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Thunder Journal: The Case for James Bouknight

Thunder Journal: The Case for James Bouknight

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All season long, we were told the 2021 NBA Draft was a five-player class.

Cade Cunningham, Evan Mobley, Jalen Green, Jalen Suggs and Jonathan Kuminga were the quintet of rookies every team desired. Then the Thunder ended up with the sixth pick. Drats.

Sike! Scottie Barnes has entered the chat and made this a six-player draft.

Just when every OKC fan convinced themselves that Barnes was going to be the steal of the draft, the rumor mill rolled out a cruel joke. The versatile defender and playmaker now looks like a lock to go to Orlando at #5, if not cracking the top four with Toronto crushing on Scottie as well. Thunder fans turned their attention to Kuminga and tried to ignore all the “potential bust” hot takes in all the mock drafts. Drats.

Sike! James Bouknight has entered the chat and made this a seven-player draft.

Kevin O’Connor of The Ringer was the first to report OKC’s connection to the 6’5” UCONN shooting guard. With two typed sentences, he completely shifted Thunder fandom’s expectations from Barnes or maybe Kuminga to probably not Barnes and definitely not Kuminga and very likely Bouknight:

The Orlando Magic are believed to be high on Scottie Barnes with the fifth pick, while the Oklahoma City Thunder prefer Barnes or James Bouknight at No. 6.

For weeks, Jonathan Kuminga was mentioned in the group of top-5 prospects in the draft but he has been “scarcely mentioned” as a possibility for either the Magic or Thunder at five and six.

Soon after, Jeremy Woo of Sports Illustrated revealed there has been “increasing chatter” among team executives about the Thunder’s interest in Bouknight. Bleacher Report followed suit and mocked the 20 year old to OKC.

So why would Sam Presti of all people pass on the chance to draft a raw, high ceiling NBA superstar prototype like Kuminga to pick a “shooter” who shot 29% from 3?

Because Bouknight might be the second best scorer in a loaded draft class. His mix of 3 point shooting, shot creation, finishing at the rim (63%!) and athleticism is only topped by Jalen Green. The new trendy catchphrase in draft circles is “3 level scorer” and Bouknight checks the trio of boxes. Bouknight also projects as a two way player, as his defense grades out as a positive and he has the Presti Special: a 6’8” wingspan.

Oh and why does everyone keep calling Bouknight a shooter when he hit less than 30% of his long distance attempts? The context is important. He hit 35% from 3 his freshman season and was at that rate his sophomore season until an elbow injury. When Bouknight returned, his 3 point percentage plummeted. He was also the entire offense for the Huskies and faced constant double teams.

Bouknight’s stock raised dramatically after his combine showing and his private workouts. And the biggest reason? His lights out shooting.

Jonathan Givony of Draft Express described Bouknight’s shooting this way:

UConn’s James Bouknight put on an absolutely incredible shooting display at his NBA Combine Pro Day workout today. Shot the cover off the ball, showing phenomenal footwork, touch and body control.

Anecdotal? Small sample size? Maybe. But all the draftniks believe in Bouknight as a baller. If he’s the pick at 6, OKC’s potential backcourt for the next decade has the potential to be a lot of fun.

The overwhelming odds are that OKC will draft one of Bouknight, Barnes or Kuminga at #6. Bouknight is arguably this class’s second best scorer, which would help take defensive pressure off of SGA. Barnes has more hype than anyone right now and pairing him with Lu Dort would give OKC the best young 1-2 defensive punch in the league. Kuminga has been ranked in the top 5 all season long and has true superstar upside. Or hey, maybe Presti pulls a Presti and trades up for Evan Mobley or Jalen Suggs.

There are zero bad outcomes in this draft.

Be sure to tune in to Monday morning’s DT Journal when we discover this is actually an eight-player class and OKC is looking to move up from the #6 to draft Vrenz Bleijenbergh.