5 years ago, Russell Westbrook walked across the stage, putting on a Seattle Supersonics hat. But that would be the first and last time that he would ever see himself in the green and gold, for the team soon to be known as the Thunder were months away from taking the court in Oklahoma City.
That draft, for all intents and purposes, contained the very first acts of a new franchise. The Oklahoma City Thunder were born, and they were about to navigate their way from laughingstock to contender. But the road to triumph isn't without its' tragedies. Though it's easy to remember the triumphant selections of Westbrook, Ibaka, and Harden, sometimes we tend to forget the follies of Cole Aldrich, Byron Mullens, and Tibor Pleiss. My purpose here isn't to highlight Presti's snafus, but I do hope to evaluate the Thunder's draft day performance as a whole.
In other words: Are we the San Antonio-like geniuses we thought we were? Or were we just lucky?
Coming into this year, the SuperSonics were a complete disaster. They had seen some level of success in 2005 with the dynamic scoring duo of Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis, getting to the second round of the playoffs. But that team would fall apart after coach Nate McMillan bolted for the Trail Blazers. Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis eventually suffered from injuries and wanted out, resulting in Lewis leaving in free agency and Allen getting traded to the Celtics. During the 2007-2008 season, the team became this strange combination of developing young guys and older role players, all fighting for playing time. Sam Presti had just taken over, and was making a number of deals in order to clean the roster of players who couldn't stick along for the rebuilding (like Wally Sczerbiak and Kurt Thomas). He also had the job of evaluating prospects from the previous regime, like Johan Petro and Robert Swift.
Thus, at the draft, the mission was clear. The Sonics would need to draft for the future, but drafting a big wasn't necessarily such a good idea. The team already had a swath of potential prospects currently developing, and needed help at guard.
#4: Russell Westbrook, UCLA
This pick couldn't have been more on-point. At the time, Rose, Beasley, and Mayo were considered to be the defacto top 3 picks. So pick #4 was kind of a crap shoot. There were about 5 different ways the pick could have gone talent-wise, but Presti knew that he needed a point guard. Ridnour and Watson were serviceable, but not guys who could get Durant and Green the ball where they needed it. Jarryd Bayless and D.J. Augustin were definitely in the conversation at this point, and Chad Ford actually predicted the Sonics would go with Bayless. But Presti went with athleticism over skill, and it paid off. Westbrook wasn't the most impressive rookie, but was given time to develop and became a total steal at that pick. You could argue that Love might've helped out, but that conversation ended with all of the injury issues Love has.
#24: Serge Ibaka, CB L'Hospitalet, LEB, Spain
Missed: Nicholas Batum (25), George Hill (26)
A lot of people knew about Presti's intention to draft Ibaka beforehand, mostly because he was the best draft and stash player available. Serge Ibaka was only 18 at the time, and still very raw (basically, his only offensive move was the dunk). Batum was definitely in the conversation for that pick as well, but the Sonics were already pretty set at Small Forward. Presti could afford to gamble on a stash guy at this point, so he went with Ibaka. All things considered, it's the best pick he could have possibly made. There were a few good players below Ibaka, but Ibaka has by far has the most impact on his team.
#50: Devon Hardin, California
It's hard to fault Presti for gambling on Hardin here. Hardin was almost a first round talent, but had slipped down the boards hard and was a nice gamble. Sadly, Hardin suffered an injury soon after being drafted and couldn't participate in the Summer League. He eventually signed overseas and we never heard from him again. Basically, he was 22 and hadn't developed a game yet, so he never really had the skills to go with his athleticism. Regardless, I kinda wish he made the roster at some point so we could have had two metapods, but some things were never meant to be.
The Sonics had a whopping 6 picks in this draft, so they had to find some way to get rid of all of them. This trade might seem silly on the surface, but it was a gamble for Presti, who had to give D.J. White a guaranteed contract as a first round player. Did the gamble pay off? Mostly. Sharpe barely saw the NBA floor, and Plaisted was never on a roster. D.J. White, on the other hand, was nothing more than a glorified insurance policy, but he did have value. He got some fringe rotation minutes in 2010, despite never developing his game beyond the mid-range shot. He was eventually traded for Nazr Mohammed, who really helped the Thunder during their 2010 and 2011 playoff runs. So, yeah, that's something.
