With the Thunder nearing the end of their roster teardown and competing for a playoff spot this season, last year might have been the last time they'll have their own lottery pick for a while. Luckily, Sam Presti has collected so many picks along the way that a trade-up is always a possibility. Even if Oklahoma City chooses to stay put, there is a chance higher picks owed from the Rockets and/or Jazz this year convey. I hope the Thunder themselves don't end up in the lottery, but the 5th overall pick coming from the Rockets would be a very valuable asset for this team.
Unlike previous iterations of this piece, I'm not going to list players who I think are all going top ten, but rather players I believe will end up where the Thunder will likely pick. With that out of the way, here are some of the more intriguing prospects in this years draft class.
Alexandre Sarr, Big: Perth Wildcats
The Thunder trading up for Alexandre Sarr is something I have been thinking about for a while now. Sarr is the younger brother of current Thunder player Olivier Sarr and is a 7'1, 217 pound defensive anchor with a 7'5 wingspan in the mold of Evan Mobley, Chet Holmgren, or Jaren Jackson in recent years. He plays for the Perth Wildcats in the NBL and is coming off a huge summer where he dominated in exhibition games against the G-League Ignite, posting gaudy statlines with big block numbers.
It's very likely the Thunder won't have a chance to draft Sarr if they don't make any draft pick moves. I currently have Sarr as the top overall player in this year's draft. So it will likely take a trade, but this class isn't currently viewed as a particularly strong one which could lead to a team being willing to get out of the top spot. I believe Sarr is mobile enough to play at the four next to Chet,and if you can pair up those two on the floor, then you have two elite defensive anchors controlling the paint for years on end. He will need to continue working on his offensive game (mainly his shooting), but Sarr is a premier big-man talent who could go top three in this upcoming draft.
The NBA is evolving and becoming more positional-less so even at my size, I have to be able to guard every position and feel comfortable with the ball in my hands. I feel like I’ve always been able to play on the perimeter and it’s nothing new or uncomfortable for me to step outside of the paint and make plays. - Alex Sarr
Nikola Topić, Guard: Mega Basket
Another riser from over the summer, Nikola Topić is a 6'7 guard with incredible passing chops and craft. He dominated the Adidas Next Generation Tournament Finals to the tune of 30.6 points, 7.3 rebounds, 6.3 assists, and 2 steals per game and then parlayed that into a U18 European championship for Serbia while taking home the MVP award this summer. Unlike a lot of other recent tall ball handlers, Topić is an underrated athlete with a quick first step and solid athleticism, which allows him to generate paint touches and finish at the basket.
Topić's three-point shot is inconsistent at this point but his phenomenal free throw shooting (88.9% on 162 attempts in 2022-2023) indicates a more reliable perimeter jumper is coming in his development. I worry about his defense at the NBA level, but he has a solid frame on him and good basketball smarts which can hopefully lead to good team defense in the future. Another bonus of Topić is the fact that he will be 18 years old on draft day, making him one of the youngest players in this class. The Thunder have seemingly been drawn to tall ball handlers in recent years, and Topić could be next up.
Izan Almansa, Big: G-League Ignite
Izan Almansa is a highly decorated youth player out of Spain who has won at every level he has played at. He earned the U17 FIBA World Cup MVP and U18 FIBA European Championships MVP in 2022, before winning the U19 FIBA World Cup MVP for Spain earlier this year. Almansa will play this upcoming season for the G-League Ignite. Standing at 6'10, Almansa has Brandon Clarke-esque touch near the basket on floaters/runners andis more of a traditional roller and rim runner rather than a stretch big on offense.
He shot an abysmal 51.5 percent from the line with Overtime Elite last season, and his outside jumper is a heavy work in progress. Most of his offense currently comes from his play-finishing, offensive rebounds, transition, and hustle plays where he showcases his incredible motor. Almansa's defensive role at the next level could be tricky. I'm not quite sure how well he will defend fours, and I don't think he's a primary rim protector, either. Either way, Almansa has been incredibly productive throughout his youth career and, now for the Ignite, he can hopefully showcase some more self-creation and perimeter shooting to boost his stock even more.
