(Typically, DT contributor J.G. Marking has the Sunday page, but with the draft coming and OKC holding five picks, it’s time to take a small peek. And that’s what we’ll do over the next few days.)
There is a serious problem with the 2010 Draft, folks. One that most Thunder fans didn’t expect and could have never prepared for coming into the season.
It’s not talent. There’s more than enough talent in this draft to have most scouts and GM’s drooling no matter how many “gurus” claim that there are only “2, 3, 4, well probably 5, maybe even 6 elite talents” (it’ll keep fluctuating until draft day) in this class.
So what gives? What’s the problem with this draft class?
The Thunder are winning too much.
I know, I know. I should probably stop complaining about my diamond forks being too sharp and my gold slippers fitting too tight but when it comes to doing a draft prospectus, you typically want to be looking at players who can make an immediate impact or be potential All-Stars and most of those players are usually in the Top 5, maybe 6 of a draft.
Where are the Thunder slated to pick based off of the most recent playoff projections? Try around #21, as the West’s 6th seed.
But seriously, no one (and I mean no one, no matter what they say) could have seen the Thunder taking this huge of a leap from last year to this year so really, I can’t complain about anything involving a 29-21 record with one game left before the All-Star break. So let’s go ahead and dive in to this draft class to find out how many players the Thunder could realistically grab who could make a positive impact both immediately and in the future.
Before we get started let me begin by saying that I pretty much expect Presti and Co. to trade at least one of their two first round picks in this draft, if not both. Why?
As has been discussed before, they don’t need another rookie on their roster or another project for the future (or the salary these picks would require either). They need a player (a post player, to be specific) who can step in and contribute right away, providing a legit post presence on defense by gobbling up defensive rebounds and protecting the rim, but MORE importantly they need a low-post scoring option on offense.
But I thought everyone has always talked about the Thunder needing that anchor on defense, a shot-blocking, rebounding big more than anything else? Sure, we’ve all heard that and it primarily started and was most accurate last year when the Thunder were a defensive sieve that opponents drove around, through, pretty much anywhere they wanted to go on their way to a flashy dunk. But this year? Not so much.
Sure the Thunder still allow WAY too many shots at the rim and give up an almost inexcusable amount of defensive rebounds, so you’ll hear no argument from me about anyone crying for a shot-blocking, rebounding big for the defensive end. But only if that person can contribute buckets in the post on the offensive end, too.
The reason is simple: the Thunder are an almost exclusively jump-shooting and slashing offensive team. They have no post game of any substance and the stats reflect this. Thus, the Thunder have to work very, VERY hard to produce shots as they get no easy ones from the paint.
On the defensive end, the Thunder are 5th, yes FIFTH in defensive efficiency and are 8th in blocks, due mostly to a team block party mindset (yes, everyone’s invited). Now we’ve already discussed the defensive rebounding woes but that should not be overlooked and will remain a hole that needs to be filled. [quote]
However on offense, the Thunder are all the way down at 18th in Offensive efficiency, 15th in True Shooting % and a woeful 22ndin EffectiveFG% at 48.8%. None of those stats should be surprising, in fact for a team that is almost completely without a low post scoring presence, those numbers are actually pretty impressive.
As the old idiom goes, the further away from the basket you are, the more difficult the shot. We all know this; it’s how a point guard makes a living. The closer you get to the basket the more a (good) defense will collapse to protect the rim, thereby opening up options for a better shot. Thus, a point guard either dishes to a cutting player for a layup/dunk, passes it off to a post player for a dunk whose man has left him to contest the point guard’s potential shot, takes it to the whole himself if he beats his man and no help comes to contest the layup/dunk or he dishes it out to a wide open shooter for a jumpshot.
Obviously the fourth option is exactly that, the last option if the previous three are covered up because, again, the closer you get to the basket the higher your shooting percentage. And that’s where the Thunder hurt the most. They really don’t have a player that they can’t drop it down into the paint and is a big enough scoring threat that other teams have to collapse down or double-team the post player, opening up other options.