Seattle trades Pick 56 (Sasha Kaun) to the Cleveland Cavaliers for ca$h.
Good deal, since, Kaun never entered the NBA.
The 2008 Draft can basically be considered the foundation for the modern Thunder. In a poor draft, Presti managed to grab Westbrook and Ibaka, who are the team's second and third best players currently. He didn't really bust out, and made a selection that turned into Nazr Mohammed, who was the team's primary backup center during two deep playoff runs. If you want to go even further, you could consider how he traded for Kyle Weaver, a spot rotation player from 2008-2010, that August. Nearly flawless performance overall, and one that's definitely worth remembering.
The Thunder began the 08-09 season without direction, and quickly fell into the NBA's cellar. However, with a few tweaks from coach Scott Brooks, they began to emerge as competitive, challenging some playoff teams late in the season. Their end of year record was pretty low, but it became apparent that the Thunder needed to draft players who could help out 2-3 years down the road, rather than 4-5 years down the road. Their low record landed them the third pick, and they had the 25th pick courtesy of the Kurt Thomas trade back in 2007. All of the second round picks were gone, so they'd have to hit it out of the park with what they had.
#3: James Harden, Arizona State
Missed: Stephen Curry (7)
At the time, it was really disappointing to miss out on favorite son Blake Griffin, who went #1. There were rumblings about trading up, but the ailing Clippers refused any trade talk. So, the Thunder were left to choose with a swath of prospects. Lots of players had high ceilings, but were far from the sure thing that the Thunder needed. A lot of mocks had them drafting Ricky Rubio, who was thought to be the next coming of Steve Nash. Other potential prospects included Stephen Curry, and Tyreke Evans. But Sam Presti avoided all of that talk and made two statements with his selection. For one, the Thunder trusted Russell Westbrook to be their point guard of the future. For two, the Thunder were going to win now. So he went with the safe pick and selected James Harden. Even though Harden would eventually leave, as we all know, he far exceeded anyone else who was selected below him in this draft, and helped the Thunder reach the Finals in 2012. Excellent, excellent pick.
B.J. Mullens was a near-lotto talent that managed to see his stock drop around draft time. Seeing an opportunity for teams who might have been waiting, the Mavericks snapped him up. It's true that the Mavs needed a center at the time (with Dampier and Diop getting old) but Mullens didn't fit their defense-first mentality at that position, so it seems like a power play by them. The Thunder wanted Mullens, so they dished a second round pick for him and drafted Beaubois, a reach at 25, for the Mavs.
The trade didn't cost much, because the pick turned into Europe-bound Solomon Alabi, but it didn't exactly pay huge dividends, since Mullens never got regular minutes on the Thunder. Mullens eventually got his chance to shine with Charlotte, but he plays extremely inefficiently, and will be moreso remembered for helping us obtain Mohammed. It's hard to say I was disappointed with a late first round pick, but I can't help but wishing that the Thunder had just kept Beaubois or drafted Taj Gibson. Either of those players would be a huge boon to us at this point.
At the time, the Thunder were close to being the worst three point shooting team in the league. So it couldn't hurt to spend a pick on a marksman like Robert Vaden. He would play for the 66ers admirably and eventually make the roster, but he never saw the floor. Considering that most players from that portion of the draft never made their teams, that's an accomplishment. It looks kinda bad with Vaden sandwiched between Nando De Colo and Patty Mills on the draft board, but eh, I'm not sulking.
I kinda wanna say that this was a mixed bag, but any time you draft one of only two All-NBA players out of a collection of 60, you've got to pat yourself on the back. Harden's success masks the failure of Mullens in this draft, but you've got to put the whole thing in perspective. Most teams who invested in this draft came out with came out with garbage. The Thunder actually kicked their talent up a notch, and didn't really lose anything of value. That's a good day in anyone's book.
After only two years of rebuilding, the Thunder had made the playoffs, and shocked NBA fan everywhere. The competition was extremely tight, and they were within a hair of getting a decent seed, but they faded late and matched up with the eventual NBA Champion Lakers. Again, they came really close to an upset, but a last second Pau Gasol layup sent them home for the Summer. That last layup highlighted a serious problem with the Thunder's current configuration. They needed a big man. Nenad Krstic was too soft defensively, and Jeff Green was too small to tango with most of the NBA's power forwards. The Thunder had a slew of late picks, but they'd need to move up if they wanted someone who could help out immediately.
