The NBA draft is fast approaching and the draft lottery is in less than two weeks, scheduled for May 21st. This is about the time of year that everyone starts to do mock drafts and their draft analysis. Here is my attempt at that analysis, examining players from the Thunder franchise's perspective. It won't be long before all teams are making their roster decisions and then one of my favorite things in the world, NBA rookie league games, gets going.
First of all, how much better is the NBA draft than the NFL draft? The wait time from the Final Four to the NBA draft is so much shorter and so much more entertaining, and the lottery is really exciting.
The Thunder has the Raptor's first round pick and it is a protected pick. This means that if the Raptors' pick falls within the top 3, the Raptors actually keep the pick and the protected pick rolls forward for a year. The chances of the pick being in the top 3 is something like 4%. The most likely landing spot as far as percentages go for the Thunder pick is the 12th pick. The Thunder also have the 29th and 32nd overall pick. If the percentages play out, the Thunder have 3 of the first 32 picks, more picks than any other team in that stretch of drafting.
1. What do the Thunder need?
The Thunder do not need any radical additions, as they are obviously one of the best teams in the NBA. That being said, the Thunder do have some holes and they commonly look to fill them with young talent. With the current play of Kendrick Perkins, the one obvious hole seems to be a talented center. Kendrick Perkins isn't exactly an all star or even a standout player and has struggled in the playoffs. The one thing that the Thunder have never had is a legitimate center or someone that can score with their back to the basket. If there was a talented center available, you would have to think that the Thunder would be interested.
The next hole the Thunder could look fill is a quality 2/3 backup, basically someone that could eventually be DeAndre Liggins. Don't get me wrong I love DeAndre Liggins and I think he is valuable, but I think there could be better players for that role. I think if there was a player that could fill that role and then the Thunder would pull the trigger.
The thing not to forget is that whoever the Thunder draft is going to spend a lot of time in Tulsa in the D-League, just like Perry Jones III and Jeremy Lamb did this past season. The Thunder like young talent, but they also like to develop young talent slowly in the D-League. Whoever it is that the Thunder draft they will probably not be seeing quality minutes for a while.
2. Who are the possible picks?
ESPN's draft guru Chad Ford believes that the Thunder are going to draft a big man. Here is what he has to say in his 2nd mock draft:
#12 Pick: Gorgui Dieng
Really, Oklahoma City is set at every position. However, Dieng is the one player left on the board who probably could help them now. Not only is he physically ready for the NBA, he's a good shot-blocker, a solid rebounder and an excellent passer out of the high post. With the Thunder a little weak up front, I think Dieng could be a nice addition to their frontcourt.
With that in mind, here are some possible draft selections for the Thunder with the #12 pick:
- Cody Zeller - The star from Indiana almost entered the draft last year as a freshman but decided to come back for his sophomore season. Zeller is a legitimate 7 footer who can score from anywhere. The one knock is that he isn't a terrific shooter. However, he is smart and can really run the floor. Unfortunately the likelihood of Zeller being around by the time the Thunder get a chance is low.
- Gorgui Dieng - The 6'11 Louisville Center is one of the most NBA ready players in the draft. He has an NBA body and can rebound and block shots. He won't light it up offensively but he could be effective right now. Dieng was a key piece to Louisville's national championship team.
- Mason Plumlee - Plumlee is a 6'11 center from Duke that is extremely experienced. The upside for Plumlee probably isn't near what it is for someone like Cody Zeller or Alex Len, but he is someone that is going to be able to contribute quickly. If you are looking for a solid defender and a finisher and rebounder Plumlee is your man. Plumlee isn't an outstanding offensive player, but he can do many other things well.
- Alex Len - Might be the big with the most upside in the draft. He is a 7'1 center with a big frame. The freshman from Ukraine was inconsistent at Maryland, but still has NBA tools. The Thunder have had issues with drafting bigs on potential in the past (Byron Mullens, Cole Aldrich). His stock has also dropped a little bit because of a stress fracture that he has in his ankle.
- Kelly Olynyk - The 7-0 Gonzaga Junior was one of the most improved players this year in college basketball. Olynyk has a surprisingly polished post game for someone in college. He was one of the most efficient players in college basketball this past year. He isn't the most athletic player, but what he lacks in athleticism he makes up skill and smarts.
- Victor Oladipo - Zeller's teammate at Indiana is one of the most sought at prospects because of his athleticism and intangibles. Oladipo is an improving shooter and overall offensive player, but really shines on defense. Oladipo was able to score the ball easily at Indiana. I would compare Oladipo to a Tony Allen that can score the ball.
- Shabazz Muhammad - One of the most sought after recruits coming out of high school, Muhammad is an exciting strong forward out of UCLA. Muhammad can flat score the ball, he can do it anyway you want. The chances of him being around are slim but he could be that Harden type of player the Thunder need. The knock on Muhammad is that he has a poor attitude and is a bad teammate, traits that are sure to raise red flags for the Thunder franchise.
- Michael Carter Williams - Williams is a point guard out of Syracuse. Williams is nearly 6'6 and can do it all. He is a terrific ball handler and decision maker, but is big enough that he can play and defend shooting guards. Carter-Williams has an enormous upside.
- Kentavious Caldwell Pope - I really like Pope's game he can straight score the ball. He is a big athletic gurad that can shoot well, but also take you off the dribble. He was the SEC player of the year that has a high ceiling. Has yet to really prove whether or not he can defend but he can score.
The Thunder's next two picks (29 and 32) are much more difficult to forecast. It depends on who the team picks with their first pick and who else is left. With two picks that close together it is also very likely that Presti would deal one of them for either a player or more picks.
The fact of the matter is that no one knows what Presti is going to do. He has shown that he will draft someone overseas so that he can hold on to their rights, or that he will trade away the pick in order to generate future assets. Presti has assets on assets, an enviable position for a championship contender. The amount of young talent and draft picks that Presti has to his disposable might be the most that he has ever had. So these are some possible prospects the Thunder could go after but Presti could do anything with this.
The Thunder might be at the point though that they can no longer keep trying to gain young talents and assets, and need to start going after proven players. The Heat for example has veteran guys like Birdman, Ray Allen, and Rashard Lewis coming off the bench. These are proven players that signed with the Heat for cheap in order to play with LeBron James and chase a championship ring. Those guys signed as free agents, but it might be time that the Thunder starts courting and going after players like this. At a certain point they are going to have to start trying to load up with players that are proven and can win now. But again, who knows what Sam Presti is planning on doing? Perhaps Presti himself doesn't even know yet.