With the draft a little less than a month away, I feel like all possibilities are open for the Thunder. It's hard to pinpoint an exact group of players they might show interest in at pick 12, so I've been covering some of my favorite players since I cannot get a grasp on who they might take.
Last season the Thunder ranked 16th in offensive rating, a huge jump from the prior years when their offense was horrendous. Despite this, the team ranked 23rd in overall TS% and 17th in 3-point percentage, and I think some more offensive juice could really elevate this team to the next level--especially if Chet Holmgren is who we think he is on defense and on the glass.
Enter Brice Sensabaugh. Sensabaugh is one of the best overall scorers and shooters in the entire class, putting up a combo of scoring and efficiency in his lone season at Ohio State which is nearly unrivaled in the 2023 draft class.
Sensabaugh is someone who I am not frequently seeing mocked in the lottery, but who I'd be more than willing to take in that range were I in Sam Presti's seat. He can be a dynamic shooter and mismatch weapon in the post, something Oklahoma City doesn't really have on the roster outside of Shai Gilgeous-Alexander.
- Born: October 30th, 2003
- Draft Age: 19.6
- High School: Lake Highland Preparatory School
- RSCI: 49
- College: Ohio State
- Measurements (Projected): 6'6, 235 pounds, TBD wingspan
- Consensus Ranking: 20th
I feel great about calling Sensabaugh a potential "surprising" one-and-done player when profiling players to watch back in November before the college season. I thought he was vastly underhyped on recruiting services and when talking about potential college stars. He had "the profile to put up major scoring numbers in college," and he did. Despite only putting up 16 points per game as a freshman, Sensabaugh scored efficiently and through a variety of ways, something you don't often see from players his age in college. In addition, he ranked fourth among freshmen in BPM according to Bart Torvik, behind Brandon Miller, Dereck Lively, and Jarace Walker.
One thing I want to mention before going in-depth on Sensabaugh is his two recent knee injuries, one which caused him to miss the last couple of games of the Buckeyes season and the other a torn meniscus at the end of his junior season in HS. Assuming he overcomes those health flags, let's dive into what Sensabaugh can provide to a team at the next level.
Brice Sensabaugh was a ridiculously good scorer during his lone season at Ohio State. The true freshman had a usage rate of 34% and a TS% of 59 to go along with an average of 16.3 points per game in only 24 minutes a night. In fact, the only two freshmen since 2008 to have shot over 50% from two and 40% from three while carrying a usage rate over 30% in a season have been Sensabaugh and Markelle Fultz, according to Bart Torvik.
As Bill Russell once put it, "This game has always been and always will be about buckets," and Brice's offensive production was unique for a high-major freshman and is his main calling card during this draft cycle.
Brice was unreal from midrange at the collegiate level. On "other" two-point field goals, or non-rim attempts, Sensabaugh shot a comical 49.4% on 172 attempts with only 17.6% (!) of his makes being assisted. These are fairly unprecedented numbers, with guys like TyTy Washington, TJ Warren, and Otto Porter coming close in some areas but none matching the volume, efficiency, and self-created looks Sensabaugh racked up. He also shot 83% from the FT line on 100 attempts and ranked in the 94th percentile on all C&S jumpers this past season.
One thing I love about Sensabaugh is his frame. He's currently 6'6, 235 pounds (he might need to go down to 225-230) and loves to go into the post (89th percentile last year according to Synergy) to bully smaller players. He excels at getting to his spots and can dominate against smaller guards who switch onto him, with that frame allowing him to use small bumps with his shoulders and elbows to generate space against defenders.
For the season at Ohio State, Sensabaugh shot 44% on guarded jumpers and 48% on unguarded jumpers, both of which are excellent numbers. On long-distance twos (further than 15 feet out), he shot an absurd 17/34 (50%), and on shots 10-15 feet from the rim, he went 39/79 (49.4%). The level of shotmaking cannot be understated here. The midrange isn't an efficient shot unless you're really good at it. Sensabaugh was shooting it like Kevin Durant last year in college and I see no reason why it wouldn't translate at the next level. Yes, defenders are stronger and longer in the NBA, but he had no problem getting his shots up over contests, evident by that stellar percentage on guarded jumpers. The dude simply has some of the best shooting touch I've seen out of a college freshman.
