Evaluating Oklahoma City’s draft

I love how people immediately doubt Presti’s moves just because he didn’t take a guy you happen to like. Now of course everyone likes different players and we all have our thoughts, but the thing is, we don’t know about these guys yet. It’s pretty stupid to grade a draft before a guy ever plays. Just like I wrote about in my “What makes a bust” column, we don’t know how this will turn out. We could be calling the Timberwolves draft a major “F” in two years and crowning the Knicks as the huge winners. We just really don’t know.

But we all have our opinions about how OKC did, so let’s grade away anyway. Everybody’s doing it.

First pick: James Harden, shooting guard, Arizona State

It’s amazing how much momentum Ricky Rubio picked up in OKC over the last week. The fan pick went from Harden to Rubio faster than you can say Thabust. But we forget something all along – what’s the one position most everyone agreed needed to be addressed most? Shooting guard. And what did Oklahoma City draft? The best shooting guard in the draft. So how exactly is that a bad thing? Rubio would have been nice and he would have been cool. I probably would have bought a Rubio jersey. I’m sure every NBA 2K10 franchise would have been started with the Thunder. We would have been the coolest, most exciting team in the league.

But if “exciting” and “cool” doesn’t help you win games, then what do I care? Besides it’s not like Harden makes the team uncool. We’re still superfly if you ask me. Westbrook, Harden, Durant, Green, Somebody still looks pretty sweet methinks. And if I hear one more person say Harden is unathletic I’m going to throw myself down an empty elevator shaft. Look at his combine numbers people. LOOK!

I understand the Rubio love. I got hooked too. But did he really fill a need? And how sure are we he was even the best player at that position? Was he really that type of talent that you re-arrange your roster for? I’m not sure. If you think so, well bully for you. Sam Presti didn’t.

I flip-flopped on Rubio for a month. I still like the guy a lot but with news coming out that he may stay in Spain another year and that he’s not thrilled about Sota shows he may have been more trouble than he was worth. It’s doubtful Rubio will step on the court and play 30 minutes a night as a starter. I fully expect Harden to do exactly that. David Aldridge (who I think is pretty smart) already has Harden penciled in as his Rookie of the Year.

I really don’t know what’s not to like about this pick. Not only do you fill a need, but you do it with possibly the best player available. What’s bad about that?

Grade: A+

Second pick: B.J. Mullens, center, Ohio State

Look, I’m not some Mullens fan. I was pretty vocal about saying no to him. But that’s when I thought Presti would be trading up to 15 to get him. But at 25? As Jay Bilas would say, that’s a great value. Mullens was the top recruit in the country in 2008. He was projected as maybe the No. 1 overall pick before last year’s college season started. He didn’t live up to his hype, but he’s young and raw. He’s got top five potential. Some people said if he went back to Ohio State next year, he would have easily been taken in the top five. And instead of really having to leap a bunch of teams, Mullens fell basically right to OKC. But the Thunder lands him at 25 (technically he was 24 and traded, but you know what I mean).

Presti doesn’t deny it – Mullens is a project. But I think he’s a worthy project. What else do you do with this pick? Take another point guard? Got five of them, thanks. A shooting guard? Yeah, just got a new one. Small forward? Spot taken. Big man? That was a position that needed addressing and Presti took a flier. I see a very raw Tyson Chandler in Mullens. A 7-foot-1 guy that shouldn’t be as athletic as he is, but has a long way to go to being anything. But the Thunder needs a player like what Mullens can be. And in a draft where there were only two guys the size and position of him, I think getting him at 25 is a pretty stinking good value.

Sure Mullens stinks offensively but I’m pretty sure The Birdman does just fine without any offensive skills. It a risk. But a very low risk, with potentially a lot of reward. It makes sense to me and in four years we may be laughing about Mullens in the same vein as we do Robert Swift, Johan Petro and Saer Sene. Or we could be talking about what a freaking genius Presti was for taking him. I’ll take the chance.

Grade: B-

Third pick: Cash traded for Robert Vaden, shooting guard, UAB

This is just kind of a “Ah, what they hey?” move. Vaden is a lights-out shooter. Really, I don’t know if anybody shoots the ball better than him in this draft. Not even Stephen Curry. Watch some tape on Vaden – he’s ridiculous. He can heat up faster than a gas stove. He’s got absolutely unlimited range, a quick release and he can shoot really well off balance. But he’s no sure thing to make the team. I actually imagine he’ll get signed and spend some time in Tulsa. But that’s just a guess. The Thunder needs a specialist shooter and Vaden could be that guy. Guys like this don’t work out hardly ever, but it’s worth the shot, I think.

Grade: C+

I remember last year when people were wondering what the crap Presti was doing. They looked at D.J. Augustin, Jerryd Bayless and Brook Lopez and couldn’t believe Presti passed on them for Russell Freaking Westbrook. People said that if Presti really wanted Westbrook, why didn’t he just trade down to get him? How could he possibly pass on a player like Bayless? Well, who’s laughing now? Westbrook just had one of the most dynamic rookie campaigns in a while and gave lots of reasons to get excited about him. Bayless rode the bench more often than not and Augustin played well, but not near as well as Westbrook. Though I will say, Brook Lopez would have been nice.

Like I said, I think it’s kind of silly to grade a draft. As I was handing out a score for Robert Vaden I was thinking, “How the heck should I know how good of a pick this is?” I like acquiring Vaden, but there’s not a ton of chance we see much of him. Second round picks don’t always make it. Some do though and it would be awesome if Vaden were a Roger Mason Jr. or Michael Redd type of steal. But we don’t really know. People are bummed about missing on Rubio. That’s fine if you wanted him. But they act like OKC just drafted David Godbold or something.

James Harden is a big-time player. All-American, PAC-10 player of the year, a 20 ppg scorer in college, one of the top guards in the country the last two years. I remember last year the No. 1 thing we complained about as Thunder fans was the need for a secondary scorer, a solid mid-range player and a guy that could hit an open three. And we got him. I didn’t hear anybody saying, “You know, what we REALLY need is another point guard to replace our guy that just had an awesome rookie season.” I think Rubio could have worked. I think him and Russ could have co-existed. But it probably would have taken time for that to develop. Oklahoma City got better immediately last night with the pick of James Harden.

Overall Draft Grade: B+

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