Congratulations to LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers for finally winning their elusive title. After an epic season and playoffs, it is now time to look for to next season.
And that starts with the draft on June 23rd. I know, I know. The Oklahoma City Thunder don’t have any draft picks in this year’s draft. But they’ll likely be like a man with a paddle and just enough money to get a bargain at an auction. Sam Presti and the Thunder front office always look at the draft as an opportunity to stock their coffers and find bargain-based talent that they can phase into their rotation. They’ve had more hits than misses in the past eight drafts, and do a good job of finding talent where other teams would just pass it by.
Everything, of course, hinges on whether the Thunder will re-sign Kevin Durant. Unfortunately, the draft takes place a little more than a week before free agency begins. With that in mind, how do the Thunder operate in this draft? If the Thunder are confident Durant will re-sign, then the mind set switches to finding players that can help them compete against the likes of the Golden State Warriors and San Antonio Spurs. From here on out, the rest of this article will operate under the premise that Durant will be in a Thunder uniform next season.
The next question becomes how can the Thunder get a draft pick in this draft? They gave up their first round pick in the Dion Waiters trade from a year and a half ago. Then they gave up their two 2nd rounders (their’s and Charlotte’s 2nd rounder which was obtained in the Jeremy Lamb trade) in the Randy Foye trade at the trade deadline this past season. What assets do they have to offer to get a pick in this draft? If Durant is returning, then you can bet the rest of the starting line-up, Enes Kanter, Nick Collison, and Dion Waiters will all be returning. In addition, players like Josh Huestis and Cameron Payne, who have upside and low salaries will also likely be returning. Of the players who are left, Anthony Morrow and Mitch McGary are probably the only assets that other teams will even consider. Morrow is an attractive piece because his salary of $3.5 million is non-guaranteed if he is waived by July 15th. McGary is a young, versatile big man who had some success in his rookie season, but struggled to get on the court in his 2nd season, which included a mysterious leave of absence late in the season.
In addition to players on their current roster, the Thunder also have a couple assets that may be interesting to other teams. Thunder 2013 2nd rounder Alex Abrines recently won the Euroleague Rising Star award last season while playing for FC Barcelona. He is viewed as someone that can instantly contribute once he treks across the Atlantic. The Thunder also own Memphis’ 2017 2nd round pick (31-35 protected in 2017 and unprotected in 2018). That, honestly, may be the best asset the Thunder currently have. In my opinion, the biggest wild-card in this year’s draft is the Grizzlies. With the uncertainty of Mike Conley’s free agency and Marc Gasol’s sudden change in agents this offseason, Memphis’ current roster make-up seems very cloudy. If they blow the “Grit and Grind” core up in the next two seasons, Memphis could be looking at a lengthy rebuild. With all that said, the treasure chest the Thunder are willing to part with is not that substantial.
Another question that needs to be asked is what specifically do the Thunder need? In keeping with the thinking the Thunder need more help on the perimeter with wings that can help on both ends, most of these wishful draft picks will be perimeter oriented.
Luckily, there are other avenues to obtain a pick, especially later in the draft. Second round picks can easily be bought, with the going rate ranging from less than $1 million all the way up to $2.5 million or more. Late first round picks can take a little bit more maneuvering, but can be obtained for cash and future assets (draft picks or salary dumping trades). I’m going to look at 10 players that could possibly help the Thunder out in the future, both short-term and long-term. I’ll break them down into three categories:
- Players that we will need to trade a rotation piece to get to (i.e. trade Serge Ibaka or Kanter)
- Late first rounders that could be had if they fall
- Second rounders that could be bought, if the Thunder really like them
Players that would require a rotational player to get up that high in the draft
1. Malachi Richardson, Freshman, SG, Syracuse, 6’6″/200 lbs (slotted to go between 10-20)
- Stats in 37 games: 13.4 pts/4.3 rebs/2.1 asts/37% FG/35% 3pt FG/72% FT/1.2 stls
The freshman guard out of Syracuse reminds me of ex-Thunder player Jeremy Lamb. He has the ability to excel from deep, but struggled with consistency in his freshman season. He has the prototypical size for a 2-guard in the league and fared well defensively in college. He’s not overly athletic, but also won’t get taken advantage of by the speed of the NBA.
2. Timothe Luwawu, International (France), SG/SF, Mega Leks (Serbia), 6’7″/195 lbs (slotted to go between 13-22)
- Stats in 28 games: 14.6 pts/4.8 rebs/2.8 asts/42% FG/37% 3pt FG/69% FT/1.7 stls
Another player that would remind Thunder fans of a past player, Luwawu’s game is very reminiscent of Thabo Sefolosha’s. His wiry frame and long wingspan would make him a problem for opposing wings on the defensive end. In addition, he has a good overall game and could be an immediate contributor for any team that picks him up.
3. Dejounte Murray, Freshman, PG/SG, Washington, 6’5″/170 lbs (slotted to go between 15-24)
- Stats in 34 games: 16.1 pts/6.0 rebs/4.4 asts/42% FG/29% 3pt FG/66% FT/1.8 stls
Murray is all about potential. The freshman guard out of Washington has a good all-around game, but needs to improve his jumper to be effective at the next level. He’s being groomed by fellow Seattlelite Jamal Crawford, so his game will probably focus solely on offense. He’s an exceptional playmaking and has probably the best handles in the draft.
Players that if you really want them, you can snatch them up late in the first round
1. DeAndre Bembry, Junior, SG/SF, St. Joseph’s, 6’5″/205 lbs (slotted to go anywhere from 25-35)
- Stats in 36 games: 17.4 pts/7.8 rebs/4.5 asts/48% FG/27% 3pt FG/66% FT/1.4 stls
Bembry is one of those players that has glue-guy/utility defender written all over him. He reminds me of Josh Childress, in that he can be a good role players that doesn’t necessarily need anything run for him. He would struggle as a 3-and-D wing, as he struggles with the 3-point shot, but in the right system he could be successful.
