Hope. It is a phrase that is often bandied around when it comes to rebuilding teams. The present is miserable but the hope of a bright future is what keeps a fanbase going. For the first time in years, the Thunder can hope without any qualifiers or considerations. Oklahoma City will enter next season with Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Josh Giddey and one of Paolo Banchero, Chet Holmgren or Jabari Smith Jr.
The draft lottery induces anxiety and a sense of dread. Thunder fans dreamed of a top-4 pick last year and ended up sliding to #6. The lottery is completely random and it can be quite brutal. Lady Luck was in the Thunder’s favour on Tuesday night.
The Thunder rose by two spots and landed the second overall pick in the 2022 NBA Draft. It is difficult to overstate the importance of a top-3 pick in a class like this. The 2022 Class is largely defined by three, top-level talents. There is not a Paul George or Kawhi Leonard who can be picked up in the late lottery in this class.
Oklahoma City landing the fourth pick would have been pretty rough. In that 4-6 range, there are a few interesting players but none of them quite move the needle like the ‘Big Three’ does. Jaden Ivey is a dynamic, hyper-athletic scoring guard but he is not much of a playmaker and his off-ball defense is rather poor.
Shadeon Sharpe could be an excellent player in the future but he would have been a high-risk pick at #4. Sharpe has not played competitive basketball since high school and his exposure to NBA teams has been highly restricted.
Shadeon attended the combine and carried out a pro day in which he showcased his abilities in a non-competitive environment. The lack of information means that it is difficult to accurately assess where he lies in this class.
Keegan Murray is a high-floor, all-around prospect but he has limited room for growth and a streaky jumper. Murray is a steady, reliable player who does contribute to winning at a high level but picking Keegan at #4 would have been expensive in terms of opportunity cost. Getting into the top three means that the Thunder can take a great prospect without needing to worry about whether the return can be justified.
Oklahoma City also landed the #12 pick from the Clippers. The Thunder will have four draft picks in the upcoming draft and I do not expect Sam Presti to take four rookies again. OKC already have a good number of interesting, young players to develop and adding another four rookies to the mix would seriously stretch the coaching’s staff resources.
#12 could be a trade asset in a class as uncertain as this one. There is a general consensus about the best seven players in the 2022 NBA Draft but after that, all bets are off. There is a lot of fluidity in the 8-25 range. I have seen someone like Bennedict Mathurin mocked as high as #6 and as low as #21.
The uncertainty could play into the Thunder’s favour when it comes to moving up. A team like the Blazers may really like Jeremy Sochan at #7 but believe that they can get him later in the draft. Moving down and getting another future asset while still getting the player they want is almost a no-brainer.
I am curious to see if a deal can be struck for the #7 pick. Portland are intent on winning with Dame and do not have time to waste. Lillard will age out of his prime in the next few years. They need to strike now to have any chance of building a title-winning core.
The Blazers need assets to deal if they want to land Jerami Grant. Oklahoma City could put together a package involving Luguentz Dort, #12 and #34 which would be difficult to turn down.
There are so many permutations to discuss and think about over the next month or so but for the moment, it is time to enjoy the results of the lottery. Oklahoma City will have one of Paolo Banchero, Jabari Smith Jr or Chet Holmgren. That fact is inescapable and immensely enjoyable.