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Just how hard is it to find talent at the end of the second round of the NBA Draft?

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Short Answer: Very Hard

NCAA Basketball: Kansas at Oklahoma Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports

Now that the NBA finals are over, it’s officially draft season. Really, draft season started months ago, and for the diehards, the 2018 draft season started the moment the 2017 draft ended. But with the finals wrapping up in a disappointing but predictable sweep, even more casual fans are turning their attention to the upcoming draft.

Alas, the Thunder are going to miss a lot of the fun. As a playoff team, the Thunder would have had a relatively low draft pick, but the Thunder don’t own their pick anyways- that pick, number 20, will be conveying to the Minnesota Timberwolves as a consequence of the Enes Kanter trade. The Thunder traded that pick to the Jazz as part of the deal for Kanter in 2015, and the Jazz later traded it to acquire Ricky Rubio, who went on to help the Jazz beat the Thunder in this year’s playoffs. Kanter, of course, was no longer with the Thunder by that point, having been sent to new York for Carmelo Anthony, who was possibly the Thunder’s worst player in that series against the Jazz. Not Sam Presti’s finest moment as General Manager, to say the least.

Instead, the Thunder will be left with their own second round pick, #53, and the Boston Celtics second round pick, #57, as a result of the Perry Jones III trade. Those picks are, to put it mildly, not great. How not great? I’m glad you asked.

Between 1985 (the start of the lottery era) and 2015 (I decided to exclude the last two drafts, since there are some players in those drafts who could theoretically end up being useful NBA players who haven’t come over from overseas or left the G-league yet), 242 players have been drafted between pick 50 and pick 60 in the draft, per Basketball Reference. 47 of those players produced at least one Win Share in their NBA career. Win-shares is a stat that attempts to measure how many wins a player is responsible for- the formula is here if you’re interested in the math behind it. But long story short, your number of Win Shares is the number of wins you provided over your career.

Again, 47 of 242 players managed at least one Win Share, meaning the remaining 195 did not — 195 players drafted at the end of the second round weren’t even worth one win during their entire careers. (A full 120 of those players never made the NBA at all- either they never came over from Europe or were on a training camp or summer league roster but never actually stepped on the court for a real NBA game.) For context, 11 members of the Thunder had at least one win share last season, including sparsely used rookie Terrance Ferguson. To sum it up, 80.5% of the players drafted between picks 50 and 60 never helped an NBA team in their entire careers as much as Terrance Ferguson did last season.

Yikes. Only 23 of the players drafted with those picks have more than 10 win shares per Basketball reference (a couple still-active players, such as the intriguing young James Ennis and former Thunderite Joffrey Lauvergne, might end up reaching that mark as well). Among those names are a bunch of solid role players — Ramon Sessions, Lavoy Allen, E’Twaun Moore, Rasual Butler, Patty Mills, Steve Kerr — and a few guys who made all-star teams- Isaiah Thomas, Kyle Korver, and the patron saint of late draft picks, Manu Ginobli.

This is the challenge before the Thunder: trying to find that Ginobli needle among a haystack of players who will probably never play a second in the NBA. Sam Presti has a well-deserved reputation for drafting, but that’s based on his success drafting in the first-round. In the late second round he’s had far less luck. His most recent selection that late was Dakari Johnson, who remains a question mark at best. Back in 2010, he drafted Magnum Rolle, then traded him for Ryan Reid. Neither player ever played a minute in the NBA, a fate shared by 2008 pick Devon Hardin. That’s not a knock on Presti- it’s just proof of how difficult it is for even a GM with a reputation for being a strong scout to find anything of value late in the second round.

Presti does have two bites at the apple (or maybe you could call it Swiss cheese) this year, so maybe the Thunder do get lucky. Even if they do find a valuable NBA player with one of those picks, it will most likely be years before that player can actually contribute to winning basketball. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it does mean that these selections are unable to help OKC in the short term — and the short term is of high importance for OKC with a superstar who’s about to turn 30. OKC still has avenues to improve the team around Russell Westbrook, but this draft isn’t one of them.


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