The Thunder's front office has been credited as one of the most successful in the NBA. Despite coming from a small market, the Thunder have been able to field a winning team for six consecutive seasons by continually finding gems in the NBA draft. Let's take a look at some of the best draft picks the Thunder have made, starting with the team's genesis in 2008. (Only players whom the Thunder held the rights to after draft night was over will be considered.)
Honorable Mention: Andre Roberson, Pick #26, 2013
The Next 3: Rudy Gobert, Livio Jean-Charles, Archie Goodwin
The Thunder actually had to trade pick #29 with some cash to get Roberson on draft day. So even though it looks like the Thunder could have nabbed Gobert, it's not as easy as you might think. Besides, the Thunder were looking for a Sefolosha replacement at the time, and Roberson fits the bill. Offensively, Roberson can hit the corner three and get some surprise offensive rebounds, taking pressure off of Westbrook and KD. Defensively, Roberson can use his length to keep bigger guards out of the paint. He's still a step below Sefolosha in terms of on ball skill, but a step above Sefolosha in terms of size and athleticism. Really not a bad pickup for the late first round.
Honorable Mention: Mitch McGary, Pick #21, 2014
The Next 3: Jordan Adams, Rodney Hood, Shabazz Napier
The jury's still out on McGary. He's had a couple of impressive offensive performances, and his floor-running ability is something to behold. But McGary's rookie season was marred by bouts with injury and poor performances on the defensive end. A lot of people think McGary has the potential to be a rotation player. I'm going to go ahead and say that it was a good pick for now, simply because the next three players down the line don't wow me. Adams never got off the bench in Memphis, and Shabazz Napier posted poor percentages in Miami. Rodney Hood has a shot to be a decent scorer in the NBA, but it's not like the Thunder need perimeter scorers at this point.
5. Steven Adams, Pick #12, 2013
The Next 3: Kelly Olynyk, Shabazz Muhammad, Giannis Antetokounmpo
This was a really, really solid pick. Obviously, the Jazz lucked out a bit more when they nabbed Gobert at pick 27. But Adams is still a very good value at pick 12, and may end up being better than Gobert when it's all said and done. Still, it's not like Presti could have gone very wrong with whomever he picked in this position. Olynyk has range and would make OKC's offense unstoppable, Muhammad is a decent athletic wing, and Antetokounmpo has tons of potential. There were a few notable big man busts earlier on in the draft, but it's not like Presti could have picked them, anyway. Overall, this was just a solid pick in a solid year.
4. Serge Ibaka, Pick #24, 2008
The Next 3: Nicholas Batum, George Hill, Darrell Arthur
Getting Serge Ibaka in the late first round is a wonderful feat, and shouldn't be underestimated. But when you look back on the 2008 Draft, it's full of gems. I mean, it's not like the Thunder would have really suffered with Nicholas Batum, and Hill and Arthur are solid rotation players. That's the only reason I think this pick is less amazing than the Reggie Jackson pick below. But still, Ibaka has been an irreplaceable pillar for the Thunder over the past five seasons. He's made the NBA All-Defensive first team three times, and led the league in shot blocking twice. That's not even mentioning Ibaka's exceptional skill from mid-range, or his high-flying dunks.
3. Reggie Jackson, Pick #24, 2011
The Next 3: MarShon Brooks, Jordan Hamilton, JaJuan Johnson
The Thunder really, really lucked out with this pick. It was the product of a very sneaky tactic by the Thunder's front office. Before the draft, the Thunder promised Jackson that they would pick him at #24. Jackson wanted to go to the Thunder, so he decided to shut down all of his workouts in order to hurt his own draft stock. He even went so far as to cite a knee tweak as the reason for canceling workouts. All went according to plan, and the Thunder got their man. Hilariously, four years later, Reggie Jackson would resent his role on the Thunder's bench and force a trade to Detroit. But the Thunder ended up getting Enes Kanter, Kyle Singler and D.J. Augustin out of a late first round pick. I'd say that's excellent value. Especially considering the next three picks down the line....
2. Russell Westbrook, Pick #4, 2008
The Next 3: Kevin Love, Danilo Gallinari, Eric Gordon
Russell Westbrook is the best player in this draft. So being able to grab him at pick #4 is extremely lucky. Sure, Russ has had to deal with a couple separate bouts with injury. But Westbrook has stayed on the floor a lot longer than Love and Rose, the other superstars of 2008. Russ has also racked up more hardware, and captured some amazing statistical feats without Durant last season.
1. James Harden, Pick #3, 2009
The Next 3: Tyreke Evans, Ricky Rubio, Jonny Flynn
This one hurts to look at, but Harden was an amazing steal. More amazing than Westbrook, simply because the draft class of 2009 was much weaker overall. Had the Thunder ended up with Evans, Rubio, or Flynn, our team outlook could look very different today. Harden's presence allowed the Thunder to get to the Western Conference Finals in 2011, as well as the NBA Finals in 2012. Even after Harden's departure, Harden's value allowed the Thunder to pick up Kevin Martin and Steven Adams. Martin helped the Thunder get the West's 1 seed in 2013, and Adams continues to be a solid presence today. If the Thunder had selected anyone else here, it's hard to say whether the Thunder would have enjoyed the same level of success. (Stephen Curry is the exception, obviously.)
In a post to come tomorrow, I'll take a look at the Thunder's worst draft picks of all time. Stay tuned!