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The Oklahoma City Thunder’s rebuilding project had what will hopefully become a landmark night last Thursday. OKC drafted Chet Holmgren, Ousmane Dieng, Jalen Williams and Jaylin Williams. Most draft analysts lauded the Thunder as one of the big winners of the 2022 NBA Draft, and DT’s Aidan Elrod graded it a solid collection of rookies to throw into the developmental timeline.
Thunder GM Sam Presti held a press conference late on draft night before welcoming the newly drafted additions to OKC in a presser on Saturday afternoon. Here’s a selection of statements from Presti’s solo session and my thoughts on which quotes are particularly meaningful.
The Presti Presser
On Chet Holmgren: “We thought he was the person for Oklahoma City. The person for the Thunder. We’re really excited about the chance to add him.”
In other words, the Orlando Magic could’ve drafted Paolo Banchero, Jabari Smith, Jr. or Anthony Bennett, Jr. with the first pick and the Thunder were still going to select Chet. OKC may have had the #2 overall pick, but I’m fairly certain they landed the #1 overall player on their big board.
On the lottery draft luck of landing pick #2: “It happened to go our way. The year before it didn’t go our way, but I feel like we still had a really good night. We got Josh.”
Sammy takes OKC’s awful 2021 draft luck in stride much more calmly than most Thunder fans. But landing the 7’1 prize of the 2022 draft has to help heal some of those year-old wounds. And the man is right. Josh Giddey probably goes Top 5 in a re-draft of the 2021 rookie class.
On OKC’s 2022 draft class: “We’re thrilled with the outcome.”
It has to be so satisfying to Sammy that two years of tanking finally culminated in the result he’s been craving ever since OKC traded away Paul George and Russell Westbrook: a home run draft. Holmgren may be a franchise changer and OKC selected two other players in the top 12.
Will Dawkins, Thunder Vice President of Basketball Operations, on Ousmane Dieng: “Sam was one of the first seeing him in France when he was 16. When you see him grow from 6’3 to 6’10 but he keeps the ball handling… it’s hard not to get excited when you see guys like that.”
Two big takeaways here. First, OKC has been scouting Dieng for three years. Second, Dawkins also mentioned Presti was the first one to notice Dieng. Sammy is a big time GM but he’s still a grit and grind NBA scout at heart.
On Chet Holmgren’s length, size and slight frame: “He’s going to have to adjust and learn like any player. I think he’s unique. If you think about some of the best players in the NBA… I think sometimes unique is beneficial.”
Agreed, Sam. And you know who else is unique? Poku. (Feel free to interpret that as half glass full or glass half empty.)
On #12 pick Jalen Williams: “He’s just a really natural basketball player. He’s got good size. Tremendous length. He’s a thoughtful player. He can play anywhere on the floor. He can play with or without the ball.”
If there’s any JDub doubters left, do yourself a favor and search YouTube for both his highlights and his interviews. Presti has famously said OKC drafts people, not players. Jalen excels as both.
On how competitive OKC can be next season: “I would never place a limitation on the group we have any year. We don’t come into any season with any preconceived notions. We let the season unfold. One thing I’m very confident in is, our guys play hard.”
OKC is in a tricky spot when it comes to next season. On one hand, I’m sure Presti would love those 14% odds to land all-world prospect Victor Wembanyama. On the other hand, how can the Thunder be a bottom three team with Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Josh Giddey, Lu Dort and Holmgren on the team? Not to mention Kenrich Williams, Mike Muscala and sophomore Tre Mann. Despite the tanking tag that’s come with OKC since they traded away Russ and PG, Presti didn’t trade away Chris Paul nor Danilo Gallinari in year one, and the team didn’t shut down players until the second half of the past two seasons. If for some reason OKC exceeds expectations and finds themselves in play-in territory because of the young core, Sammy might let them ride it out.