Here are some Facts, the Thunder own the Toronto Raptors first round pick in the upcoming draft. The pick is currently slated for the 12th selection. So unless a heavy dose of draft day magic intercedes the Thunder should have a pick in the 10-14 range. The Thunder also have their own pick and the Dallas Mavericks pick which is top 20 protected so we won’t see it this year but they can still count it as an asset.
The Thunder don’t have a lot of holes in their roster. They could use a new back-up center, one who could replace Kendrick Perkins eventually. Depending on what happens with Kevin Martin and Jeremy Lamb this off-season the Thunder could need a scouring shooting guard as well. Some would also say that the Thunder need a more traditional point guard to back up Russell Westbrook. With the likely departure of the seldom used Ronnie Brewer the Thunder could also look to address the utter lack of a backup small forward behind All-Star Kevin Durant. All these "needs" aren’t very pressing mind you; it’s more like adding oil to a finely tuned machine. Taking everything above into consideration most would surmise that there are a couple players that the Thunder should/could draft.
The most obvious "if not the most talked about" need is for a back-up center. Lucky for the Thunder there seems to be a surplus of big men is this year’s draft class. Starting at the top with Nerlens Neol from Kentucky the projected top pick it this draft. After that things get a little more complicated so I like to group them into three groups; offensive, defensive and all-around, each with either the ability to help now or be drafted as a project. I have all the center and forward/center players that are projected to go in the first round listed below. There are five groups; offensive players that could help now (ON), offensive projects (OP), defensive players that could contribute now (DN), defensive projects (DP) and all-around players that could play now (AN). The all-around players usually have a lower ceiling then the other players.
ON: Cody Zeller Indiana, Kelly Olynyk Gonzaga
OP: Alex Len Maryland
DN: Gorgui Dieng Louisville, Jeff Withey Kansas
DP: Steven Adams Pitt, Lucas Nogueira Brazil
AN: Mason Plumlee Duke
All of these guys outside of Alex Len could be available to the Thunder with the 12th pick. So what should the Thunder do? That all depends on whether they want more offense with the departure of Russell Westbrook form the playoffs one would think that their offensive shortcoming would be at the forefront of the GM’s mind) or more defense. The Thunder played at the 10th fastest pace in the league this year and the two best running big men are Zeller and Olynyk. Then you have guys like Mason Plumlee who isn’t the runner Zeller or Olynyk are but is a better scorer then what they have now. Alex Len is second only to Noel in potential and has a great all-around offensive game but would need to add strength, prove he can stay healthy and focused.
Now for the defensive side of the ball; both Steven Adams and Lucas Nogueira are big risk big reward type players neither of which has an offensive game to speak of. The Thunder however prize themselves on player development. Nogueira is currently playing in the ACB and I could see the Thunder keeping him overseas to continue growing. Now if you’re looking for more of an instant impact on defense look no further then Gorgui Dieng from Louisville or Jeff Withey from Kansas. These players could come in from day one and contribute, not they would per-say since the Thunder like to bring their talent along slowly.
So who does the Thunder draft? With three 1st round draft picks and the 2nd overall pick in the second round one could make the case (a very good case I might add) that the Thunder could trade up in this draft and get a player that could make a big impact now rather than later. The Thunder already have an absurd amount of assets at their despoil and with the draft fast approaching the rich will only get richer. So why not make a trade and take a more win now mind set, because isn’t that where the Thunder are right now "win now". They have two of the top eight players in the league, why wouldn’t you try to make a move to put your team over the hump. I’m not suggesting they trade away all their young guys like Jeremy Lamb, Perry Jones III and Reggie Jackson. You could move up in this draft without trading a single one.
Whatever happens on draft night the Thunder will be near the top of the Western conference and the near the top of the league. The Thunder will make the pick that they think will help the team the most, whether that’s now or later is anyone’s guess.