I was doing some research today, making some calls, sending some texts and here’s what I found out: The draft is just three days away. I couldn’t believe it either.
The Thunder have two first round picks — No. 21 and No. 29 — giving Sam Presti what he craves on draft day: options. Move up, move out, move picks for players, draft and stash, stand pat — the Thunder could do a lot.
Presti values youth maybe more than any other GM in the league, especially because when you find a player like Steven Adams, you not only have a young contributor that’s only going to improve, but you have help on a great contract. Teams with top level stars on max deals like the Thunder have only a couple options in filling out the roster. Rookie scale deals, veteran minimums or just break over into luxury tax oblivion. We know the last option isn’t happening, and while the Heat have proven that the second way is a pretty good one, there isn’t a ton of sustainability in that. And Presti loves him some sustainability.
But looking at the current roster and team situation, the Thunder are at an interesting place with this draft. They have 10 guaranteed contracts for next season, 11 if they keep Hasheem Thabeet (non-guaranteed at $1.2 million per). They could get to the mandated 13 players by just using their two picks, but after taking two in the first round last year and seeing how young players like Jeremy Lamb and Perry Jones fell out of favor late in the season, I wonder how much good that does a team reaching for a championship breakthrough.
Then again, the Thunder could be looking at a roster transition in the near future. Thabo Sefolosha seems likely to be headed out of town, which means shooting guard is thin. Derek Fisher is done, so there’s a need for a third point guard. Nick Collison, gasp, is aging. Reggie Jackson — who was taken 24th overall, mind you — is eligible for an extension this summer and could be a restricted free agent the next. While the Thunder need actual tangible help and not just potential anymore, there’s also a pretty obvious plan around the constants of Durant, Westbrook and Ibaka, a revolving door of blossoming youth on rookie deals. There are good players to be had in the 20s, like, Serge Ibaka, Reggie Jackson and Byron Mullens. Wait, not the last one. But you know what I mean.
The Thunder have needs, but they’re also looking for talent. And keep this in mind: They don’t draft players; they select them. That may not make sense on the surface, but that’s the organization’s mindset. They aren’t simply just filling roster spots with the dude that’s supposedly the best available on the big board. They’re choosing the guy that they want.
So, the draft is Thursday, and it should be interesting and fun. Here are some candidates I see for the Thunder:
Tyler Ennis, PG, Syracuse: In terms of going point guard, I think that depends a lot on how the organization views Jackson. I don’t think he’ll start next season, but is he simply Russell Westbrook’s backup? And are they confident they’ll keep him? Because if the answer to both is no, then they need to be looking for point guard help. Ennis is a pretty good option, because he’s got decent size (6-foot-3) and is a savvy point guard with good game control skills. He had a stellar turnover rate of just 11.5 percent last season and is known for his poise. I kind of see him as a very poor man’s Damian Lillard. He’s not a very accomplished scorer — something the Thunder value at the position — and needs work extending his shot to the NBA 3-point line. Also: He’s a pretty traditional point guard and didn’t play off the ball much last season at Syracuse. Which is kind of a prerequisite in OKC, because it’s a big bonus to be able to play with Westbrook, not just behind him.
Adreian Payne, PF, Michigan State: I really hope the Thunder don’t take him, because it’ll take me three years to figure out how to spell his first name. But, he does have a unique skillset and could potentially fill a future position of need. He’s got great size (6-foot-10) and incredible athleticism to go with it. He’s raw and has a lot to improve upon, but has some offensive skill including a mid-range jumper and decent touch inside off pick-and-rolls. He’s a finisher by trade, and wouldn’t be someone that you’d run a lot of offense for. I kind of think of him as a Marreese Speights kind of player, someone to bring energy and a little offense.
Jordan Adams, SG, UCLA: From what I can tell, Adams is a bit of a polarizing player. He can shoot, and he can score. But he looks a little chubby and doesn’t seem all that explosive or athletic. He’s about 6-foot-5 and it’s pretty unclear if he could defend NBA 2-guards. The Thunder have passed on players like Adams in the past (MarShon Brooks, Jordan Hamilton, Allen Crabbe), so I have my doubts they’d spring for him. But I think we can all agree that the Thunder need their own Danny Green, a knockdown threat than can defend a bit. The book on Green out of UNC was he wasn’t athletic enough and would never be able to guard. He was taken 46th overall.
