The 2021 NBA Draft was marked out to be a huge moment in the Thunder’s future. Oklahoma City had a real opportunity to add young, cost-controlled prospects who can eventually develop into being real contributors on the next great Thunder team. The Draft did not turn out as expected and there was a lot of confusion.
I thought Suggs would fall to the Thunder at #6 once Barnes was off the table; Kuminga to Orlando felt like a given when you consider how the Magic have drafted in the past. Orlando typically takes long, raw athletes who have tantalisingly unrealised potential. Once they took Suggs, Bouknight seemed to be a formality.
All we have heard all week long was that the Thunder were enamoured with James Bouknight. The decision to take Josh Giddey was a huge surprise to everyone. I thought that Giddey would land in the 8-10 range going to the Kings, Warriors or Grizzlies.
I did not even think for a second that Josh Giddey was going to be a Thunder player. It was a ballsy pick by Sam Presti but in hindsight Josh Giddey looks to be a really solid pick at #6 when you consider the other options.
James Bouknight is a really solid scoring guard who has a lot of upside but I believe that he realistically projects as a CJ McCollum-level player. McCollum is a fine player and would likely be an All-Star in the Eastern Conference but I do not know if that sort of player changes the trajectory of the Thunder.
Jonathan Kuminga was another contender to be taken at #6 but Kuminga is super raw and it will take a long time to add layers onto his game. From the film that I have seen, Kuminga has no discernible skill-set except for athleticism.
The only other player who could have made sense at 6 was Alperen Sengun but Sengun was a huge risk. I like Alperen a lot but the concerns relating to his defense were legitimate. It is difficult to make deep playoff runs with a center who struggles on the less glamorous end of the floor.
Giddey is a long-term project and it is a risk selecting Josh. Giddey’s defense is full of holes and he needs to stretch his jumper out to the 3-point line. Over the last four days, I have looked into Josh Giddey a fair bit and feel much better about his shooting. Giddey shot 41.7% from the mid-range in the NBL which provides just enough evidence to suggest that Giddey will eventually become a serviceable shooter from downtown.
Defensively, Giddey has a lot to work on. Josh has good instincts but his actual fundamentals are pretty poor. Giddey often stands too tall and does not do enough to slide his feet on defense. That is something that Josh will need to do in order to compensate for his lack of explosiveness athleticism.
Giddey does not have that burst which can be used to close separation on his assignment. He will have to move his feet, close angles and keep the attacking player in front of him. Those fundamentals will take time to build but Giddey’s attitude is encouraging. His effort on defense is consistent and he is known to work hard on his game. Improvement in technique is feasible for Josh.
Pick #16 was expected to be a decent role player, someone like Isaiah Jackson or Usman Garuba. However, a lot of people jumped in the Draft. Ziarie Williams and Josh Primo both went way higher than expected and players like Sengun fell. I did not expect Alperen Sengun nor Moses Moody to fall past #12.
I will be brutally honest, Sam Presti botched Pick #16. Alperen Sengun was a no-brainer in the mid first round. Sengun was MVP of the Turkish League last year, a grown man’s league and has legitimate star potential. That sort of player usually does not get past the top-10. Instead, Sam traded Sengun to Houston for two future first round picks.
The two future firsts are heavily protected. The 2022 Detroit Pick likely will not convey until 2025 as a mid first round pick. The 2023 Washington Pick likely will not convey until 2024 as a late lottery pick. So, Presti traded a player with a tangible All-Star ceiling for two middling future picks. It is senseless in my mind.
The aim of a rebuild is to add talent not to constantly accumulate future picks. I understand that Sam Presti is acquiring assets for whenever a disgruntled young star becomes available for trade. But that is a poor reason in my book, good young players have a measurable value and carry a lot of value in that sort of trade. Trading Sengun was the wrong call.
Tre Mann at #18 was a really solid pick and Mann should bring a lot of value to the Thunder. At the time, I preferred taking Garuba at #18 but Mann makes plenty of sense for the Thunder. Tre is a three-level scorer who can guard and create shots for his teammates. To be honest, I struggle to see the differences between Mann and Bouknight, they both seem to be the same level of player.
There were a lot of concerns relating to the Thunder having a guard-heavy roster but I think a lot of these concerns are overblown. At the moment, the Thunder have five guards on the roster. Kemba Walker (6’0), Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (6’6), Theo Maledon (6’5), Ty Jerome (6’5) and Tre Mann (6’5). Kemba is the only one out of this group that can be considered small. Four of those guards can guard two or three positions.
Oklahoma City should be able to run three-guard lineups for all 48 minutes without giving up a ton of size. As we have seen in the past, lineups that are laden with shot creators are often productive offensively. Oklahoma City could even run a unit with four shot creators without much trouble on defense.
Jeremiah Robinson-Earl was a really solid pick at #32 and Sam Presti deserves plenty of praise for selecting JRE. Robinson-Earl is a versatile, fundamentally sound forward who can guard switches comfortably, pass the ball and is a burgeoning outside shooter. Personally, I see Robinson-Earl being like PJ Tucker, an important piece for really good teams.
Robinson-Earl’s swing skill is his shooting and I am relatively confident that JRE will eventually extend his range out to the 3-point arc. Robinson shot 37% from the corner three in his last season with Vilanova which is an efficient percentage.
In addition to this, Robinson-Earl’s time at Vilanova will have prepared him well for life in the NBA. Jay Wright is one of the few college coaches who runs an offense that is based on spread pick and roll, one of the core concepts of modern NBA offense. Robinson-Earl is a great, high-floor pick in the second round.
Aaron Wiggins was a late-riser in the whole Draft process. Wiggins went from being a player without much consideration to a late second round pick as a result of strong pre-Draft performances. Wiggins currently stands at 6’6 and profiles to be a 3&D wing.
Wiggins can knock the ball down from range adeptly and was a very good scorer in his senior season at Maryland. His defense was pretty solid as well. However, Wiggins needs to add polish and consistency to his game. Aaron Wiggins was very streaky at Maryland which makes it difficult for an NBA team to trust him on a nightly basis.
The Thunder taking Wiggins on a two-way is a wise idea. A year in the G League will do a world of good for Wiggins’ game and should be a litmus test of his future as an NBA player. Mullayo’s evaluation identified Wiggins as the 12th best 3&D wing out of a pool of 72 players.
Overall, the Thunder had a decent draft, Giddey, Mann, JRE and Wiggins are all good picks for where they were picked in the Draft. However, the Sengun trade feels like a mistake that the Thunder will come to regret. Passing on a player of his calibre for two heavily protected picks is madness.