2. Thon Maker, HS Super Senior, PF/C, Athlete Institute, 7’1″/215 lbs (slotted to go anywhere from 25-35)
- Stats unavailable over the past year
This year’s International Man of Mystery, Maker is the ultimate boom or bust player. He reminds me a lot of Perry Jones, not in his game, but in the gamut that his potential runs amongst NBA writers. Some have him as a possible late lottery pick, while others have him in the 40’s. The 7’1″ Australian via Sudan, has been on the radar for years now, but his handlers have done a good job of limiting his exposure to minimize viewership of his flaws.
Maker has a 7’3″ wingspan and a non-stop motor. He has the ability to play some on the perimeter, but still needs to bulk up to step foot in the NBA’s paint. He currently has a weak base and gets pushed around easily on the inside. But he loves to compete. And in the NBA, effort is half the battle. In the right system and under the right development plan, Maker could be a steal in this draft. I’m all aboard the Maker train.
The Thunder love a story where a young player has persevered through a tough life to make it up to the point of the draft. Maker left his war torn country of Sudan, went to Uganda, and finally made his way to Australia. From there he went to the United States and then finally to Canada. The only consistency in Maker’s development has been inconsistency. And there lies the only question mark for Maker: his handler. Why so much change? If that story checks out, I could see the Thunder make a play for Maker.
3. Caris LeVert, Senior, SG, Michigan, 6’7″/190 lbs (slotted to go anywhere from 28-40)
- Stats in 14 games: 16.4 pts/5.4 rebs/4.9 asts/53% FG/45% 3pt FG/79% FT/0.9 stls
The oft-injured shooting guard has lottery talent, but a Division III foot. In his first two seasons at Michigan, LeVert averaged 35 games per season. In his final two seasons, LeVert played in only 31 games total. He had 3 surgeries in a 22 month period on his foot, in which he later admitted was due to a Jones fracture, much like Kevin Durant. If the Thunder medical team gives the okay on LeVert, I could see the front office taking a chance on him, especially if he slips into the 2nd round.
Throw out some money, and you could get these players on the cheap
1. Isaia Cordinier, International, SG, Denain, 6’5″/177 lbs (slotted to go mid to late 2nd round)
- Stats in 32 games: 10.8 pts/3.6 rebs/2 asts/46% FG/40% 3pt FG/78% FT/1.2 stls
Cordinier is the perfect draft and stash candidate. He has a ton of potential as a Nic Batum type of player. He’s high on athleticism and loves to play above the rim. He can hit a set 3-pt shot, but his mechanics are slow, which could be an issue in the NBA. Overall, he’d be a good project to take a chance on.
2. Gary Payton II, Senior, PG, Oregon State, 6’3″/184lbs (slotted to go mid to late 2nd round)
- Stats in 31 games: 16.0 pts/7.9 rebs/5.0 asts/52% FG/32% 3pt FG/65% FT/2.5 stls
The ultimate Presti player. The 6’3″ point guard has a 6’8″ wingspan and was named Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year during his junior year. Although he’s not quite adept offensively, for a team looking for a cheap defender on the perimeter, Payton II would be a steal. The only question for the Thunder is whether the history between Gary Payton II’s father, Hall of Famer Gary Payton, and the Seattle Supersonics will come into play. Payton was one of the more vocal opponents against the Seattle franchise moving to Oklahoma City, stating that he did not want his number or accolades mentioned with the Thunder franchise in any way. If the objective is to beat the Warriors, Payton II would be a great pick-up.
3. Sheldon McClellan, Senior, SG, Miami, 6’6″/168 lbs (slotted to go late 2nd to undrafted)
- Stats in 35 games: 16.3 pts/3.2 rebs/1.6 asts/57% FG/40.6% 3pt FG/84% FT/1.0 stls
A natural scorer who barely does anything else. McClellan has a true shooting percentage of 65%. He can put it in the hole, from close and from distance. He’s slithery enough to get loose on backdoor cuts and athletic enough to be the recipient of alley oops. The question with him is whether he becomes the next Jamal Crawford or the next Jordan Crawford. He needs to work on the other aspects of the game if he wants to be successful at the next level. But as an offensive talent, he could be a steal late in the draft.
4. Kay Felder, Junior, PG, Oakland (MI), 5’10″/177 lbs (slotted to go late 2nd to undrafted)
- Stats in 35 games: 24.4 pts/4.3 rebs/9.3 asts/48.5% FG/35.5% 3pt FG/85% FT/2.0 stls
Nothing about Felder screams Thunder. He’s short, has a small wingspan, and probably would not be a very good defender on the perimeter. But I get tired of other short combo guards killing us, and figured maybe the Thunder would one day fight fire with fire. The 5’10” height listing is generous, as he is probably closer to 5’8″, but the man can score. He reminds me a lot of Nate Robinson, pre-injuries, and has the body type to be successful in the NBA.
So what do the Thunder do? There is some talent to be cultured in the 2nd round, if the Thunder can get in there. Teams like the Boston Celtics and Philadelphia 76ers will have a pirate’s booty worth of draft picks this year and likely won’t be using all of them. I would think the Thunder would contact either of those teams to try and obtain a 2nd rounder somewhere in the draft. Presti is the type of the GM that will do anything to realistic limits to get a player he really wants in the draft. And if that player is available, you can be that Presti will be working the phone lines to get that player in Oklahoma City.