Sensabaugh is severely under-discussed when it comes to the best shooters in the class, and he shouldn't be. He shot 46% on all C&S opportunities, 44% on C&S threes, and 40.5% overall from three on 148 attempts with 88% of those makes being assisted. He excels out of the triple threat and has all sorts of counters and moves in his bag of tricks to create a little bit of space. Overall, he loves the R-L crossover as he heavily favors the left side of the floor on offense. Sensabaugh projects to be a fantastic shooter at the next level at the very least and has room to grow in other areas on the offensive end.
To put into context how great of a shooter he was this past season: the only high major freshmen since 2008 to shoot over 50% from two, 40% from three, and put up over 10 threes per 100 are Brice Sensabaugh, Jamal Murray, and Devin Booker, per Bart Torvik. Even when Brice got stonewalled when driving to the basket, he always found a way to generate a shot in the midrange through his fantastic footwork and complete obliviousness to contests.
His movement shooting is good as well. He doesn't have the body type to be a dynamic in-air contortionist movement shooter like JJ Redick but he can come off of screens and hit jumpers at a high level. Sensabaugh didn't have a ton of opportunities off of movement at OSU because of the self-creation burden he shouldered, but I can foresee him excelling as a ghost screener in the NBA and being able to hit threes off of flare screens and pindowns. He reads the leverage of his defender well when playing off of screens and has great and consistent shot prep when squaring up for a jumper.
At the next level, I'm hoping to see him be the primary beneficiary of more offensive actions. A majority of his offense at OSU came off of C&S opportunities or through his own dribbling, but I would love to see him come off of Chicago/Zoom actions to get him on the move to try and mitigate his lack of an elite first step. We see the Thunder run Josh Giddey off of these types of actions all the time and I think Brice could benefit from them as well to get him started downhill towards the rim and attack a titled defense.
While it may be slim, I think there is a chance for Sensabaugh to legitimately put up 25 points per game at some point in the NBA. While that isn't the likeliest outcome of his career, I think the possibility is too great to ignore and let fall into the late teens and early 20s where I see him mocked quite a bit. 2022 draftee AJ Griffin was maligned for his lack of explosiveness despite his elite production, and he turned in a great rookie season after falling all the way to pick 16. I could see something similar happening with Sensabaugh. His combination of efficiency, scoring, volume, and self-created makes are too special to completely bypass in the lottery due to other faults in his game.
Self-Creation and Rim Finishing
Almost 83% of Sensabaugh's makes from the midrange were unassisted and self-created, so how does he do it? To start, he has fantastic footwork and a fairly deep offensive bag despite an average handle and lack of elite athleticism. Most freshmen his age are quick to get sped up and out of control, but Sensabaugh will dribble around the floor for five seconds in order to get to his spots. You can't really keep him from getting to where he wants on the offensive end, you just have to hope he misses the shot.
The stutter rip is a huge part of Brice's offensive game from a standstill. He's really good at selling the fake and creating the necessary space for himself. This move and his overall scoring craft do a good job of compensating for that mediocre first step and his lacking straight-line explosiveness.
I think Sensabaugh is a really crafty player with the ball in his hands, using a variety of shot fakes and bumps to create/mitigate contact, making him a potential elite foul drawer at the next level. He only had a .244 FTr this past season but that can be improved upon at the next level by adding more counters to his game.
We saw guys like Paolo Banchero and Ben Mathurin who had great stutter rips coming out of the draft last year turn in impressive offensive rookie seasons with high FTrs, and I think Brice has the ability to do the same at the next level.
Another one of his favorite moves is the hang dribble into a crossover, as he utilizes it to get defenders off balance in order to get to his midrange pull-up. His handle could be more compact and tight to maximize his self-creation, but it's at a serviceable level right now and pairs well with his offensive profile. He gets to his spots on the floor, a vastly underrated skill when it comes to scoring the ball at a high clip. You don't achieve these levels of self-created shots without a functional handle.
Sensabaugh has shown flashes of all the tools elite scorers possess at the next level, and if he puts them together consistently and can keep his efficient jump shooting up, then watch out.
Despite all this praise, arguably the biggest weakness of Sensabaugh's game on offense is his finishing around the basket. Even though he has incredible touch on his jumpers, Brice struggles to finish around the rim, shooting 57.8% at the basket (90 total attempts) with 40% of his makes being assisted. His limited verticality and burst hinder him in this area, with his 90 total attempts also being pretty low (but not as bad as Jabari Smith was). Sensabaugh needs to work on his tunnel vision when driving to the basket, as he often drives into a sea of defenders and flips up a shot regardless, hindering his percentages.
