Ten Thunderous Options for their First-Round-Pick
Let’s face it – it’s a long off-season when you get bounced in the first round of the NBA playoffs, and when you don’t want to tune in and watch Cupcake and his crew battle The King, you have to find other things to fill the “hoop void”.
Luckily, we have the NBA Draft and the Oklahoma City Thunder have a first round pick (albeit rather late – for now). This means we get to spend our spare minutes checking stats, combine reports, watching highlights and trawling through a variety of mock drafts. Now, if that all sounds too much for you – have no fear Thunder fans – I’ve got you covered. I’ve followed College basketball for a long time and I also had the pleasure of watching a LOT of one potential pick here in the Australian National Basketball League (NBL). So sit back, and wrap your eyeballs around the research.
Let’s start with what the Thunder actually need through the draft. It was painfully obvious last year that OKC have two glaring weaknesses – perimeter shooting and a back up point guard. At the trade deadline, the Thunder tried to address those issues with Doug McDermott and Norris Cole, but McBuckets hasn’t been given a good run at it largely due to defensive deficiencies and Cole basically went copper with no features.
So, heading into the 2017 NBA Draft armed with a first round pick, what might the Thunder do to improve the roster? Here are 10 potential picks the Thunder could make – obviously assuming we keep the pick and draft at #21 and relative to how the rest of the draft plays out.
Justin Jackson (6’8”, 201lbs, Small Forward, North Carolina)
Preface – it is HIGHLY unlikely that Jackson makes it this deep in the draft, especially after a fantastic NCAA Tournament, but if the other NBA teams are turned off by his lack of explosiveness, lanky frame and limited athleticism, then Sam Presti should pounce. The kid can play, and he fills the spot that OKC need filling – starting small forward. He has improved his shot and can find a variety of ways to score the basketball – something the Thunder could really use. He doesn’t rebound overly well, but he won’t need to in this team. He’s not a lock down defender either, but he is serviceable in the right system. At the end of the day, he’s a terrific talent who can space the floor and shoot the ball, he’s a reasonable athlete and an upgrade on any small forward on the OKC roster.
Draft Grade: A+
Donovan Mitchell (6’3”, 210lbs, Shooting Guard, Louisville)
Again, to nab Mitchell the Thunder might have to move up the order, but if by some miracle Mitchell falls to pick 21 then the Thunder would be incredibly happy. A little undersized for a shooting guard, but realistically you can just put him in the backcourt and watch him ball. He is strong, athletic, explosive – much like Russell Westbrook and Victor Oladipo, and could play alongside them in a small ball line up OR run the second unit and try to avoid the drop off experienced last season when Russ sat. He has also improved his ability to shoot the basketball from deep and while there are better shooters in the draft, none really are the complete package and therefore Mitchell would be a better choice, especially with his ability to defend.
Draft Grade: A
The Likely Suspects
Luke Kennard (6’6”, 202lbs, Shooting Guard, Duke)
I like this pick for a number of reasons. I have always been a fan of Aussie Joe Ingles and he has set himself up for a HUGE payday after a terrific season with the Utah Jazz on the back of basketball smarts, quality long range shooting and solid defensive prowess. Kennard reminds me a lot of Joe Ingles and would be a great addition for the current Thunder squad. What he lacks in wingspan and athleticism, he makes up for with quality footwork, savvy basketball IQ and body control. He finds a way to get to the spots required to be productive and that would be quite a complimentary skillset. The clear cut benefit is the ability to shoot the three ball at a quality rate and being a solid all-round player with no ego only helps the situation. He has the work ethic to overcome the flaws and concerns in his game and would only be required to play his role in OKC rather than feel the pressure to take over games.
Draft Grade: B+
Dwayne Bacon (6’5”, 202lbs, Small Forward / Shooting Guard, Florida State)
Not the ideal fit and is probably a little too similar to Victor Oladipo, but a talented player nonetheless. His inability to hit the long range ball makes it a sketchy pick for OKC but if he is on the board at #21, you have to look at him. He can play both sides of the ball and is trouble in transition. He is a quality scorer and can kill you in a number of different ways, even with limited explosiveness. He uses his frame and change of pace well, but without a true and reliable three point shot, he is going to find more defensive pressure in the NBA. Again he would give the second unit some scoring power and might allow Westbrook to rest more if Oladipo was to be used as the back up point man, but it would still see teams sag off the perimeter.
Draft Grade: B
Frank Jackson (6’4”, 208lbs, Point Guard, Duke)
Another Dookie and would be a stretch at #21 but I have heard rumblings that he has been given a promise by an NBA team which is why he has elected to have foot surgery after signing and agent and keeping his name in the draft. He’s not the most complete player and he has his flaws, but Jackson is an intriguing prospect. Not unlike Reggie Jackson who was drafted late by the Thunder and had a great career in Loud City until his ambition exceeded his ability, Frank could be the Westbrook back up that Sam Presti seeks. He can shoot the ball from deep and has good range on his jumper which will only make life easier for the Thunder bigs (and Russ should they play alongside each other). Jackson is quick and explosive and uses this to get to the rim and finish above it often. Whether or not he can develop into a facilitator who can run an NBA offence remains to be seen, but if all other “better fits” are off the board, then it might be worth the gamble.
