As we head down the stretch of season two of OKC Thunder: Project Rebuild, my attention has wandered from 100% focus on names like Luguentz, Josh, Shai and Tre to about 35% focus on names like Jabari, Chet, Jaden and Shaedon.
Yep, I’ve spent more time than I’d like to admit since the All-Star Break deep diving into all the potential lottery picks in the 2022 NBA Draft. From YouTube highlights to mock drafts to scouting reports to player interviews, I’ve thrown away so many hours on a couple dozen guys that will never place a Thunder draft cap on their heads. And no regrets; it’s been awesome.
So now that I’m a bonafide 2022 NBA Draft nerd, here’s my first run at a big board. Because OKC is currently projected to have a second pick at #15, my rankings will go one spot farther than the typical lottery rankings. Thanks a lot for making me do extra work, overachieving Clippers.
Brandon’s Big Board 1.0
1. Chet Holmgren
I don’t care that his body makes rookie Kevin Durant look like retired Raymond Felton, this is a 7’1” sharpshooting, shot-blocking, playmaking, board-gobbling, ball-handling center with a 7’6” wingspan. The only concern here is the level of competition Chet’s faced so far has been Michael Cage church league level. If Holmgren keeps it up in the tourney, he locks up the #1 spot.
2. Jabari Smith, Jr.
Ask me yesterday and I probably had Jabari at #1. Ask me tomorrow and he might be back at #1. Not sure how Karl-Anthony Towns is out here claiming he’s the greatest big man shooter of all time while Jabari Smith, Jr. exists. This son of a former King/76er/Net also plays some top shelf defense as well. The lack of dribbling or attacking the basket are the only worries keeping him from the top spot.
3. Jaden Ivey
The jaw-dropping athleticism, excitement and explosion to the rim of Ja Morant or a young Russell Westbrook. Ivey comes with a jump shot, though. Jaden is shooting 37% from distance and 75% from the free throw line. Yeah, a big is the most pressing positional need. But Ivey has superstar potential. And that’s Sam Presti’s Plan A.
4. Shaedon Sharpe
I know what you’re thinking. This dude hasn’t played a single minute of college, G-League or international hoops and you’re putting him above Paolo–are you nuts? Exhibit A: Sharpe was rated as the #1 prospect in the 2022 class. Exhibit B: Kentucky coach John Calipari had this to say: “This kid comes back, he’s the No. 1 draft pick. How can I say I know what the No. 1 draft pick looks like? Because I’ve had four. That’s why I can say what it looks like.” I’ll save you the time: Derrick Rose, John Wall, Anthony Davis and Karl-Anthony Towns. If Presti misses out on the top three, I say take a superstar swing. Last time OKC acquired a Calipari-hyped Kentucky guard from Canada whose named started with a Shae sound, it turned out pretty well.
5. AJ Griffin
Why has AJG leapfrogged his Duke teammate, who is a contender for the top spot in most mock drafts, into my top five? Let me count the ways. 1. He’s shooting over 49% from long range on four attempts per game. 2. He’s a high pedigree five-star recruit. 3. His dad was a 10 year NBA vet and is now one of the best assistant coaches in the league. 4. His mom was a track star for Seton Hall (shout out SGA’s mom). 5. He’s 6’6” with a 7’0” wingspan, has a powerful NBA-ready body and plus athleticism. 6. He excels off-ball, so he could be the perfect floor spacing small forward next to SGA and Giddey, but he can create his own shot as well. 7. He’s strong, quick and long enough to defend shooting guards through power forwards. 8. Did I mention he’s hitting half his 3-pointers?
6. Paolo Banchero
Look, I know this low of a ranking for a player still in contention for the #1 overall pick screams hot take. I just don’t know which elite NBA talent Paolo possesses besides possibly shot creation, but even then he doesn’t score efficiently even at the collegiate level surrounded by two other first round picks. He’s not a plus defender. He’s only shooting 33% from the 3-point line. He’s not an elite athlete. Banchero still deserves top five hype because he is a skilled big with an NBA physique and has the ability to create shots, be a solid playmaker and does everything pretty well. Paolo’s floor is high. He’s gonna help any team. I just don’t see the superstar upside that I do with the players above him.
In my opinion, this is a 6-player draft. This is the drop off point. Meaning the quality and effort of my write-ups drops off a cliff.
7. Bennedict Mathurin
A defensive-minded Canadian shooting guard who plays his college ball in the state of Arizona? That’s Sam Presti’s kind of guy. Oh, and this one shoots 37.7% from downtown and gobbles up rebounds.
