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Thunder should have drafted different in 2014

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The Thunder had options late in the 2014 NBA Draft

Oklahoma City Thunder v Utah Jazz - Game Four Photo by Zach Beeker/NBAE via Getty Images

The 2013-14 Season was an exciting time in Thunder history. The Thunder was in the competitive window. The Thunder had a substantial opportunity to get out of the Western Conference and into the Finals.

Unfortunately, the 2013-14 Season was blighted by injuries to Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka. Kevin Durant had to carry the team on his back for vast stretches of the season, and Durant did a fantastic job. Durant’s contributions led the Thunder to the Western Conference Finals.

In the Western Conference Finals, Oklahoma City was defeated by the San Antonio Spurs. The Spurs were on their final march to the promised land; their collective strength was too much for a weakened Thunder team to overcome.

It was another bullet wasted in the post-Harden period. Oklahoma City had lost a deep playoff run in 2013 due to Westbrook tearing his meniscus. The pressure placed upon the Thunder to win had cranked up a few notches with two unsuccessful playoff trips.

The increased pressure meant that every aspect of roster building was scrutinized, every word spoken by Kevin Durant was analyzed, and every injury was viewed in the broader context. It was a pressured environment for the whole organization.

The 2014 NBA Draft took on additional importance for the Thunder. Oklahoma City had two picks, and nailing both picks would complete the roster. There would be no need for the Thunder to trade away assets to acquire veterans if the team had young, cost-controlled players with similar skill-sets.

There was an expectation that the Thunder front office would hit on both picks. In the early years of the Thunder, it was Sam Presti’s eye for talent that stood out.

Presti had high-profile successes in the draft, but his low-profile picks were strong. Reggie Jackson and Eric Bledsoe were both players selected by Sam Presti, who went on to have fruitful careers in the NBA.

Up until that point, the only player who Presti had whiffed on was Perry Jones. Jones was a decent young prospect, but his profile did not fit the Thunder’s roster at the time. Oklahoma City did not need a young player with such a low floor. The pick looks terrible in retrospect, Jae Crowder and Draymond Green were still both available in draft.

With this mind, Oklahoma City took Mitch McGary and Josh Huestis in the draft. McGary and Huestis panned out were busts. McGary fell out of the league without ever establishing himself in the Thunder rotation.

McGary spent a lot of time assigned to the G-League. McGary struggled with smoking marijuana. McGary could not kick the marijuana habit, and it signaled an end to his time in the league. McGary had potential as a player, but his mind meant that he was not long for the NBA.

Josh Huestis lasted longer in the league, and he played for the Thunder until the 2017-18 Season. Huestis spent a lot of time refining his skills in the G-League and did not get a chance at the main roster until that season.

There was a decent amount of hope surrounding Huestis. Huestis was known to be a quality wing defender, and he had flashed three-point potential in the G-League. In Huestis’ final season with the Blue, he knocked down three-point looks at 38.5%.

The prospect of Huestis being a serviceable shooter from outside was something that the Thunder desperately needed. Oklahoma City has few wing players who could consistently knock down shots from deep. The shooting touch earned Huestis a call-up to the Thunder.

When Huestis finally played regular rotation minutes, he was underwhelming. Huestis did not look comfortable with the pace of the NBA, and he struggled to drain perimeter looks at an efficient mark. Huestis’ play resembled Andre Roberson except for the fact that Roberson was a far superior defender.

When Roberson went down in January of that season, the starting shooting guard spot was left vacant. Huestis had the opportunity to cement himself in the rotation. Josh was passed over in favor of Terrance Ferguson and then Corey Brewer.

The Thunder organization did not see the significant development out of Huestis to justify a new contract. Huestis was out of the league after that season and has spent the last few years knocking around the European circuit.

In retrospect, Oklahoma City bungled the 2014 NBA Draft. Presti took two guys who did not fit the profile of the roster. Oklahoma City needed young guys who were ready to contribute, and the Thunder did not need two long-term projects.

If Sam Presti had the opportunity to change his picks and re-draft the 2014 NBA Draft, I would imagine that his choices are different.

The 2014 NBA Draft is the reason why I have chosen to re-draft the Thunder’s picks. I like to think that I have the right eye for talent and would be able to identify the right players who could have helped the Thunder.

Going into the 2014 draft, Oklahoma City had the 21st and 29th pick. It is much harder to find basketball players who can contribute at the NBA level later in the draft. The talent pool becomes shallower and riskier propositions come to the fore.

Moreover, the Thunder had specific needs going into the 2014 NBA Draft. Oklahoma City needed wing depth and a reserve guard who could create his shot effectively. When these criteria are applied to the talent pool, there are very few names that popped up on my draft board.

In terms of looking at talent, I chose not to fantasize about physical attributes as much as Sam Presti. In my opinion, Oklahoma City needed players who could contribute to the team straight away. This type of rookie usually has a decent skill level and understands their role on a team.

At the 29th pick in the draft, I would take Joe Harris. Harris, a senior out of Virginia, is not the typical Sam Presti player. Harris has physical limitations, which would mean his ceiling is relatively low.

However, his fit on a contending team is perfect. Harris shot 40% from downtown in college, a highly efficient mark. Harris’ shooting was not solely limited to spot-up attempts, and his game was more intelligent than the primary shooter role.

