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Sounds of Thunder: Grading the Oklahoma City Thunder’s pick, Terrance Ferguson

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What do we know about this kid?! A personal odyssey from the abyss to acceptance.

Who is that skinny kid with the sweet jumper?
usab.com

This has been a tough day. A draft that meant a lot to the Thunder, with so much promise going into it, now feels like a total bust. I’m going to try and work this thing out in my head, but I can already tell, it’s going to be a process.

Inititial Reaction

Why Terrance Ferguson? When there were players that were more polished and fit specific needs available, why did GM Sam Presti and an Oklahoma City Thunder team that finished dead last in 3-point percentage (32.6%) and 26th in free throw shooting percentage (74.2%), use their 21st pick for a kid that shot just 31% from beyond the arc and just 60% from the charity stripe?

Potential? Isn’t the Thunder currently being eaten alive with potential? With cap issues that eliminate the possibility of bringing in any real game changers, Presti needed to make a big splash with this draft and instead, at first glance, made a ripple equivalent to that of a sesame seed being thrown in the Pacific Ocean.

I’m a Presti fan, always have been, but I am beginning to waiver. The best players the Thunder have drafted since 2013 are Dakari Johnson (second round in 2015), another player with “potential,” but who has yet to log a single second in the NBA, and 2014’s 29th pick, Josh Huestis, who has amassed a whopping 28 points in 86 total big league minutes in 3 seasons.

The Thunder’s #14 lottery selection in 2015, Cameron Payne, turned out to be a small conference wanna-be, and 2014’s 21st pick Mitch McGary, unable to curb his off-court appetites, is long gone. In both those drafts, better players were available. Kelly Oubre and Justin Anderson in 2015, and Rodney Hood in 2014. Oubre was snagged with the 15th pick right after Payne, Anderson, ironically, fell to 21 and Hood was gone just 2 picks after McGary.

This year, my number 1, TJ Leaf, went off the board with the 18th pick, but that left Semi Ojeleye, a 42% 3-point shooter with an NBA ready bod and Tyler Lydon, 40% from distance. Presti took a powder on both and my gut tells me we will be hearing more from both of them before Ferguson ever dons a Thunder uniform.

My partner during the Facebook LIVE broadcast, Robert Mitchell, had his heart set on the Thunder picking a point guard. He was torn between Oklahoma State’s Juwan Evans and the 2017 Naismith College Basketball Player of the Year award winner, Frank Mason, a senior out of Kansas who averaged 47.1 % from distance on 5 attempts per game this past season. (pardon me for a moment, I’m going to go drink a big glass of battery acid right now).

This was the deepest draft in fifteen years, so deep in fact, teams were demanding other teams first born children in exchange for their second round picks and Presti opts for a player that wasn’t even mentioned in PickandRoll.com’s (the Australian website dedicated to the hoops scene down under) Season in Review piece on the Adelaide 36’ers. (again, my apologies, the battery acid isn’t working, it’s time to go straight for the arsenic)

Why? The cry of at least 95% of Thunder Nation that followed the 2017 NBA Draft, WHY?!?

This team needed help, now, and not another project. Granted, you won’t get a ready made super star with the 21st pick of the draft, but this draft was deep enough to get a player that could contribute something in a Thunder uniform next season rather than figuring things out across the street at the Cox Convention Center for the next 2 years!!!

The Day After the Fall

I hit up WTLC contributor and good friend, Mark Bruty, after the draft to give us the down under viewpoint on Ferguson and he responded immediately with his piece on the front page, Terrance Ferguson Oklahoma City Thunder: An up close assessment. (Thanks Mark)

Mark knows his hoops and his post helped, but I needed more, so I contacted him again via Twitter and posed this question:

Tell me about the NBL. That's what we in the states don't know. Give me some perspective. If the best NBL team were entered into the NCAA Div 1 tourney, how would they do?

Mark’s response:

They would win. Put it this way, our NBL is where some of the NBA talent has been playing. James Ennis from the Grizzlies? Played in our NBL. We have a few guys being invited to summer league because of it. The quality of the league is really good

And it's mature men. Olympians. Josh Childress, Hakim Warrick etc have played here. Patty Mills played here during the lockout

There is a reason Australia are pushing for an Olympic medal and that's because our league has become so strong.

Ben Simmons and his LSU team came and played against one of our NBL teams. I went and watched in person. LSU were good but the half strength Melbourne NBL team beat them by 20. Without Melbournes top 3 players

I know LSU weren't amazing but our league is pretty quality

My bro Mark Bruty and I during a LIVE broadcast last season.

I asked Mark if there was an Australian equivalent to basketballreference.com in Australia and he said unfortunately there wasn’t:

Unfortunately not. It would be really great if there was though. I thought Payne was a stretch but I also thought he could have developed and showed promise until the foot injury

I believe if Ferguson went to college he would have gone lottery. He would have averaged 15ppg in the college system

Plus our games are only 4 x 10 minute quarters

I'm sure we can find his per 36 numbers

See? Now do see why I call Mark my bro? Numbers are my thing and Mark knows it. Find Ferguson’s 36 minute numbers? Let me grab my calculator mate. (I can’t wait to talk to Mark and hear him say “Terrance Ferguson” in that rich Aussie accent of his)

(Mark and I on a LIVE broadcast earlier this season. Shhhhh.... Don’t tell Mark, but as our expert on the Thunder’s latest pick, he and I are going to do a Summer League preview just as soon as the roster is named.)

