This draft is a little unique in that even the unattainable guys feel moderately attainable. With the draft being perceived as average to weak, unexpected players could slip or top eight teams could trade down looking for more assets or talent.
But you know what? People have been saying drafts are meh for the last few years now. The 2011 draft was almost universally deemed weak and that produced Kyrie Irving, Jonas Valanciunas, Klay Thompson, Kawhi Leonard, Nikola Vucevic, Iman Shumpert, Kenneth Faried and Reggie Jackson. There are good players to be picked whether it’s in the top three, in the top 10 or even in the top 30. It’s about fit, work ethic and the developmental system.
While most are unexcited about the pool of players available, know this: There will be productive, good or maybe even great NBA players that come out of it. It might be the No. 1 pick, it might be the No. 21 pick. The draft is and will always be a crapshoot. You do your homework, you scout, you educate, you try and understand. But in the end, it’s mostly guesswork and getting lucky.
So let’s rank the top 30 prospects in this draft, not overall, but in direct relation to the Thunder. And good news: The Thunder are already reported to be interested in moving up as high as even the top pick, so really, everyone is in play for Oklahoma City. Though I would put the chance of OKC just taking a guy at 12 at around 90 percent. I wouldn’t expect a trade.
1. Victor Oladipo, SG, Indiana
He’s my favorite prospect in the draft. Especially in relation to the Thunder. In a lot of ways, he reminds me of Russell Westbrook, not in how he plays, but in what the perception of him is right now. He’s an athletic wing that has tremendous work ethic, is known as an elite defender, plays with a ton of energy, but needs to develop more of an offensive game. Here was Westbrook’s pre-draft book per Draft Express: outstanding defender, role-player potential, work ethic, athleticism, freakish athleticism, wingspan, lacks offensive polish, average shooter, undersized, doesn’t have an ability to create his own shot, lacks a mid-range game.
Oladipo’s book is a crazy defensive motor, physical tools, high intensity and energy, wingspan, rebounds well, outstanding defender, can’t create his own shot, not a good shooter, lacks ball-handling. Get him in OKC, put him to work and I picture him blooming. The downside for Oladipo is that he’s just 6-4, which means the Thunder would have a little bit smaller backcourt. Can Oladipo defend three positions?
But overall, he just screams Thunder to me. Tough, competitive, athletic, versatile, willing to work, the potential to blossom. I know the Thunder’s top need is a big, but if the opportunity presented itself to select Oladipo, I feel like he’d be tough to turn down. He’d fit in somewhere. Good players always do.
2. Nerlens Noel, C, Kentucky
He’s the best big in the draft, plain and simple. There are major question marks around him like his physical strength, past injuries, and what position he’s truly set to play, but his upside, athleticism and tools make him incredibly intriguing. Plus, that hightop fade.
Can he play center? Well, he’s only 18 so he’s got some time to grow both mentally and physically. He needs to fill out and at 6-11, he’s got the size. He just needs the strength. He could get there. Besides, the NBA is moving more towards fast and athletic over big and strong anyway. If the Thunder were to move into the top spot (WHICH IS REALLY UNLIKELY) it would be an interesting question: Noel or Oladipo?
(Also, let me just add this: There’s talk that it would take Serge Ibaka to move up to the No. 1 pick. That’s hilarious. That’s so unlikely that it’s not even worth pointing out how dumb that is. The Thunder aren’t trading Serge Ibaka. Especially not for for the No. 1 pick in this draft.)
3. Ben McLemore, SG, Kansas
I keep coming back to McLemore and seeing him as a fit. With the Thunder trying to get Bradley Beal or Klay Thompson for James Harden, it seems like McLemore is as close to those two as anyone in the draft. Of course there’s Jeremy Lamb, and what the Thunder think of him decides all of this anyway, and there are questions about McLemore’s focus and intensity, but he’s pure and smooth and can knock down shots. If Lamb isn’t the future at shooting guard, this is a hole the Thunder will have to fill soon. Between Oladipo and McLemore, these might be two of their best shots at it, especially with getting a guy cheap on a rookie contract.