Strength continues to be massively underrated when it comes to scoring, and I hope Thunder fans have come to this realization after seeing Shai's shoulders transform over the years into hard metal objects with the ability to dislodge any defender. Sensabaugh is a really strong guy with legit strength advantage creation potential at the next level, and I'm interested to see if he can retain his physical talents while losing around 10-ish pounds to maximize his conditioning and athletic ability – that modest tweak would hopefully help with his ability to finish at the basket.
Making Plays for Others
Brice's passing is nothing to write home about yet. He had a very poor 11% assist rate this past year, with more total turnovers than assists. However, I think his passing saw a nice progression throughout the season. As he became more of a focal point of opposing defenses, Brice started making better passes out of doubles and was able to use his scoring gravity to his advantage when setting up teammates.
As a fan of the team, I watched nearly every Ohio State game this past season and I never once thought he was a black hole on offense.
Despite this, his overall internal clock and instincts need to speed up. He definitely has that scorer mentality out on the floor and is often just a tick late on passes that he should be hitting. His scoring gravity opens up looks for others but he needs to be able to capitalize on these opportunities presented to him. The tape is better than the statistics in my opinion, but his playmaking can still be improved upon. A simpler offensive role where he isn't the go-to engine should suit him nicely earlier in his career as he continues to optimize his offensive ability.
The defense for Sensabaugh is pretty bad. He struggled mightily off-ball with a general lack of awareness and often got caught napping on that end of the court when his man was involved in any action.
From what I saw this year, his defense when he was locked in on a 1v1 matchup at the POA was pretty good, but when you had him thinking off the ball or communicating it became an issue. Whether or not it was the best move for the team (it wasn't) Sensabaugh got pulled from multiple games this year for defensive mistakes.
There is some low-hanging fruit with his POA defense against 4s and bigger wings. His foot speed is mediocre at best and I don't think he has the capability to guard quicker, more athletic wings. But he has the strength and size to match up with bigger and more physical forwards. He actually showcased some good and sound post defense this past year, and he might end up like James Harden: a bad defender who manages to hold up well 1v1 in the post because of his size and strength.
His off-ball defense was quite bad and it's up to him and his next team to help him become more attentive on that end of the floor when he isn't straight-up guarding someone one on one. For the Thunder specifically, we've seen Mark Daigneault grill players for their defensive lapses. Daigneault has even sat Josh Giddey at times because of defensive issues, and I believe OKC would be a good environment for Sensabaugh to be held accountable for his mistakes. I do like how he has at least shown some self-awareness of his current deficiencies and knows what he needs to improve upon.
Sensabaugh did have a decent steal rate (1.3 percent) and block rate (1.7 percent) this past season and is actually a solid rebounder both offensively and defensively, so I don't want it to seem like he doesn't show any effort. He was tasked with a ton to do offensively at Ohio State and the hope is that with a reduced offensive load at the next level he can focus more on that end of the floor. But defensive improvement isn't something I am going to bank on happening immediately.
The thing is, with Sensabaugh's offensive skillset, he doesn't even have to be a good defender. He just needs to be passable. His size and strength will mitigate some potential targeting defensively in the playoffs at the next level, and as long as he's not a complete nightmare on that end of the floor he can still be an impact player.
How Brice Sensabaugh fits with the Thunder
I believe Sensabaugh would fit in well on this current Thunder team and their young core. Most of the time you would like to draft a future starter in the lottery, so let us imagine him in OKC's starting five. An SGA-Jalen Williams-Sensabaugh-Giddey-Holmgren lineup is a lot of fun and has plenty of size to defend the opposing teams with a variety of offensive skillsets. As I mentioned before, we already see OKC run plenty of actions to get Giddey on the move as a ball handler and I think we would see them do the same with Sensabaugh.
While Sensabaugh and Giddey are not good defenders, their extra length and overall size will help mitigate those issues and help them from getting hunted on the ball. Sensabaugh can thrive as an off-ball shooter and on-ball mismatch hunter in the midrange and in the post, playing off of the penetration guys like Shai, JDub and Giddey create. Off the bench, he can be a microwave scorer to start his career with the opportunity to get buckets taking advantage of bench units across the league.
I'm quite high on Sensabaugh. I tweeted about him being a top-10 pick back in December and nothing has really swayed me from that opinion. I have yet to see any connection between Sensabaugh and the Thunder, but if Presti wants to throw another curveball when it comes to the draft, I could see Brice Sensabaugh as a pick that would pay off in the long run.