I've improved a lot on my shooting and I need to show it in the games. I need to play more from outside and improve my handles. Also, I have to work on my defense so I can switch with guards and also guard inside. - Izan Almansa
Melvin Ajinça, Wing: Saint-Quentin Basket-Ball
To continue the theme, Melvin Ajinca is a big summertime riser after competing for France at the FIBA U19 World Cup, where his team claimed the silver medal. After shooting below 30 percent from three in the 2019-2022 seasons, Ajinca's shooting numbers suddenly ballooned in 2022-2023 to an elite 38.8 percent on 160 attempts. That improvement continued in the U19's where he shot 48.9 percent (22-45) from three.
Ajinca is an offensive weapon on the wing who stands at 6'8, 200 pounds. He has already showcased the ability to shoot off movement, and has pulled out a no-dip corner three, an impressive skill for someone his age. Being 6'8 with a solid frame will allow him to be a switchy wing defender at the next level, even if he doesn't generate much in terms of steals or blocks. This season I hope to continue seeing improvements in his playmaking ability for others, as that is the next step for him to become a more well-rounded offensive player (and possibly become a lottery pick). Either way, Ajinca is a big wing shooter, something the Thunder could certainly use.
Ja'Kobe Walter, Guard: Baylor
Ja'Kobe Walter is your more prototypical scoring guard in this class, as the incoming 6'5 freshman for Baylor possesses a good isolation game and a lethal pullup jumper when he has it going. He already has good strength on the wing for a freshman, and will be playing under Scott Drew who seemingly develops NBA players every year. Walter is an effortless mover out on the floor with a nice handle and powerful frame, and won the MVP of the Geico Nationals in high school for Link Academy.
He has the size to be a good defender, but--like most ball-dominant scorers at the high school level--he needs to put more focus on that end of the floor. Although he's a highly effective scorer at this stage, Walter will need to continue to improve his shot selection and his willingness to be a playmaker for others at the next level. However, his ability to get to his spots and put up points in a hurry is there and it's all about being more consistent and efficient offensively.
I feel like he’s just a good scorer all-around. Great shooter, has a good motor, great defender, and he’s just very lengthy and tall. And now that he’s able to pass, he’s even … better. So he’s great, just a great player - Baylor teammate Jayden Nunn
Bronny James, Guard: USC
Bronny is one of the more unknown prospects in this class simply because of his medical concerns. He suffered cardiac arrest stemming from a congenital heart defect earlier this summer and to my understanding has yet to return to USC practice.
Medicals aside, Bronny is much more than just the son of LeBron James. He is a highly effective role-playing guard in the mold of a De'Anthony Melton. The ability to be a knockdown C&S player and stellar POA defender is all there for Bronny, and the real concerns about his game are mainly centered around his lack of high end athleticism and self-creation ability on offense.
USC lists Bronny at 6'4, 210 pounds, which would be fairly duplicative with Cason Wallace for the Thunder. Despite that, I think it's never a bad thing to have multiple high-feel guards who have the appropriate skill set to fit around other star players. I hope Bronny can get the chance to play at USC and enter this year's draft, as I have high hopes for his future in the NBA as a premier role player.
We anticipate him being a very valuable part of our basketball team... He's the ultimate teammate because he cares about winning, and he has such a personal relationship with all his teammates. When you watch him on the court and you're around them, that's the first thing you notice within five or 10 minutes -- and it's contagious. - USC coach Andy Enfield
I know Thunder fans are excited about this season (as am I) and the core hoping to make its first run in the playoffs, but the beauty of this team and overall rebuild is all the picks accumulated from other franchises. This will allow for the Thunder to compete themselves while still potentially selecting high up in the draft in a given year. So keep an eye out on these and other exciting names out there over the coming prospect season.