4. Alex Len, C, Maryland
Len seems to be the enigma of the draft, the Andre Drummond. Great physical tools, a reasonably polished offensive game and tremendous size. His name has been floated around for No. 1, and some mocks have him being taken around No. 8. He needs to add strength and he’d likely be a bit of a project, but he’s a big man that can score in the paint. Isn’t that what everyone wants.
5. Anthony Bennett, PF, UNLV
A week ago, he was almost assuredly going either No. 3 to the Wizards or No. 4 to the Bobcats. Now he’s slipping into the 7, 8 or 9 range. He can play both the 3 and 4 and has great strength and size. He’s kind of Paul Millsap-ish to me. And we know Thunder fans love Paul Millsap.
6. Cody Zeller, PF, Indiana
At different points last season, Zeller was the consensus top pick. That has wavered with him likely slipping into the 7-10 range, but still, he’s got top tier talent. Or so it seems. When I watch him, I can’t tell if he’s Tyler Hansbrough or David Lee (on the offensive end). He’s seven feet, but probably more of a power forward. He can knock down mid-range jumpers, but isn’t much more than a force-it-up-on-the-rim finisher in the paint. If he’s there at 12, I’d be happy. But I wouldn’t push to get him or anything.
7. Steven Adams, C, Pitt
Most mocks have him landing in OKC. He’s got great size and potential, but he’s raw and needs some developing. He’s reportedly looked tremendous in workouts and could really be a quality addition to the Thunder’s front line depth. The question is his offense and if he’ll be able to be anything more than a rebounder/shotblocker at the next level. Can he contribute on both ends?
8. C.J. McCollum, G, Lehigh
The question for McCollum and the Thunder is if he’s a point guard, or more of a combo guard. The guy can flat out shoot and can absolutely fill it up. Coming off the Thunder’s bench as a spark scorer, he makes a lot of sense. Floor spacer, instant offense, high character, very intelligent, mature, good teammate. He’s be a nice fit if he’s available at 12.
9. Otto Porter, SF, Georgetown
So the Thunder most definitely don’t need him. He’s likely to be picked in the top five, but at a certain point, a player’s value is too much to ignore. Porter has value in that he’s one of the four or five best players in the draft. The Thunder don’t have a place for him, but still, value is value.
10. Shabazz Muhammad, SG, UCLA
A lot of people are down on Muhammad. He’s been slowly slipping down boards and could land somewhere in the 16-20 range. I still think he’s going to be a good NBA player. A lot of it will be the situation he finds himself in and if he can get his act together a bit, but his ability is undeniable. He can score, he can slash, he can play. Is he worth the risk? I wouldn’t rule it out. Judging a guy off 30 games when he played as a freshman at 18 years old isn’t always the best evaluation. Muhammad has NBA tools.
11. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, SG, Georgia
Full disclosure: Hadn’t heard of this guy until the draft talk started. His name has been one of the hottest out there with teams apparently coming away very impressed with his workouts. He’s a 6-6 scorer that has touch out to distance. Not a bad piece to have if Jeremy Lamb doesn’t work out.
12. Michael Carter-Williams, PG, Syracuse
I am just not that high on Carter-Williams, especially for OKC. He wants to be a point guard and again, what does OKC need that for? People like to talk about moving Westbrook off the ball more, which I’m fine with. Thing is, if that’s happening I want it to be because he’s playing with Reggie Jackson. The Thunder are pretty set at point guard and unless Carter-Williams has some versatility, I don’t see how he’s a fit.
13. Kelly Olynyk, C, Gonzaga
Olynyk is projected as a stretch 4 in the NBA and while he certainly has offensive ability, I’m not sure he’s what the Thunder especially need. Byron Mullens is stretch 4, too. And we all saw how that worked out. Nenad Krstic was a jump-shooting center, and we all saw how that worked out. Olynyk has offensive ability, which is something OKC could use at his size, but is he really worth that precious 12th pick?
14. Trey Burke, PG, Michigan
His name keeps getting brought up by fans. Why? I get it: He was really impressive in the tournament. He’s tough. He’s good. But what in the world does the Thunder need with a 6-foot-1 point guard? Where is he going to play? What is he going to do? The best reason to take Burke would simply be because of the value and ability to trade him later.
