Four days off, so let’s talk draft for a second.
With the Toronto Raptors officially being eliminated from the playoffs last night and them tied for having the seventh worst record in the league, the Thunder are closer to being assured of their lottery pick, acquired in the James Harden trade.
But it’s no guarantee.
The pick is top three protected, as well as 15-30 protected. Since the Raptors are out of the playoffs, you can forget the 15-30 part. And with the Raptors currently being tied for seventh worst (with the Kings), it means they have a 4.3 percent chance of landing the top pick. If they drop to eighth worst, then it’s just a 2.8 percent chance and ninth worst is 1.7 percent.
For reference, let’s say the Raptors finish with the seventh worst record. Here’s where the ping-pong balls are likely to fall for them:
- 1: 4.3 percent
- 2: 4.9 percent
- 3: 5.8 percent
- 4: Can’t get it
- 5: Can’t get it
- 6: Can’t get it
- 7: 59.9 percent
- 8: 23.3 percent
- 9: 1.8 percent
And then 10, 11, 12, 13 and 14 would be zero percent. The seventh worst record has won the lottery twice, the eighth and ninth worst have each won it once. So it’s still actually no certainty the Thunder will be getting to use that pick this season. We won’t really know until the ping-pong balls are settled.
(For reference: If the pick falls in the top three, it then rolls over to next season where it would then be top two protected for 2014 and 2015. It’s then only protected for No. 1 overall in 2016 and 2017, then is unprotected in 2018.)
But the most likely position, based on today, would be picking No. 7 or No. 8. And here are who the big boards and mocks would have available between the seven and 12 spots:
- Draft Express: Trey Burke, Otto Porter, Shabazz Muhammad, Rudy Gobert, Alex Len, Michael Carter-Williams
- NBA Draft: Trey Burke, Shabazz Muhammad, Cody Zeller, Victor Oladipo, Kelly Olynyk, Michael Carter-Williams
- CBSSports.com: Shabazz Muhammad, Alex Len, Marcus Smart, Victor Oladipo, Isiah Austin, Rudy Gobert
- ESPN.com: Shabazz Muhammad, Cody Zeller, Trey Burke, Gary Harris, Alex Len, C.J. McCollum
- SB Nation: Michael Carter-Williams, Ben McLemore, Anthony Bennett, Rudy Gobert, Alex Len, Kelly Olynyk
- HoopsWorld: Cody Zeller, Kelly Olynyk, Michael Carter-Williams, Anthony Bennett, Alex Len, Mason Plumlee
Obviously, any talk about a pick comes with the disclaimer: Don’t get too excited about this because knowing what we know, this player might be spending most of next season in Tulsa anyway. As one person wisely cracked to me on Twitter, David Stern should probably hand whoever OKC picks a 66ers jersey.
But for the Thunder, a team that is pretty much fully stocked already, who they go with is probably going to be a question of need. There’s a feeling OKC will go big with the pick because of the future with Kendrick Perkins (deal expires in 2015, could be amnestied) and Nick Collison (32 years old, deal expires in 2015). And in this new collective bargaining agreement world, there’s nothing more valuable than a quality contributor on a rookie scale deal. Which in the Thunder’s case, there may be a hole to be filled inside soon and if they could land a big man to do it and have the bonus of them being on a rookie deal, that would be a home run.
But, the Thunder don’t have a great history with drafting bigs (hello, Cole Aldrich) and there’s always the unknown of Tibor Pleiss who is performing well in Spain currently. Or there’s the fact the league is moving a bit more towards smallball and speed, so Serge Ibaka may end up being OKC’s starting center of the future.
There’s Alex Len, a physically imposing seven-footer that had a frustratingly inconsistent season at Maryland. There’s Rudy Gobert, a seven-foot French center, and a player Sam Presti has scouted in person. There’s Kelly Olynyk, a high energy seven-footer (reminds me a touch of Joakim Noah, honestly). Or there’s Cody Zeller, a fairly polarizing seven-footer who has No. 1 overall pick buzz, but still doesn’t seem to be even close to a sure thing.
So, outside of a big, what else could the Thunder need? Thabo Sefolosha’s deal will expire after the 2014 season, meaning OKC might just have one more year with him. There’s a chance he’ll be re-signed, but with Kevin Martin potentially walking in the offseason, shooting guard could become a big hole for OKC. There’s Jeremy Lamb, who still seems to fit into the puzzle, but depth could be an issue.
Would OKC go with Shabazz Muhammad, a Harden lookalike, except for the way he actually plays? Muhammad has the look of a potentially gifted scorer, but he doesn’t pass and strikes me as the kind of player that wants to be what Harden is now, not what he was when playing with the Thunder.
What about Oladipo, a 6-5 defensive stud that plays with smarts, athleticism and energy? He’s not quite as long as Thabo, but he has the look of a potential elite NBA wing defender.
There’s Marcus Smart, a gifted combo guard that can handle, create and score. There’s Michael Carter-Williams, who has played point guard this season, but has the makings of a smooth NBA combo player.
So, there are a lot of directions to go, a lot of options. This draft seems to have most feeling a bit lukewarm with the talent, but there are always gems littered throughout, and it’s more often about how the player develops with his team than the actual existing talent of the player anyway.
But first thing’s first for the Thunder: They actually have to get that pick. We’ll know for sure when the ping-pong balls get drawn May 21.