The Numbers

draftexpress.com

Standing reach plus Max Vert for Ferguson amounts to 141 inches. That’s 21 inches above the rim for anyone keeping score and should make a very nice target for Russell’s patented half court lob passes. Obviously a very slim 184 lbs is an area Ferguson needs to improve. (Pass the pasta)

draftexpress.com

Ferguson’s per 36 adjusted numbers are 10.96 pts, 1.43 assts, and 2.86 rebounds per game. Not eye-popping, but again, add some perspective, the numbers were against grown men and not college boys, in a physical league in a country that likes to play their version of Australian football minus pads and helmets...

... and the kid held his own.... all 184 lbs of him. From PickandRoll’s Luke Sicari today:

Ferguson spent the 2016/17 season with the Adelaide 36ers, averaging 4.6 points and 1.2 rebounds per game, while constantly flashing his immense potential and athletic ability. The Tulsa native was drafted by the Oklahoma City Thunder with the 21st pick, where he will team up with superstar Russell Westbrook.

Ferguson’s draft stock didn’t take a hit, despite bypassing college for the NBL, creating a path that others could follow in the future.

“The fact he was taken at number 21 vindicates [the NBL],” Loeliger told SEN radio.

“We actually had a very senior scout come from every one of the NBA clubs to Australia this year to watch NBL games, and the important by-product of that was that while they came to see Terrance, they also ended up seeing Nathan Sobey, Mitch Creek and Majok Majok. As a result, they’re playing in the NBA Summer League this July as well.

“I think everyone is starting to realise that we are not all talk. We are one of the best leagues in the world, we have one of the best training and development regimes in the world and it is not just there to benefit Australians.

“There is talent coming from everywhere to try and reap the rewards.”

Loeliger went on to add:

“Rather than heading to the NCAA, Terrance elected to come and play his only year before the draft in the NBL instead,” he said.

“The theory behind it was to play against men. To demonstrate that he isn’t a kid anymore, so what’s the point of going to college for a year to play against kids you’re already better than, when you’re already going to nominate for the draft 12 months later?

“You don’t really get much of the educational benefit, you can’t get money for it. Why not come down and train with some of the best coaches in the world and play against some of the best players in the world, and get some money for it.”

Get hard, get better, and get paid to do it. Not a bad plan.

Check out this article dated April 9, 2016. Recognize anyone? Wanna see the box score?

usab.com

Four of the top five picks in this NBA draft are on this roster and number one pick Markell Fultz didn’t even start, nor did the #4 Josh Jackson. The Nike Hoops Summit obviously represents the crème de la crème of US High School talent and Ferguson ws the star. His light didn’t shine just for one game. The banner photo for this post comes from the banner photo on this December 7th, 2015 usab.com article promoting the main Nike Hoops event on April 19th. Terrance Ferguson, in essence, was the face of that 2016 team and then delivered on game night. He played with the best this year’s draft had to offer, it’s right there in black and white (and red), and stole the show. Then went looking for bigger challenges in the land down under than he could find in the one and done culture of modern day NCAA basketball, and survived.

Ferguson is streaky, and he’s raw, but I am beginning to see the method behind the madness.

Conclusion and Grade

I don’t pretend to know what goes on in the war room at Thunder headquarters. I think anyone that claims they do is either a bona fide liar or totally certifiable. Donald Trump wishes he could keep secrets under wraps as well as Presti’s troops do, but this I do know. Throughout the evening the draft guru, Adrian Wojnarowski and his crew stayed 2, sometimes 3 jumps ahead of the actual announcements until it came time for the Thunder to choose. ESPN has been trying to silence Woj’s spot on predictions for years with no results. His moles are seemingly everywhere and unless your caught up in the glitz and token handshake with the commissioner, a Twitter account is all you need to get the first word on who picked who on draft night.

Tick, tick, tick, just like clockwork, Woj’s tweets kept coming. Number 18, TJ Leaf to the Pacers, crap!!! but check. Number 19, John Collins to the Atlanta Hawks, check. Number 20, Harry Giles to Portland, rights traded to Sacremento, check. While Woj was announcing #20, I was watching my guy, TJ Leaf, shaking hands with Nosferatu, aka Adam Silver while wiping a tear away, but the moment of truth had come.... or had it?

My Facebook LIVE partner, Robert Mitchell, and I anxiously waited for the next Tweet, and waited, and waited, and waited. Again, I don’t pretend to know what goes on behind closed doors at Thunder headquarters, but in 2015 we got word on Cameron Payne some minutes before the announcement and the Thunder’s time was up according to ESPN and no Woj bomb.

Something was still up in the air. We may never know exactly what that something was, but I have my suspicions. My gut tells me whatever Presti and his crew were working on (my guess, trading Kanter and getting out from under that contract) fell threw and we are going to be saying our sad good byes to Taj Gibson and Andre Roberson in the very near future. Terrance Ferguson was chosen as the best option to replace Robes’ defense in the coming years and hopefully regain that shooting touch he flashed at the Nike Hoops Summit.

Given the circumstances, and knowing what I know now, Ferguson would have been higher on my list. I still think Semi Ojeleye was the best option at the time no matter where he got picked, but at least I’ve put the battery acid and arsenic away.

Last night I gave the pick a grudging C -. Today, I give it a solid B+, hopefully time will move the needle even higher and on the bright side, I will use Terrance as an excuse to get my bro Mark Bruty on the Facebook LIVE show more often if he proves to be more than I expect next season. Besides, you have to tip your cap to any man that survived on Witchetty Grubs, Emu, Weet-Bix, Snags, Vegemite, and Balmain bugs for a year and lived to tell the tale.