Analyzing OKC’s 4 selections in the 2021 NBA Draft
That draft was quite the experience. With the Thunder picking in the top 10 for the first time in over a decade, most mocks had them selecting James Bouknight or Jonathan Kuminga. A last-minute change on ESPN’s mock draft to Kuminga scared me a little bit, but Presti and the rest of the front office shocked all mock drafts when selecting Josh Giddey at six. The Thunder traded away pick 16 for future assets and made a trade-up early in the second round as well.
OKC ended up walking away with four players out of a possible six coming into the draft. I’ll be going over the players themselves and how they fit into the roster in the present and the future. These are my opinions on how I see the players and your opinion on the overall draft itself could vary depending on how you think of these players, so just keep that in mind.
Let’s first start with Josh Giddey, the jumbo playmaker from Australia.
Pick 6: Josh Giddey
A relative surprise at pick six, Josh Giddey is one of my favorite players in the draft and I think a great fit on this Thunder roster. The value here is fine, I had Giddey 7th on my board but I could have been swayed to have him up to four at the highest. At somewhere between 6’8-6’9 and 220 pounds, he has exceptional size for a possible primary initiator at the next level. Wing initiators are the most valuable asset in the NBA right now and there is a chance Giddey can get to a level similar to some of the best if he continues on the developmental curve he is on.
Giddey has struggled at times with advantage creation because of the lack of elite quickness or burst, but with his recent physical development and the fact that he’s only 18 years old, I can imagine him continuing to put on strength and eventually be able to use his body to create a lot of openings when driving to the rim. Playing off-ball next to Shai in starter minutes and being able to have on-ball creation reps when Shai is off the floor will be great for his development. These initiators need in-game reps to make mistakes and develop their game. He’s an ambidextrous and creative passer with elite size and great ability in the PnR. He’s able to make every pass in the book and frequently uses his eyes to manipulate defenses and create open windows for easy buckets. The one worry is that he won’t be able to consistently create enough advantages for himself in order to maximize this passing ability, similar to someone like Lonzo Ball. His defense is okay enough, maybe the lack of length and current core strength hinders him a bit but he’s good as a team defender because of his court-mapping and vision on the offensive end of the floor. He makes sound rotations and his on-ball defense should improve if he continues to add muscle.
The jump shot is a work in progress. He shot 29 percent from three and 69 percent from the line this past season in the NBL but has shown growth throughout the season. He’s reportedly a very hard worker and I believe it given the trajectory he’s currently on with the physical growth and development as a player on the floor. He can take catch-and-shoot threes off of the advantages Shai creates and mix in a few self-created and pull-up threes here and there to develop that aspect of his game as well. His base on his jumper is extremely thin and it shows when he occasionally gets off-balance when shooting, but that will improve as he continues to grow physically. I’m also not sure where this narrative that he can’t handle the ball came from? He’s not a BallisLife highlight type of player with the ball in his hands but he can handle it well enough, though it of course needs improvement.
OKC doesn’t have much on their current roster that will likely be on their next contending team, but Giddey has a chance to become the second all-star next to Shai. Having two primary initiators is never bad, and the Thunder gave themselves the chance to have that.
Pick 18: Tre Mann
Tre Mann is someone who I wanted at either 16 or 18, but it would have been nice to have him be one of three first-rounders and instead of two. He’s one of the best perimeter scorers in the class and was the king of unassisted threes this past college season. His space creation is elite, his handle is one of the best in the class and he has lots of wiggle. Shooting 40 percent from three with only 32 percent of those makes being assisted is rare. The pull-up shooting ability is a valuable trait in today’s NBA and can warp defenses if taken at volume (he shot 40 percent on pull-ups this year). 6’4 180 is good enough size for a bench scorer, and like Giddey, Mann is still growing as of last offseason. The length is a big hindrance in Mann’s game (Presti’s first three picks have all been about +0 wingspans) as it affects him as a finisher in traffic and on defense.