8. Tari Eason
The most underrated prospect in this class. How is one of the draft’s best defenders who can shoot 36.5% from three and 78% from the line with plus athleticism and BBIQ regularly mocked outside of the lottery? I fail to find any weaknesses besides missing an “A” at the beginning of his name.
9. Keegan Murray
The third leading scorer in college basketball is an efficient bucket-getter. A solid but not great 3-point shooter and a solid but not great defender. He’s considered Tobias Harris 2.0, which ain’t too bad when he’s not making $36 million a year.
10. Jalen Duren
If we can’t give SGA a floor spacing center, then let’s give Josh Giddey a rim-running center. Duren would do two things: become a defensive anchor and turn Loud City into Lob City.
11. Ochai Agbaji
Draft gurus don’t like this Jayhawk because he’s going to be nearly 22 on draft night. Pfft. If a player can hit 43.3% from distance on seven attempts per game while scoring over 20 points a night and playing plus defense because of a 6’10” wingspan, he can play all the BINGO and watch all the Murder, She Wrote he wants.
12. Johnny Davis
Sorry, but I’d prefer not to use a top six pick on a scorer shooting 33% from distance and 44% from the field. Yes, he gets his numbers but so did Dion Waiters. You know, on second thought…
13. Walker Kessler
This dude blocks more shots than prime Dikembe Mutombo. Not a bad bet to roll the dice on a 7’1” potentially elite rim protector (with a jumper?) at the end of the lottery.
14. Mark Williams
This dude blocks more shots than prime Serge Ibaka. Not a bad bet to roll the dice on a 7’0” potentially elite rim protector (with athleticism!) at the end of the lottery.
15. TyTy Washington
The first half of Kentucky’s season, TyTy looked like a no-brainer top-10 draft pick as one of the best scorers and playmakers in the country. A couple of injuries later, his shooting numbers have regressed as his bumps and bruises have clearly affected him. OKC doesn’t need another point guard but if TyTy falls, at some point you just draft the talent and figure out fit later.
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As the city of Oklahoma City is slowly thawing out from a multi-day deep freeze, Shai GIlgeous-Alexander provided some much needed heat. Despite being sidelined for 10 days with an ankle sprain, SGA looked healthy and dominant in his two appearances since the All-Star Break, scoring 32 in a loss against the Suns on Thursday, followed by 36 in an overtime win over the Pacers last night.
But dominating the headlines was an offhand remark made by SGA after the Phoenix game that saw Josh Giddey continue his role of being a primary ballhandler. Post-game, SGA said that playing off the ball was not his “Plan A,” which created a stir among the Thunder-verse. Problem is, any perceived unrest with the Thunder’s dynamic scorer is probably just that–perception.
With SGA out, Giddey flourished, including three-straight triple doubles. The Australian rookie has rocketed up rookie rankings, arguably among the top three or four rookies in the NBA this season. Giddey has flashed scoring savvy, and more importantly, impressive ball handling and distributing skills.
If you actually follow the dialogue greater than the “not my plan A” comment, you’ll see a unified front from Shai, Josh, and Mark Daignault. Giddey said that there have been conversations among all three about Giddey getting opportunities to play on the ball, going further to say that Gilgeous-Alexander, “buys into what we’re trying to build here.”
So, before the pundits and the conspiracy theorists start the countdown of the demise of the SGA-Giddey backcourt, maybe wait for more than two games and deep interpretation into 4 words.
– John Napier
While the news has been the offense, the Thunder have been quietly playing solid defensive ball, writes Mark Schindler (Basketball News). “There’s a defensive backbone that could form the foundation of the next great era of Thunder basketball, not unlike the early Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, and Serge Ibaka squads that sported numerous top 10 defenses.”
Dan Devine (The Ringer) names Giddey his Rookie of the Quarter. “Giddey’s crafty in the pick-and-roll, able to angle his way past a defender and use his size to keep his man on his hip as he enters the paint. He’s got uncommon patience for a 19-year-old, the willingness to wait that extra beat, just long enough to create a tight window in the lane for a drop-off pass, or to force a helper to commit before kicking it out. He also seems to have a good feel for how and where his teammates like the ball; whether it’s a bounce pass in traffic, a hit-ahead in transition, a cross-court fastball, a drop-down from the post, or a lob off a screen, the ball more often than not arrives on time and on target, right on the hands.”