And every team knows it. That is precisely why one could be impressed with Durant’s continued and consistent ability to score from anywhere on the floor and how the Thunder continue to pile up win after win. They’re a jump-shooting team without a post presence who is contending for the playoffs.
But no post presence on offense (or defense) equals a “Thanks for coming, enjoy your sweep – The Lakers” come April.
If the Thunder ever want to be more than just an annual first round or second round exit from the playoffs, they have to acquire an offensive post player who can and will erase many of the Thunder’s offensive faults and open up the floor for the other four offensive options on the court (have a look at what Dwight Howard does for his teammates in Orlando, for example). In fact, if the Thunder ever acquired a legitimate big man who could produce in the paint offensively, I think there might be a collective groan heard around the league because this team is already overachieving, now 8 wins over .500, without a true low-post threat.
And no, that’s not a dig at Krstic (though I have made my fair share of critical remarks before) or Green (can’t be upset witha stretch 4 being paired with a REALLY stretched 5) because they are perimeter oriented bigs, who would also both benefit immensely from a true post player.
So all that being said, here is a look at the five players who I believe the Thunder could be in a position to draft.
Side note: I’d really like to thank Chad Ford and Draft Express for sky-rocketing DeMarcus Cousins into the Top 4 when he had really only hovered between picks 8-16 the rest of the year ON THE DAY my prospectus was scheduled to come out. As my buddy Bach can tell you, I’ve been high on Cousins for quite awhile now and had him as my #1 prospect for the Thunder if they could get him since he reminded me of a Zach Randolph or Al Jefferson type of low post scorer/potential game changer.
So again, thanks to the two big draft guru sites for making me scramble hours before this thing went up to re-shuffle my rankings!
Lastly, the highest I can realistically see the Thunder trading up to in this draft is probably the ninth or tenth pick…and even that’s a bit high and hopeful. If the Thunder don’t decide to just trade down and/or out of this draft altogether, they would probably package their two first round picks and some expirings to move up if they could get a player they covet. But I just can’t see the Thunder really moving past #10 to do so.
Simply put, the Thunder just don’t havethe assets they’d need or be willing to give up to moveup higher into this draft. So with that being said, let’s just say that some extremely cap weary team is sitting at the #9 or #10 spot (trying to be realistic) andlooking to give away their draft pick for almost nothing (a la how the Nets are rumored to be looking to deal out of the draft if they don’t land the #1 pick, which would be tremendous for soembody since they will be no worse than 4th come draft night).
Or even better, the Suns take a nose dive the rest of the season and miss the playoffs with the 10th worst record. I’m open to either option.
So the #1 overall player that the Thunder could realistically get their hands on in this draft who could help contribute immediately is…#1 – Greg Monroe – 6’11, 250 – PF/C – Georgetown
You were expecting someone else here weren’t you? To be honest, so was I about three months ago. But after watching a good amount of the top five bigs this season, when you stack up Strengths vs. Weaknesses for legit big men who have the size and potential playing style to be a great NBA post player (either an oversized 4 or a standard-sized 5), few prospects can match Georgetown big man Greg Monroe.
I’ve watched Monroe more than anyone else that will appear on this prospectus and let me tell you that I don’t feel 100% about having him at #1. It’s kind of like driving to work when your gas gauge is a little below the “E” and the refuel light is glaring at you. This will either be your finest hour as a risk taker—or you’ll be stranded on the side of the road begging for help and kicking yourself for the gamble.
But it’s not because of Monroe’s talents. Top to bottom, there may not be a more skilled big man in this draft, even my personal favorite DeMarcus Cousins. From all accounts, Monroe is a legit 6’11 and250 poundbig man with an NBA ready physique and a tremendous 7’2 wingspan. In short, he has the size and playing style to be an NBA center.
Offensively, Monroe can get buckets from almost any spot on the court. We’re not talking just a post-up big or just a jump-shooting big. Monroe can do both. And he can do them well. Not only does he have an excellent back-to-the-basket style of play but his jumpshot is sound and makes him a fantastic pick-and-pop threat.