The Thunder made no picks that stayed on the roster after draft day.
This is probably the most questionable move in Thunder draft history. Aldrich hardly played a serious minute on the Thunder, is about to bust out of the NBA, and was drafted before Larry Sanders and Kevin Seraphin. Then again, all OKC had to give up for him was another total bust and a journeyman three point shooter. Not exactly a huge gamble. Still, you can't argue that this wasn't a bad deal. It's understandable in a 2010 mindset, since Aldrich was the only reasonably solid center prospect outside of Cousins and Monroe. If I was faced with the decision at the time, I would've done it, and so would've a lot of people. But, facts are facts, and it would be nice to have Pondexter on our roster right now.
Oklahoma City trades Pick 18 (Eric Bledsoe) to the Clippers for a conditional future first round pick.
Again, this was a trade that made sense at the time. With Russell Westbrook and Eric Maynor running point, there was no need for a third guard, even if he had value. So another solid first rounder down the line sounded like a good idea. And that pick eventually would go to Boston and become Fab Melo in the Kendrick Perkins trade, which also looked like a great deal at the time. But looking at it during 2013, you kinda realize that we might have gotten to where we are without the help of Perk. Imagine a Thunder team where Ibaka eventually took over at center, Jeff Green was still trucking at power forward, and Eric Bledsoe was providing handles and scoring off the bench. History might have been a lot different, and the Thunder might have a championship right now. This deal didn't automatically trigger the Boston trade, but it set the gears in motion. Thus, it's easily one of the worst trades in Thunder history.
Oklahoma City trades cash to the Hawks for Pick 31 (Tibor Pleiss).
I like to look at this trade from two perspectives. First of all, the Thunder wasted money on the highest picked player to never see an NBA floor. But, then again, Tibor Pleiss is still an NBA ready talent, logging significant minutes for Caja Laboral, a Spanish team that's in the Euroleague. The only problem is that the Thunder didn't bring him over when his contract expired with Brose Baskets a year ago, so he's now under contract for another three years and would require a significant buyout in order for him to come to Oklahoma. So, when it's all said and done, this was a decent pick talent-wise, but I'm still bitter over the fact that he's never come to OKC.
Oklahoma City trades their 2011 first round pick to the Heat for Pick 48 (Latavious Williams).
Williams skipped college and went straight to the D-League, where he played for the 66ers. It only made sense for the Thunder to acquire his rights. Williams is a longshot to make it to the NBA at this point, but he's doing really well on some top European teams, and was named Liga ACB's most spectacular player in 2011. The pick traded to the Heat eventually became Milan Macvan, a Serbian player who has yet to see an NBA floor. So yeah, I'd say this holds up as a decent trade, since there's still some hope that Williams will join the team.
Reid was never considered to be an NBA talent, but the Thunder liked his work ethic so much that they actually wanted him. He was on the 66ers for a while, and actually made the Thunder's roster last year. He wasn't resigned though, and now plays in the French first division. Considering that Rolle will definitely never see an NBA floor, I'd say that's a minor victory.
Despite some potentially nice pickups in the second round, this draft was by and large a disaster. The bottom line is that the Thunder have exactly 0 players on their roster from this draft, and got next to no value from anything they actually drafted. Tangibly, they lost Eric Bledsoe and Quincy Pondexter, but intangibly, this draft costed them Jeff Green. again, it's really hard to fault Sam Presti for what he did, because we did end up making an NBA Finals run, and all of the trades made sense at the time. But today, the deals just aren't all that appealing.
This year, the Thunder went from pretender to contender. After slipping into the fourth seed, they ended up sweeping the Nuggets in the first round, ousting the Grizzlies in the second round, and falling to Dallas, who would eventually become champions. At this point, the Thunder didn't have any specific need. Their team was simply young and needed time to develop. Cole Aldrich was the supposed answer for the aging Nazr Mohammed, and the combo of Collison, Harden, and Maynor rounded out the rotation. At this point, the Thunder could draft simply for talent, while keeping an eye on the fact that contract negotiation with Harden and Ibaka were soon to come....
