16.

In that case, I would love to have Usman Garuba rocking a Thunder jersey next season. As a Euroleague aficionado, I’ve watched many Real Madrid games. Garuba has that steal-of-the-draft potential in him. The 6’8″ PF reminds me a little bit of Gabriel Deck, but is 19 years old. He is already one of the best defenders of the draft, as he’s able to guard 1-5 with his 7’3″ wingspan and he’s an unbelievable shot-blocker. He plays with a lot of energy and hustle that can help any team from day one.

He has that Kenny Hustle spark that will make Garuba a fan favorite from day one. His shooting and offensive game in general isn’t there yet, however, and needs some development. He’ll probably play as a small-ball five for the Thunder until he can become a legit offensive threat. The instant NBA comparison is Montrezl Harrell.

High-risk, high-reward pick. And we know Presti loves those.

Eshan:

Alperen Sengun – At just 18 years old, Alperen Sengun won MVP in the Turkish League, averaging 19.2 points, 9.4 rebounds and 1.7 blocks per game. At 6’10”. 245 lbs, he’s a big body that can play either as a forward or center. This is an area where OKC’s young roster lacks a real prospect, with the exception of Aleksej Pokusevski, who has proven to be inconsistent at times. Sengun’s low-post game and soft touch at the rim make him a great scorer of the basketball.

This is something the Thunder could use desperately, after ranking dead last in offense last season. OKC will be hoping Sengun doesn’t get snapped up too early in the draft and they can steal him at 16.

Adrian:

Ziaire Williams.

If I am being honest, this is a stretch. Williams is actually the No. 4 prospect on my draft board, but most mock drafts have him going in the 8-20 range. If teams are smart, he won’t slide far, but I am holding out hope that he will. We’ve seen in recent drafts that poor college performance from highly touted prospects can provide significant slippage on draft night i.e. Nassir Little, Immanuel Quickley, Tyrese Maxey, etc.

Ziaire was not very good in his only season with Stanford, but his stroke is pure and he hit a growth spurt this summer, growing from 6’8″ in shoes, to 6’10” without shoes. He has Paul George‘s craft and athleticism with Brandon Ingram‘s length.

https://twitter.com/brhoops/status/1399894041160916996?s=20

If he shows signs of growing into his potential, the need for Emoni Bates in future drafts is mute. The same can be said with Darius Bazley, as sad as it is to say it. But there’s a very real chance OKC could secure it’s guard lineup for the foreseeable future and lock up it’s starting forwards in Williams and Poku if Ziaire does indeed slide into their lap at 16. If he doesn’t slip to 16, look for OKC to take Alperen Sengun or James Bouknight.

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At #18:

Santiago:

Jared Butler – Butler’s definitely one of the most proven players of the draft. An NCAA Champion this year, the 6’3″ PG can be a solid player that can impact any team from day one. His scoring is off the charts, as he can create his own shot or appear as a spot-up shooter.

Butler can also create for others. When he comes out of the PnR he knows where to find the open man, and isn’t a selfish player. His handles are very solid and while his finishing isn’t great, he isn’t afraid to take it to the rim.

His defense is really good, too. He’s quick and physical, even though he lacks size sometimes to guard bigger players. He was a two-time Big 12 All-Defensive team member. If you’re looking for a rookie that can score from the very first minute he steps onto an NBA arena, Butler is one of the names that fits the criteria.

Eshan:

Jared Butler – He could be the perfect backcourt partner for Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, or even a great option to run the second unit. In Baylor’s incredible path to the NCAA title in 2021, Butler averaged 16.7 points, 4.8 assists and 2.0 steals per game. What’s most impressive though is his efficiency from the field at just 21 years of age. In the title run, he shot an impressive 47.1% from the field and 41.6% from three. He should be able to take some of the offensive pressure off of SGA and provide a playmaking spark, as he did in Baylor’s title run.

He doesn’t shy away from big moments either, putting up 22 points and seven assists in the championship game.

 

Adrian:

Alperun Sengun. This is another reach, but not as much as Williams. Sengun has been right outside the lottery on my big board for quite some time, and in any other draft there’s a real shot he’d be a top-10 prospect. The newly minted Turkish league MVP fills the void that Al Horford and Moses Brown leave behind.

OKC needs a big man, and a skilled big like Sengun provides a lot of opportunity for creation in PnR sets. OKC hit a homerun when they drafted Domantas Sabonis a few years ago, but Billy Donovan tried to use Sabonis as a spot-up shooter. Sengun is a stockier version of Sabonis, and might be more polished coming into the NBA than Sabonis was when he first entered.

I trust Mark Daigneault to do right by Sengun if he’s still available at pick 18. If not, looking at other potential bigs like Usman Garuba or DayRon Sharpe is a possibility.

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Now we wait.

If there’s one thing we’re all sold on, it’s Sam Presti’s ability to make things work in OKC’s favor. Whatever he ends up deciding to do will likely be a great decision. Until then, stay tuned into Draft Lead for prospect reports and more as we draw nearer to draft night.

Follow us on Twitter @ThunderLead for the latest Thunder news and insight. 

About Adrian Walker

Graduate from UNC Chapel Hill with a degree in Broadcast Journalism. Been covering sports since I was 14 years old. I have an Emmy nomination to my name and have helped produce two documentaries. I Co-Host a podcast called the Flight School Podcast which can be found on Spotify and iTunes. My mind is basically a storage base for every known fact about Russell Westbrook.

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