The Oklahoma City Thunder had the 21st pick and 29th pick in last night's NBA Draft at Barclays Center. Using both picks and swinging a trade with the Charlotte Hornets for draft rights to another, they came out with three players overall: Mitch McGary, Josh Huestis and Semaj Christon. It was a surprising night that came with mixed emotions, but let's step back and take a sober look at it.
Thunder draft Mitch McGary 21st overall
- Mitch McGary is a 6'10", 263 lbs center out of Michigan. Due to injuries, he only played eight games last season, and due to a one-year suspension for marijuana that would've kept him out of next season, McGary entered this year's draft despite being projected as a bubble first rounder.
- I've always seen Nick Collison in McGary. He does the little things: sets good screens, makes the right passes, crashes the boards hard, defends intelligently, scores on opportunistic looks, and plays with his all. McGary doesn't dominate physically or with any one skill, but he does a lot of things well and seems built to be an effective role player.
- Word is the Thunder made a draft promise to McGary, prompting him to pull out of draft workouts with other teams. We've seen this before, most notably with Reggie Jackson and reportedly with Kristaps Porzingis this year before Porzingis opted out of the draft. The Thunder definitely wanted McGary.
- I like McGary, even if he's a bit of a reach at 21. He should fit in nicely, whether he plays right away or not. He could bump Hasheem Thabeet off the roster as the fifth big (I will cry) and spend time in the D-League, or alternatively, Kendrick Perkins could get amnestied and McGary could see NBA minutes right away. He's 22 and definitely could be able to handle a bit role. Collison's minutes seem to be on the decline, and when his contract expires after next season, perhaps McGary replaces him.
Thunder draft Josh Huestis 29th overall
- Drafting McGary was mildly surprising as a slight reach, but this one was the real shocker. Josh Huestis is a 6'7", 213 lbs swingman out of Stanford. He was projected as a late second-rounder, and this pick was so similar to the Andre Roberson reach from last season.
- Paraphrasing from DraftExpress: Huestis has a 7'1" wingspan, and fits right into the mold of the Thunder's recent strategy of getting guys that can joust with their arms. Defensively, he can be a lot to contend with. He's quick, he's athletic, he's intense, and word is he can defend multiple positions. The question is his offense, where he offers very little beyond running, jumping and dunking. He'll have to finish developing a three-point shot to be playable (shot 33.8% from deep last season). Again: Andre Roberson is written all over this dude.
- It's probably too much to ask for Huestis to contribute much right off the bat (then again, we said the same thing about Steven Adams), but the Thunder likely drafted him as a secondary plan along Roberson who very much proved to be a work in progress last season. Thabo Sefolosha faded, and may not be back for next year. Huestis is another guy the Thunder can attempt to develop into that role of defensive stopper, hedging their bets across two different players.
- Like McGary, the fact that the Thunder reached for Huestis convinces me that this was a guy that they wanted. Seeing your team reach in a loaded draft is going to be a frustrating experience on draft night, especially if you had Player X or Player Y who you coveted but fell past your reaching team, but the Thunder generally get the benefit of the doubt with these things. Their front office has, for the most part, drafted well.
Thunder trade cash for Semaj Christon
- Xavier guard Semaj Christon must've had a confusing night. He was drafted with the Miami Heat's 55th pick, but that pick was promised to the Charlotte Hornets as a component in the Shabazz Napier/P.J. Hairston trade. Shortly after, news broke that Christon was on his way to the Thunder for cash considerations to the Hornets.
- Christon is generally listed as a point guard, standing 6'3" and weighing 186 lbs. It's hard to expect much from anybody picked this late, but scouting reports primarily label him as a scoring guard that attacks the rim for most of his buckets. He's athletic, appears to be a tenacious defender, passes well out of drives and has a developing three-point shot. I don't insist on comparisons, but I'm definitely recognizing a few flashes of Reggie Jackson here.
- The Thunder are likely to re-stock on guards in free agency, but if Reggie Jackson is the guy who replaces Sefolosha in the starting lineup, then Christon has an outside shot at some minutes. I'm liking what I hear about him from scouting reports, but it all comes down to how good he is. Guys picked this late aren't even locks to make the D-League roster. Christon will have to prove the strengths in his game are strong enough for the NBA.
- Here's what was most shocking about the Thunder's draft results: the reaches. The Thunder isolated players they like and took them, which is how they operate. But they picked guys well in advance of where they were expected to be picked, especially with Huestis, and that also means they passed on guys with higher draft stock like Shabazz Napier, P.J. Hairston and Cleanthony Early. Even if they preferred other guys, there were likely other teams that would've paid up to get players the Thunder passed on. The Thunder could've still had "their guys", but they could've turned a reach for a player into that player and an extra asset.
- But here's something else: ultimately, it's probably not a big deal. It's definitely frustrating to see the guys I'm familiar with and the guys I like passed over, and I'm sure many of you guys feel the same way. But I trust this front office, and in the end, they got the guys they wanted. That's what this team does. An extra asset might just mean cash or a second round pick, and that might be no more consequential than this team reaching to get the guy they wanted. The end result isn't asset accumulation, it's getting a good team out there. They're closely related, but not the same thing.
- The players the Thunder added today – McGary, Huestis, Christon – don't inspire a lot of immediate hope. McGary is the most likely to be able to contribute off the bat, but there's not a whole lot of playing time available in the frontcourt. Sam Presti has already said that Huestis is probable for D-League time, and it's easy to imagine him regularly flitting between the Thunder and the Tulsa 66ers regularly as others have done before. Christon, based on his draft slot, doesn't command any real expectations right now.
- That's fine. The Thunder can draft for the future. But they had real needs (three-point shooting most notably) and limited cap flexibility. Guys I mentioned earlier like Napier, Hairston and Early appeared to be NBA-ready shooters. The decision to pass on them means the need will have to be addressed in a different way: trade or free agency. Those avenues may produce better and more proven players, but they may not be so easy as being on the clock with Napier, Hairston or Early facing you from the draft board. If the Thunder don't address their needs this offseason, the draft results could seem like a mistake even if they got the guys they wanted.
- For now, the final verdict is 'wait-and-see'. Wait and see what the Thunder do in the rest of the offseason. Wait and see how these guys do, short-term and long-term. Wait and see if the Thunder were right to pick who they did and avoid who they didn't. Any sort of grade I could give now would be based on value, and the Thunder elected to draft by their big board over value so I'd be giving them a poor grade. But let's wait and see.