#24: Reggie Jackson, Boston College
This pick was pretty much telegraphed from the beginning. It was reported that Reggie Jackson received a guarantee from the Thunder that they would draft him, and he agreed to stop doing workouts for other teams. Some thought his stock might have risen had he not stopped showcasing himself, but it's impossible to know. Two years in, it's looking like Reggie Jackson was a really solid pick at that position. At this point, you could make the argument that any of the above players have done or will do better than Jackson, but the jury's still out. And, fact is, Presti's power play allowed him to secure a talent that he might not have already had.
The Thunder made no draft day trades this year.
At this point, the Thunder had solidified themselves as a contender, and they didn't want to tinker too much with the lineup. Beyond of their rotation, they didn't have a ton of tradeable assets, outside of waiver wire signees and unproven youngsters. Thus, it was probably a smart move to draft for talent and move on. The pick didn't really blow anyone away, but it was a net positive, and Jackson's best days as a Thunder player are definitely ahead of him.
The Thunder are coming off of an NBA Finals loss to the Miami Heat, seemingly a shade away from a championship. But dark clouds hang on the horizon. Serge Ibaka was signed to a very reasonable extension mid-season, but James Harden was not. He was liable to leave after the following season, and the Thunder already likely knew that he would ask for too much money. Under the new tax regulations, the small market Thunder simply couldn't afford to keep Harden, no matter how much they wanted to.
Seeing Bradley Beal near the top of the draft board intrigued Presti, so he heavily shopped Harden. The Bobcats considered the offer of Harden for their #2 pick, and the Wizards considered moving Beal for Harden after they drafted him. But Harden's salary kept both from completing a deal, and the Thunder had to stand pat with their pick, which was third to last in the first round at #28.
#28: Perry Jones III, Baylor
At this pick, Perry Jones was a Hail Mary pass. There were other viable talents to be had, like the four listed above, but Perry Jones has a much higher ceiling than any of those players do. He was projected to be a lottery pick before there were questions about the health of his knees and his willingness to play. Supposedly, he could become a legitimate contributor. But it's really impossible to know at this point, because he hasn't played anything but token minutes in a serious game. He was excellent in last year's pre-season though, so I'll give him the benefit of the doubt for now. Hopefully, this was a good pick.
The Thunder made no draft day trades this year.
It's a real shame that the Thunder didn't get to move Harden for Beal, but they did end up moving him for Jeremy Lamb, who was a lottery pick in this draft. Lamb, at 19, hasn't really shown any promise in the public games that he's played, but we all know that he's extremely raw and can certainly develop into a viable player. Whether he's the answer to our bench scoring dilemma is something that won't be known for a couple of years, but at this point, I think it was a solid move. Jones looks like a solid pick as well, and this draft might go down as the one who shored up a championship team or the one that sent us to being a pretender. Regardless, I think the Thunder drafted and traded well here.
Overall Thoughts on 2008-2012:
When you look at our draft history as a whole, it's hard not to smile. 2010 was a disaster, to be sure, but aside from that I can gauge all of the years as net positives. Granted, the last two years might have just made up for 2010, and we haven't had a rotation player come from the draft since 2009. Basically, there's a lot of ways to look at how it went, but I think the bottom line is that there's no point where Sam Presti made a really head-scratching move. Every deal looked good at the time, and I've agreed with nearly every single move Presti has made. Sure, we haven't had the best possible outcome, but we're far from the worst. (If you need to see that, just look at the Sonics draft history before Presti took over. Saer Sene, anyone?) And with three or more young talents joining the team heading into next season, there's always something to look forward to.
Will the Thunder be a contender again? Will they win a championship? No one knows, but I feel incredibly confident with this General Manager at the helm. This could be a dynasty before you know it, salary cap be damned.
What do you think of the Thunder's 5 year draft history? What are some of your favourite or least favourite moves? Let us know in the comments!
On a side note, remember that grades at WTLC are given out like so: A is far exceeded expectations, B is somewhat exceeded expectations, C is met expectations, D is fell a bit short of expectations, and F is fell way short of expectations.