Spencer Dinwiddie, G, Colorado: He’s currently projected in the mid-second round, but that’s mostly because he tore his ACL last season. if not, he’d firmly be in the first round, and may end up in it regardless. He can shoot and score, and played a lot of point guard in college. His position is a little undetermined, but he’s got size and a ready-made NBA body. He’s not overly athletic, but he does have a good first step and can get to the rim and finish. The more tape you watch and the more you read, it’s really kind of hard to believe he’s slated to go in the second round. He can shoot, score, create and handle. Those are wanted qualities in a 6-foot-6 combo guard.
Mitch McGary, PF, Michigan: I can’t decide if I love or hate McGary (as a player, I mean). He seemed like a sure-thing lottery pick before returning to school last season, and while he sat out injured basically all of 2013-14, he’s supposedly healthy. He’s a crafty finisher out of pick-and-rolls, and has terrific touch around the basket. He’s probably more of a center because of his size, but if he could trim up, he’d probably be most effective as a power forward. He’s not a good athlete, but he plays hard. Which is always nice. There’s a decent chance McGary could be available for the Thunder at 29, and if so, I’d say he’s worth it. He can score — even in the post! — and has the potential to expand his jumper out to 18-20 feet.
Kyle Anderson, F, UCLA: Chad Ford currently has OKC taking him at 21, saying this: “After watching Diaw tear through the Finals for the Spurs, maybe the Thunder need their own version of him. Anderson’s ability to facilitate from the 4 is special and could be a nice fit in a Thunder offense that could use a real distributor.” I’m convinced, because man, the Thunder could really use them a Boris Diaw.
Dario Saric, PF, Croatia: The Thunder may have caught a big break on Monday with Saric re-signing to stay overseas for at least the next two seasons. His draft stock will take a hit because of it, dropping him from a lock lottery guy to potentially the Thunder’s range. He’s an ideal draft-and-stash kind of player, someone with unique talent and versatility. He needs to add strength, but he has an intriguing skillset. He’s a bit flaky and some wonder about his true interest in the NBA. But if he’s there at 21, I have a hard time seeing Presti pass on him.
Zach LaVine, G, UCLA: Some mocks have LaVine in the lottery. Some have him going between 16-22. It’s hard to really nail down a player like him, with otherworldly athleticism, but painfully raw tools. He’s drawn a few comparisons to Westbrook in that nobody knows what position he’ll play at the next level, nor how he’d develop. But with the Thunder’s developmental history, it could be a perfect marriage. LaVine has mouth-watering bounce and could be a next-level wing defender. He can’t really shoot, though, and that’s something the Thunder are in need of. He’d be a bit of a project, I think, but maybe someone that could blossom into a combo guard to play alongside Westbrook.
Nik Stauskas, SG, Michigan: Every draft, I latch on to a player that I spend three weeks convincing myself he’s going to be the best player ever. This year, that guy is Nik Stauskas. But only if the Thunder got him. The book on Stauskas is that he can shoot, score, handle and pass, but has limited defensive potential because of short arms and average lateral quickness. He’s slated to go firmly in the lottery, which means the Thunder would have to put together a plan to move up to get him. And really, is he much of a true upgrade over Jeremy Lamb who has a lot of the same skills (can shoot, handle and score, but not defend)? Don’t care, though. Because Stauskas is going to be awesome. Especially if the Thunder get him.
Traded Player, SG, Somewhere: As I wrote the other day, don’t rule out OKC revisiting a trade for Iman Shumpert either. I don’t think the Thunder would part with the No. 21 pick for him, but would almost assuredly would make the No. 29 available. Presti doesn’t take players for the sake of it, so if he doesn’t feel like a fit is there for him, he’s going to move out or use the pick to bring in a player he likes. And he clearly likes Shumpert. I’m all aboard the Arron Afflalo bandwagon, but it would take some doing to get him to OKC. The $6.5 million trade exception doesn’t work alone because Afflalo is making $7.5 million. Both first rounders would be a start, but the Magic have a player people want, and would definitely have a hefty asking price.