He took a big leap as a playmaker this season, although that still isn’t a strength of his. I don’t think he’ll ever become a primary ball-handler unless the decision-making drastically improves. Mann would not have been my pick here, but he’s not a pick I dislike either. Both Maledon and Mann are almost the exact same size (height and weight wise) and if OKC stayed with a guard I would have preferred Jaden Springer. However, Mann fits great next to Shai or Giddey, two big creators who can tilt defenses and feed Mann open looks on the perimeter. The fit is odd with Maledon off the bench and I don’t think this is necessarily a +EV pick at this spot, but Mann fills a need for the Thunder and could be a dynamic and efficient scorer off the bench as early as his first couple of years.
Pick 32: Jeremiah Robinson-Earl
The Thunder selected Jeremiah Robinson-Earl 32nd overall after trading picks 34 and 36 to the New York Knicks at the start of the second round. Off the bat, I don’t like this trade. I admire Presti going for the guy that he thought wouldn’t be available, but the value is just not good. According to this admittedly-dated chart by Kevin Pelton, the Thunder essentially traded double for what the pick is actually worth, a truly awful deal value-wise. And they use this trade-up to select a high-floor, relatively low ceiling player, over someone like JT Thor who was still on the board.
Robinson-Earl is a good player. He’s 6’9 242 and is a pretty fluid and mobile big with some value as a switchable and versatile defender. The post-scoring and face-up game are good and a valuable asset in his offensive toolbox. Shooting 73.3 percent at the rim is impressive when you were only assisted on 41 percent of those makes. For a 6’9 guy, he’s an elite rebounder as well, accumulating a 15.7 rebound rate over his two years at Villanova. The shot is a work in progress and is his obvious swing skill, the percentages aren’t up to par but he got them up on decent volume in college. I’m also not sure where he plays on an NBA floor. He doesn’t really have the size or athleticism for a small-ball center and I’m not sure if he can stay with some of the quicker and stronger fours on the perimeter. He rarely makes mistakes on either end of the floor and is a high-energy and floor player. The problem is that the Thunder doesn’t really need that.
He could come in on playoff-caliber teams and probably play rotation minutes during the season, but for a team who is rebuilding like the Thunder and who should be swinging for upside a lot, especially at the top of the second round, I don’t see how this is a good selection at all. In a vacuum, Robinson-Earl is a good player and is worthy of this selection, but especially after trading up for him, as well as more intriguing players like JT Thor are on the board, I can’t be thrilled with this selection.
Pick 55: Aaron Wiggins
At pick 55, I believe that you simply can’t complain. In a perfect world, I would have taken someone like Aaron Henry or Joel Ayayi here, but Aaron Wiggins is a perfectly fine and capable wing prospect who may be able to contribute in the NBA soon. He took a big jump this past season and boosted his stock even more at the G-League Elite Camp earlier this offseason. This past year, he had a 2.1 steal rate and 2.0 block rate, solid numbers for a 3&D archetype like him. The athleticism limits his ceiling but like JRE, he’s just very sound on that end of the floor without high-level athleticism. He’s been an inconsistent shooter at Maryland, ending his tenure shooting 36 percent from three. According to Synergy, he finished second in off-screen scoring this past season in the NCAA, potentially providing the Thunder with a catch-and-shoot player off movement and attacking closeouts. This is a solid pick, and you can never have enough wings in the NBA.
Overall I think this was a solid draft by the Thunder. I was thrilled with the Giddey pick and I like the vision that Presti has with accumulating a lot of high-level decision-makers and potential initiators in an era where they are so incredibly valuable. The rest of the picks were solid even if they weren’t what I would have done at each spot. According to my board and who I like, the Thunder got no +EV plays out of this draft and (as of writing this) haven’t reached an agreement with any UDFA’s either. Because of this, I can only rate this draft so high. Trading away 16 for future firsts only strengthens my belief that Presti is all in on Victor Wembanyama in the 2023 draft. It would have been nice to have more bites at the apple this year, especially with picks 34 and 36, but I think people are overreacting when slandering this draft. It was solid, and maybe even unspectacular, but I think the Thunder made out well Thursday night.