Tony Bennett, the Virginia coach, gave Harris freedom on offense to attack off-ball situations. Joe Harris would misdirect defenders using the threat of his shot to find space on the perimeter. Harris was comfortable dropping into positions where he would curl off screens into three-point looks.

A marksman from deep is always a valuable tool for a contending team, the presence of such a player opens up space inside for Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant to create.

There were concerns about Harris’ defense in the NBA. Joe Harris was a below-par athlete, and he did not have the long wingspan that many teams desire. In many ways, he would not fit the Thunder’s mold. Harris does not have the physical build that the Thunder organization looks for.

Despite his limitations, scouts believed that Joe Harris was a good perimeter defender. Harris’ anticipation and intensity on defense compensated for his lack of size. He would not be another Anthony Morrow for the Thunder, and Joe Harris had displayed an ability to hold up defensively during his time in Virginia.

Joe Harris would have fit more cleanly with the Thunder roster of the time compared to Mitch McGary or Josh Huestis. His shooting and rugged defense would have provided the Thunder with versatility in terms of lineups available to Scott Brooks.

At the end of the first-round, Harris is probably the best option available to the Thunder in terms of an immediate contribution. There are players like Nikola Jokic, and Spencer Dinwiddie still left on the board who have significantly higher ceilings.

Both players eventually turned out to be highly productive NBA players, but their development into quality players took years. Oklahoma City did not have time to wait for young prospects to develop in 2014, the team was in the competitive window.

For this reason, Harris is the pick that I would take at 29. His shooting and defense would make him a substantial, immediate contributor for the Thunder. These skills would fill the gaps that Oklahoma City had at the time.

The 21st pick was harder to decide as there were a few good prospects still left on the board who satisfied the criteria outlined above. I was tempted to take Shabazz Napier or Rodney Hood, but eventually, I decided to take Kyle Anderson with the 21st pick in the draft.

Napier and Hood both presented strong cases due to their skill-sets, but I feel like Anderson is the best player out of three in terms of fit and contribution to a contending team. Kyle Anderson is a left-field choice, but his play-making and defensive ability is the reason why I would take him in the draft.

Anderson was a 6’9 point guard coming out of the UCLA. Anderson was used to running the offense as the primary ball-handler in Los Angeles. The Thunder’s bench needed play-making in 2014 as it lacked a player who wanted to find looks for team-mates.

Reggie Jackson started at the point guard for Oklahoma City, but he played more like a shooting guard in the reserve role. Jackson hunted his shot first before scanning the floor to find team-mates for open shots. That can be detrimental for a bench unit, especially if the lead ball-handler gets too shot-happy.

The presence of Anderson would put another ball-handler in the second unit and would place the ball into the hands of a more natural passer. Kyle Anderson has always been a player who looks to pass rather than score.

It is one of the reasons why he works nicely in the Thunder’s reserve unit. Anderson’s passing tendencies counteract Jackson’s propensity to shoot the ball.

Moreover, Anderson’s defense would make him a valuable contributor to the Thunder even as a rookie. Kyle Anderson is a rare player in the sense that he has an outstanding physical frame and a strong understanding of how to use his size.

Anderson was a basketball player who could play 1-4 on defense, this versatility is needed at the highest level of the game. In the Conference Finals, good basketball teams will relentlessly hunt mismatches.

Anderson’s ability to play four positions on defense means there is only one lousy match-up for him on defense, and this mismatch with a center will rarely come about. His effectiveness on defense would have fit nicely with other long-limbed Thunder players at the time.

Sam Presti already had a few elite-level defenders who could switch between positions effortlessly. It would make sense to add another player to that grouping. Staunch defenders who can play multiple locations are a rare and desirable commodity in the league.

Taking Anderson in the draft means that Oklahoma City would have to accommodate his foibles. Kyle Anderson was not an outstanding athlete, and he would struggle to keep up with smaller guards. This would be something that the coaching staff would have to think about as other teams would attack this weakness.

In addition to the lack of speed, Anderson’s three-point shooting was inconsistent. There were stretches when Kyle would torch the nets, but there were also stretches where every deep shot was a brick. This would have been an issue for a Thunder team already light on three-point shooting.

Kyle Anderson had limitations in his game, but his game intelligence, size, and play-making were more than enough to overcome the flaws.

Anderson had a polished game that translates nicely to the NBA. I could have easily seen Coach Brooks use Anderson as a point forward in bench lineups for the Thunder.

The addition of Harris and Anderson would have made the Thunder much more durable for the 2014-15 Season. Oklahoma City’s bench would have been restocked with savvy contributors who addressed the roster’s weaknesses. It is possible to say that Oklahoma City made another final when the team was fully healthy.

In my re-draft of the 2014 draft, it is obvious the type of player that I prefer. I like players with excellent technical skills and sharp game intelligence. I do not want basketball players that are little more than hyper-athletic clay. I like players who understand their limitations.

Joe Harris and Kyle Anderson would have been stolen in the draft, but I cannot pretend that I did not benefit from hindsight and knowledge of what each player would become. It is easy to pick players when you are aware of the league’s state of play in the future.