15. Sergey Karasev, SF, Russia
On overall boards, he’s a potential lottery pick. But for the Thunder, with Kevin Durant already in place and Perry Jones his “backup” and therefore unable to find any playing time, what’s the point in taking Karasev only to be a future backup? In Chad Ford’s latest mock, he says the Thunder are potentially interested in Karasev. I just don’t get why.
16. Jamal Franklin, SG, San Diego State
His toughness is impressive. At 6-5 playing shooting guard, he averaged 9.5 rebounds a game last season. He can score, he can pass and he can defend. Question is, will he lose all his powers in the NBA if he can’t play with those long sleeves on?
17. Rudy Gobert, C, FranceHe’s a project. Most projections have him a couple of years away from being a contributor in the NBA and while the Thunder have ample amounts of patience, I don’t know if a) the fanbase does and b) the team can afford to.
18. Dennis Schroeder, G, Germany
A combo guard that hasn’t really impressed in recent workouts, according to a few different reports. But he can score, slash and create, and has unique potential to blossom.
19. Tony Mitchell, PF, North Texas
A high energy player that played both forward positions in college. One comparison being tossed around a little has been Kenneth Faried. After watching tape on him that seems a bit optimistic, but you never know. Mitchell certainly plays hard and has good instincts.
20. Giannis Antetokounmpo, SF, Greece
Antetok… Antetokoun… Giannis has been rocketing up boards recently. Strong workouts and a quality performance in Treviso during some exhibition games have made him a potential lottery guy. He’s got good size at 6-9 and could conceivably be a combo forward in the NBA. Great upside, great potential. And a guy the Thunder could afford to take their time with.
21. Mason Plumlee, PF, Duke
He has great size, great length and tremendous feel and intelligence. But how good of a player can he really be? He’s essentially a shot-blocker that basically scores only on offensive rebounds and lobs. To me, his name might as well be Cole Aldrich. He might end up being an impact player for someone, but I feel like the Thunder have tried this route before.
22. Reggie Bullock, SF, North Carolina
I love Bullock as a fit at No. 29. Problem is, he’s been climbing boards the last couple weeks. He can shoot and he’s got some size. That’s pretty much all you need to know.
23. Tim Hardaway Jr., SG, Michigan
I don’t know why, but I love the idea of Hardaway with the No. 29 pick (or No. 32 if he’s there), especially if OKC goes big with its lottery selection. Hardaway obviously has a great pedigree, but I think in the right system and the right role, he could really blend in to an athletic defensive specialist spot. It would take a little commitment from him, but his athleticism is off the charts and he struck me as a very tough, hard-nosed kid, especially during the tournament. I can’t shake it. I like this guy.
24. Allen Crabbe, SG, Cal
Shooting guard with solid size and a pure jumper. But as you can see in this draft, there are a bunch of guys just like him. Is he better than them?
25. Glen Rice Jr., SG, Rio Grande Valley
I watched the D-League finals and he was certainly impressive. He’s smooth and can absolutely shoot and score from anywhere. He has some red flags about him, but there’s no denying he’s got ability.
26. Gorgui Dieng, C, Louisville
Early on, I really liked Dieng (also, it’s fun to say Gorgui). But the more tape I watched, the more I read, the more I heard, I’m not really that sold. He’s 23 years old and might’ve maxed out his ceiling already. If he’s available at 29 he could be a very nice value pick, but I think he’s out of the question at 12.
27. Lucas Nogueira, PF, Brazil
Very raw, very talented. He’s a total project that needs to season, needs to add strength and needs to develop, possibly overseas.
28. Shane Larkin, PG, Miami
He’s a possible lottery pick. But the Thunder truly have almost zero use for him. And he doesn’t have the same value like Burke would. He’s undersized and while he could be a future backup point guard and a third one currently on the roster, that’s not near enough potential impact to use on a lottery pick.
29. Tony Snell, SG, New Mexico
Snell is rangy at 6-7 and has quality athleticism. He’s been steadily climbing draft boards after some strong workouts, but he’s pretty raw and it’s hard to really get a feel what kind of contributor he’d be. Defensive specialist? Slasher? Just a general athlete?
30. Mike Muscala, C, Bucknell
High energy, hard worker, low ceiling. But if there’s a late first round, early second round sleeper, there’s a good chance it could be Muscala.