The Thunder have obviously been extremely successful in the draft, partly by luck and partly because of wonderful advanced scouting and homework done by the front office.
But I’ve always kind of wondered if Sam Presti and his staff did such a great job drafting, or if they just did a great job developing. Maybe that’s a chicken-or-the-egg type of thing, but when you look at it, Presti really hasn’t whiffed on a draft pick yet. Byron Mullens looked to be a swing-and-a-miss, but all he really needed was a chance, which he’s getting in Charlotte.
On the NBA Today podcast, basketball genius David Thorpe was on and explained his theory of “Royal Jelly.” What’s royal jelly? It’s the stuff that baby bees get that turn them into powerful queen bees. Some guys are born with it. Some guys need it given to them, by the hive (or organization) if you will.
Thorpe says James Harden and Russell Westbrook both needed a little royal jelly (15:30 mark) to become the players that they are right now. Basically his point is, had either of those guys, specifically Westbrook, gone to a different organization, the chances they would’ve busted would’ve been much higher.
“They needed the exact right environment for them or I think had they gone to different places, they would not be the players they are,” Thorpe said.”I think had [Westbrook] gone elsewhere, we would’ve seen much more drama, much bigger issues and not nearly the level of player we’re seeing now.”
The reasons are for all the things you see with Westbrook right now. His emotions, his personality, his chip on the shoulder, his erratic decision-making — take that to any other organization that might not have the culture of the Thunder that was keen on development and Westbrook could’ve been a ticking time bomb. Lots of players have NBA ability. But not all of them have what it takes between the ears and not all of them are gifted with the right kind of culture to help them fully realize what they’re capable of.
And that’s really the core of the so-called Thunder Model. I honestly think the Thunder’s front office feels that if they do their homework and scout a player that fits not just because of talent, but because of mindset, work ethic and mold-ability, that they can turn anybody into a good basketball player. Other front offices tend to take the shot at what they see as the great talent, the can’t-miss player. Presti, other than Kevin Durant who was a no-brainer, went in consecutive drafts for the guy people weren’t so sure on. Both Harden and Westbrook were guys that everyone agreed had talent, but how much upside is there really? They might be decent players, but top five guys? Prime candidates to bust, as Thorpe said.
There are guys you can’t screw up like LeBron, KD, Kobe Bryant and Dwight Howard. There are guys that are just going to be great no matter what, because as Thorpe said, they already had the royal jelly. But some guys need it given to them, whether that’s through a coach or an organization.
I remember last year at the trade deadline there was some noise the Thunder might try and acquire Hasheem Thabeet. People obviously thought this was crazy. But Thabeet has talent and Thabeet has ability packed into a 7-3 frame. And I truly believe if he were in OKC’s “program,” as Presti loves to call it, he would develop into a solid NBA big. Maybe not as great as his No. 2 overall draft pick status would suggest, but a serviceable big man.
It’s not just Presti. It’s a whole organizational approach. From the top down, the Thunder want to build from within, using their own tools to shape and mold players. The Thunder pay attention to detail like no other. Everything is part of the process of development from the way players eat, from the film they watch, to playing time, to how they practice. It’s a completely encompassing plan.
I don’t know what the secret sauce is, but there’s something in there where the Thunder just have a great sense for A) what makes a good candidate and B) how to bring the best out of that candidate. It’s not just drafting right and then saying, “Go for it, young man!” It’s about picking the guy that fits the program and then going to work. The mindset is, if you come to Oklahoma City and don’t leave a better basketball player, that’s on you, not the organization.