Last June, the Thunder filled a need with a big man with the 12th pick, then moved up to No. 26 to take a guy that sent Jay Bilas frantically flipping through pages so that he could talk about upside, athleticism and wingspan.
This year, instead of 12, it was 21, and instead of moving up from 29, the Thunder stayed put. And basically, the end results were the same. Big man help with the first pick, and some guy that had everyone Googling his name with the next. And plenty of fans that felt the frustration of it all.
I actually really like the choice of Mitch McGary at 21. He fills an upcoming need (Nick Collison will turn 34 this season), he has lots of offensive ability, and there’s some potential wrapped up in that 6-foot-10, 260-pound frame. His stock exploded last March when he was maybe the best player on a Michigan team that came within a game of the national title, then only played eight games this past season because of a nagging back injury. He’s a good passer, has excellent feel, is really smart, finishes around the rim with both hands, can step out to mid-range and plays extremely hard. The negatives are that he doesn’t have a lot of athleticism, might not be a good NBA defender and isn’t going to give OKC the post game so many out there clamor for.
The other pick. I’ll be honest: I don’t really get it either. They basically took Josh Huestis last year already. Andre Roberson was a surprise pick, but at least carried a bit of justification because of Thabo Sefolosha’s uncertain future. Huestis has the same book — great athlete, lots of length, major defensive potential, but poor offensive skills. He has 3-and-D potential, something the Thunder obviously desire. Roberson amazingly started a handful of games last season, and despite clearly having leaps to go offensively, he does have an obvious potential as a defensive stopper. But he’s still pretty project-y. Huestis is even more of one, as I understand that he’s likely to spend most of next season in Tulsa with the 66ers. A bit of an odd pick, definitely.
However, as Pat Riley would say, get a grip. The annual hand-wringing over late first round picks is pretty annoying, to be honest. The draft is an opportunity to improve for the future, not the present. That’s, you know, kind of the whole point of it. Very few times do teams actually find a so-called “impact player” in the draft, especially when you’re a good team with good players already in place. No doubt sometimes it happens. Kawhi Leonard started 64 games as a rookie for an excellent Spurs team. Norris Cole played backup minutes for the 2012 Heat. Heck, Steven Adams last season. But outside of a rookie getting big minutes on a bad, rebuilding team, you don’t get guys stepping in to contending team to make a significant contribution.
I think the Thunder’s draft night moves make a pretty clear statement, actually: They’re planning to fill holes in free agency, while also continuing to trust in what they already have. They need shooting guard help, yes, but Jeremy Lamb completed what was essentially his rookie season last year, and it was a pretty decent one. There’s a fine line between sustainability and complacency, but I don’t see the Thunder’s patient approach as the latter. They very much want to win, but they also trying to win 10 years from now. Managing those two things can be difficult, and there does have to be a certain level of urgency this July in filling needs. There’s the $6.5 million trade, exception, there’s the mid-level exception, there’s other available money to be spent. The Thunder need to sign someone. Plain and simple.
This draft, though, I think was executed to plan. When the Thunder went with Roberson last year, the same kind of table-pounding happened over Allen Crabbe, Glen Rice Jr., Jamaal Franklin, Mike Muscala and Ricky Ledo. And, how has that worked out?
I find this frustration about Presti failing to make necessary CHAMPIONSHIP improvements quite comical, actually. Who was the missing piece to add with with 29th pick? Or even at 21? Which player was the one that the Thunder needed to push them over the top? If you’re pissed about this draft, you need to just look in the mirror and make an admission: You like transactions more than basketball.
It’s impossible not to react to a draft pick, because that’s what everyone is supposed to do. We have instant grades and instant analysis and instant reaction. Evaluate this collegiate player’s professional career based on sparse information RIGHT NOW. I don’t fault it; it’s just the way it works. With Twitter, with Facebook, with comment sections, everyone’s opinion is immediately available, and mostly, who cares how wrong you may be. For example, here are some comments on DT after the Thunder drafted Steven Adams last year (don’t worry — names withheld):
- “He’s a orton spot on the bench replacement”
- “Shabazz Muhammad, Nate Wolters and Mike Muscala would have all been able to contribute next season for our team. They would have been nice to add to our 2nd unit.”
- “Bottom line is Adams is a combine darling, he was not even on the first on the first rd after his horrible year in college and ppl wanted him only after some nice combine numbers…I’d rather have ball players that know how to do basketball things”
- “The player I wanted least at #12 was Steven Adams. Sigh.”
- “I just have no faith in Steven Adams…I’m so upset…”
- “Robert Swift, Johan Petro, Saer Sene, Byron Mullens, Cole Aldrich, Steven Adams.”
- “Whatever, Brooks won’t play Adams anyway”
- “Seriously, why pass on talent like Shabazz?”
- “This is gonna go down as the ‘everyone passed on Shabazz’ draft… does anyone really think steven adams will be a better player than shabazz?”
- “Another big white stiff to join Swift, Mullens and Aldrich.”
- “That’s laughable. He’s a walking bust.”
- “Presti has lost it bruhs. I don’t see it in Adams man. really don’t.”
- “fire Presti now”
And to be fair, there were plenty that were either OK, or even kind of liked the pick. Heck, I’ll call myself out because I tweeted that David Stern should’ve handed Adams a 66ers hand instead of a Thunder one. (Though I was behind the choice overall, to be fair to myself.) Not many saw Adams’ rapid progression coming, maybe not even the Thunder.
Now, Adams isn’t set for the Hall of Fame or anything, but I say with confidence that he’s very good, and people are extremely excited about his future with the team. I dare go as far to say that the selection was… good. Go look at the immediate reaction to Reggie Jackson being taken 24th overall. Or on the flip side, the excitement over Perry Jones miraculously falling to OKC at 28.
Here’s the reality: Unless you suck, it’s kind of hard to get a lot better during the draft. The Spurs’ last three first rounders: Livio Jean Charles, Cory Joseph and James Anderson. They hit George Hill at 26 in 2008 and Tiago Splitter at 28 in 2007. (And to note: Splitter didn’t make an impact until 2010-11.)
Really, it was a pretty solid draft for the Thunder, I’d say. McGary could be a really good player that helps sooner than later, and I have no opinion of Huestis because I haven’t heard of him until last night. Who knows, maybe he’s the next Kawhi Leonard. I’m already talking myself into it after watching two YouTube videos.
The Thunder have a big summer ahead still, and the draft was only part one. There was a thought maybe the Thunder could package picks to move up or add a veteran, but there wasn’t nearly as much player movement Thursday as some expected, with two moves happening in the build-up (Afflalo to Denver, Asik to New Orleans). What OKC grabbed was more youth, and more assets. They now have a whopping seven players on rookie deals, which I don’t deny, is a lot for a team trying to make that breakthrough. They need veteran help, and not the Derek Fisher-Caron Butler kind. They need solid contributors to step in and fill needs, while the younger players like Lamb, Jones, McGary, Roberson and Huestis continue to marinate.
I think Presti’s draft record should speak for itself, though. He’s had a few misses, but if you’re going to hit home runs with hidden gems, you’re going to have a few whiffs. Especially when you’re picking in the 20s. So let’s maybe wait and see, shall we?
And hey, it could be worse: Your team could’ve just drafted Bruno Caboclo.