But better than anything else is Monroe’s court vision and passing ability, not to mention understanding of the game. He sees the floor and understands when to pass and when to assert his own offense better than just about anyone in this draft. Toss in the fact that he’s a lefty, and Monroe’s unique skill-set should have scouts drooling over the possibility of drafting him just off of his offensive capabilities alone.
But this year Monroe’s defense has also improved. He has shown something that was lacking last year and was a major red flag as a potential NBA post player: he has now shown a desire to become a stout defensive rebounder. A lot of times last season Monroe would be out of position for rebounds because he failed to seal his man in the paint and would only be able to get to rebounds that landed in his immediate vicinity. This year, Monroe is aggressively boxing out and searching for the opportunity to rebound. His improved rebounding average and clear capability have helped calm some individual’s fears that he’d be a defensive rebounding liability (which would have seriously dropped him on this list for the Thunder). Add in his 1.7 blocks per game average in college this year (1.5 last year) and Monroe begins to dazzle you with his potential possibilities.
So Monroe has Top 5 talent…but this is a guy most experts expect to be available in the late lottery if not mid first round. So what gives?
Well for starters, Monroe does not have that jaw-dropping athleticism that most NBA personnel covet down low. He is not an elite leaper or an explosively quick athlete. This might be why Monroe relies so heavily on his skills because he lacks the ability to rely on his sheer athleticism. But please don’t think that Monroe is a stiff (and the reports that say so are preposterous). Monroe can move, and spin, and pivot, and run the floor just fine. After all, he will be a player in the NBA. That right there makes him at least minimally athletic for professional sports standards. He just doesn’t have that “elite” athleticism that some scouts and analysts might unrealistically crave from big men (think Dwight Howard’s freakish athleticism).
Secondly, and most troubling of all, is Monroe’s seemingly neutral-running engine. He is probably one of the most frustrating talents to watch because you can literally see him shifting in and out of focus throughout a game, leaving you desperate to see a fully tuned-in and intense Monroe when he posts numbers and competes like he did against Butler (24 points, 15 rebounds, and 2 blocks) and Villanova (29 points, 16 rebounds and 4 blocks).
Thompson has definitely seemed to show that a coach can get through to Monroe and encourage him to tap into his deep potential on a regular basis while at Georgetown, but if it’s hard to accomplish for 34-36 game season, what would an 82 game year look like?
All that to say, if the Thunder can somehow grab Monroe with the first pick of this draft given their current position, it’d be a steal and I’d be doing back-flips…if I could. Why would I be so excited over a player who might or might not want to give 100% every night, whose not a great, explosive athlete and who has shown promise in rebounding but is not exactly dominant at it?
First off, I’m pretty sure being on this Thunder team would make ANYONE come to play every night. Seriously, when have we ever complained about a lack of hustle or effort from this team? Hard work and intensity are contagious. And Monroe has shown that he is capable of maintaining that focus and drive in his sophomore season.
Secondly, there was another prospect that Monroe reminds me of regarding a lot of the criticisms scouts had about him as a big man. And although Monroe is a little shorter (2 inches) than this player and a little better passer, well, just have a look at what that player’s list of strengths and weaknesses said:
- Big, long center who has a strong offensive game with the ability to score inside and out.
- Smart, skilled player who maximizes his strengths.
- Decent low-post game with an array of basic moves around the basket.
- Is a good shooter with the ability to knock down an 18-foot jump shot.
- Although he’s a good athlete for his size, he’s not particularly explosive.
- Not a dominant rebounder
- Too inconsistent as a shot-blocker
- Takes bad shots from time to time
This player’s name: Brook Lopez.
Obviously I’m not saying Monroe will turn out to be as good as Brook Lopez, but the potential is there for him to be a contributor at the next level. And a good one at that, especially for this team.
Tune in tomorrow for the #2 prospect…