3 min read

Thunder Journal: After the Whirlwind

Thunder Journal: After the Whirlwind

The Thunder have ushered in a new era, and with it, maybe a new Sam Presti.

When it comes to the NBA draft, there’s two Sammy stereotypes that have become Presti punchlines.

  1. Presti only drafts long, athletic defenders who shoot worse than the trainees in the beginning of a Police Academy movie.
  2. Presti never lets anything leak. His draft and trade targets are so airtight that not even Woj finds out until after he reads his own tweets.

Well, in the first Thunder draft of the rebuild regime, the Thunder VP & GM sought out shooters and really didn’t give a Daigneault who knew about it.

And there was more smoke about the Thunder drafting Serbian sharpshooting center Aleksej Pokuševski than an episode of Mad Men, and that smoke turned into fire, as in Presti was on en fuego on draft day.

Pokuševski, or Poku as all of us who are either too lazy or too afraid of spelling errors to type his full name call him, had been rising up draft boards over the past several weeks. 7’1.5” centers who can handle, pass and shoot like a point guard are still the holy grails of the NBA. And Presti’s longstanding crush on Poku meant there was no chance he was coming out of the 2020 NBA Draft without his unicorn. With whispers that the Mavs would take Poku at #18, Sammy had to slide into #17.

Here’s how he got there:

  • Traded Jerami Grant for #25.
  • Traded Dennis Schroder to the Lakers for Danny Green and #28.
  • Traded Chris Paul for Ricky Rubio, Kelly Oubre, Ty Jerome, Jalen Lecque and a 2022 1st rounder.
  • Traded Ricky Rubio, #25 and #28 for Poku.

If there’s any doubt about how persistent Presti was to poach Poku, he was the end result of four different trades.

In his post draft presser, Presti wasn’t permitted to speak on Poku, but he did his best to allude to his thoughts on his swing for the fences pick.

“Very few players in any given draft become impact players. Finding NBA players is really hard. After the first few guys, it’s hard to find elite talent.”

Much like Darius Bazley last season, OKC used their 1st rounder to draft the player outside of the Top 10 with the highest upside. Much like last season, a lot of Thunder fans were disappointed because Poku wasn’t a well known or sexy name because he didn’t play college basketball. Bazley had Top 10 talent but fell in drafts because of a lack of film or knowledge about his game. The gamble seems to have paid off, and Presti is betting he hit the jackpot once again with Poku.

The Thunder weren’t done dipping their toes in international waters.

Before the draft, Presti traded away Thunder legend Danny Green and Thunder fan punching bag Terrance Ferguson to his old friend Daryl Morey–now in Philadelphia–for Al Horford, Vasilije Micic, a 2025 1st rounder and #34.

At #34, the Thunder selected French point guard and Tony Parker’s protégé Theo Maledon.

One of the steals of the draft, Maledon is a skilled, shooting one-guard with size who was projected by most to go somewhere in the #20-25 range of the 1st round and was at one time viewed as a potential lottery selection.

Presti likes backpicking in Europe so much that he gave up cash considerations and a later 2nd rounder to buy the rights to 6’8” Czech point guard Vit Krejci. The pick was met with a rousing “who??” from Thunder Twitter, but he’s another young, high upside Euro player who would have been picked higher had he not torn his ACL this past season.

The 2020 NBA Draft is the first in the new era of a rebuilding Thunder team and OKC hopefully added a vital, long term piece to their young core.

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is 22 years old, 6’6, can handle, pass and shoot.

Darius Bazley is 20 years old, 6’9, can handle, pass and shoot.

Poku is 18 years old (!), 7’2, can handle, pass and shoot.

Theo Maledon is 19 years old, 6’4, can handle, pass and shoot.

Lu Dort is 21 years old and living rent free in James Harden’s head.

The first era of Thunder basketball was highly entertaining and successful. But it also came with some lessons learned. Sam Presti is clearly looking to have five guys on the floor with the ability to put the ball on the floor, make plays for others and, to the joy of every OKC fan everywhere: shoot.

Nobody knows what Poku will become. He’s the biggest boom or bust pick in the draft. But when you’re starting a rebuild by picking at #25 and loaded with 100 1st round picks in the next five drafts, you don’t play it safe. So new era Sammy swung for the fences.