Draft Grade: B
Tyler Lydon (6’10”, 225lbs, Small Forward / Power Forward, Syracuse)
A combo forward with a nice shooting stroke and range well beyond the three-point arc is music to the Thunder’s ears. He is terrific on the catch and shoot and hit at a 40% clip over two seasons with Syracuse – this knock down shooting would be perfect to keep defences honest with Westbrook driving the lane. The issue here is that Lydon still has the same limitations that some of the current squad have. He isn’t a great defender, lacks explosiveness and ability to play through contact, but is solid in transition offence. Much like Enes Kanter and Domantas Sabonis but with a better set shot. With the frontcourt situation in a state of flux at the time of writing this (Will the Thunder hold onto Kanter? Can they convince Taj Gibson to stay? Where does Sabonis fit into all of this?) it’s unlikely that Lydon will be Presti’s choice, but you can’t rule it out and if he comes to Loud City, there are some skills that will make him serviceable.
Draft Grade: C+
Harry Giles (6’11”, 222lbs, Centre, Duke)
This is where I first use that dreaded “P” word – potential. You know you are taking an absolute flyer on a guy when all you can do is talk about their potential and ignore some of the glaring weaknesses in a players game. Not to rag on Harry Giles (who sounds a lot like a One Direction band member) but he would be a stretch for the Oklahoma City Thunder. He was athletic and had huge upside, but a few injuries have dampened expectations. The other glaring issue is that he has limited offensive capability, plays the centre spot and brings not much other than rebounding to the table – the one area that the Thunder are relatively “well off”. Unless the idea is to draft and trade, I’d suggest we won’t see Giles in OKC, but you just never know.
Draft Grade: C
Terrance Ferguson (6’7”, 186lbs, Shooting Guard, Adelaide 36ers)
T-Ferg didn’t really get the chance to show his wares down under as he played in the National Basketball League with the Adelaide 36ers. The Sixers finished top of the table and were a terrific TEAM and therefore didn’t need to rely heavily on the talented teenager. However, having said that, what his stint in Australia did show NBA teams – he has a lovely complement of skills, little ego and athleticism for weeks. Going up against mature men, he more than held his own and operated really well in the team system, moving the ball, making the extra pass, not forcing things etc. He is not a prototypical 3 & D guy yet but he certainly has that potential. His stroke is sweet and he connected on 40% of his shots from downtown, a rate that is likely to carry over to the NBA considering just how consistent his shooting form is. Now – he is still quite raw, not surprising considering he is just 18 years old so don’t expect him to come in and dominate the league, but he could be sufficient and consistent enough from deep to earn minutes in the Thunder backcourt.
Draft Grade: C+
OG Anunoby (6’8”, 215lbs, Small Forward, Indiana)
Another raw talent who suffered an ACL injury which has made it difficult to gauge just where he might fit within this draft class, Anunoby is sure to garner interest in the early part of the first round. He possesses some tremendous physical tools and measures well, with all signs pointing to him playing a range of roles at the next level. The Thunder would be keen to look at him as he plays the small forward spot, and can defend. His jumpshot probably isn’t at where it needs to be but he can still shoot from range, albeit under 40%. It’s a work in progress though and could certainly be improved with some sound coaching. The other issue is that Anunoby isn’t comfortable in isolation or handling the rock. This actually works in his favour with OKC because he wouldn’t be asked too – he just needs to run the floor, lock guys up and hit at a decent percentage from outside to make life easier for the Thunder bigs and Westbrook / Dipo etc. The first thing is medical evaluation – we don’t want another Perry Jones III scenario where we take a chance on a guy who just can’t get it done after injuries.
Draft Grade: C
Rodions Kurucs (6’8”, 190lbs, Small Forward, Barcelona)
The sleeper in this list simply because we don’t know enough about him, but he has talent, can play ball and brings a couple of things that the Thunder need badly – outside shooting and plays the small forward spot. OKC aren’t scared of tapping into the Euro market as evidenced by the Alex Abrines selection and Kurucs could prove to be somewhat similar. He is relatively athletic even if his frame isn’t quite up to the physicality of the NBA yet, he isn’t intimidated and he can make shots. He could work on his ball handling especially with his off-hand and has been known to force shots and fall in love with the jump shot too easily. He’d have to straighten out those kinks in his game but otherwise could be an upgrade on Kyle Singler – that’s for certain! Not sure if you want to be reaching this far with pick #21, but in the event that the Thunder can’t get what they want and decide to trade back for some better “fits” and cap relief, this guy would almost certainly be on their radar.
Draft Grade: C
So there you have it folks, a look at the potential picks for the Oklahoma City Thunder in the 2017 NBA Draft. Bear in mind that a lot can change between now and when Draft Day hits, so I won’t guarantee we will see ANY of these prospects in Chesapeake Arena next season, but there are certainly some intriguing players who could play a role alongside Russ & the crew. Will Presti strike a draft day deal? Will he be able to somehow manage to move up in the order or is he thinking of getting out of the first round? There is plenty to keep Thunder fans guessing and entertained while the NBA Finals are being played. Plus, you could always watch Sister Act.