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By this time last season, Thunder fans had universally become familiar with the Big 5 of the 2021 NBA Draft.
OKC faithful were as versed on the games of incoming rookies Cade Cunningham, Evan Mobley and Jalen Green, Jalen Suggs and Jonathan Kuminga as they were with their own current rookies Aleksej Pokusevski and Theo Maledon. As we now know, all those hours spent watching YouTube highlights of the cream of the 2021 rookie crop proved to be fruitless as the Thunder drew the short straw at the NBA Draft Lottery.
But that doesn’t mean herds of Thunder fans aren’t ready and willing to potentially throw away even more hours of deep diving into scouting reports to learn the strengths and weaknesses of the upcoming 2022 NBA Draft. And what do you know, it just so happens that a sparkly new Big 5 has emerged (in my mind at least).
Sam Presti’s ping pong balls currently have the fourth best odds to land a blue-chip talent to add to a young roster already boasting Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Josh Giddey and Lu Dort. With those percentages in mind, it’s time to brush up on the names at the top of the 2022 NBA Draft whom may end up as a possible OKC franchise cornerstone.
I now present to you, Daily Thunder reader, my inaugural ranking of the Top 5 of the 2022 NBA Draft.
1. Jabari Smith, Jr.
Weight: 210 pounds
Jabari has slowly separated himself from the rest of the 2022 rookie class. Just as some debated Jalen Green or Evan Mobley as the top prospect last year before bowing to the overwhelming consensus of Cade Cunningham, there will be hot takes that others on this list should be taken ahead of Jabari. Poppycock. OKC needs a big. Check. OKC needs shooting. Check. OKC needs defense. Check. This son of a former NBA player would fit in absolutely perfectly with the son of a former Olympic runner and the son of a former NBL and a former WNBL player.
2. Paolo Banchero
Weight: 250 pounds
Sam Presti has a new type: big, long, high IQ, hybrid tweener teenagers who can handle, pass and potentially shoot. Banchero checks all those boxes, so it must’ve been love at first scouting report for Sammy. Banchero’s another seamless fit with SGA and Giddey, though the outside jumper being just good/not great at this point is a minor worry. But given Paolo’s NBA-ready body and athleticism, ability to score from all three levels, his grown-man rebounding and his playmaking for teammates as a big, he’s still a no-brainer top-3 pick.
3. Chet Holmgren
Weight: 195 pounds
The biggest boom or bust enigma in this year’s draft, Chet thus far has quieted most of his doubters as he anchors the #2 team in the country both offensively and defensively. The upside of a center with a seven-and-a-half-foot wingspan who shoots 40% from 3 and blocks 3.4 shots per game is off the charts exciting. The downside of a 7 foot center who weighs the same as Damian Lillard (google it!) is off the charts terrifying. And beware: if OKC drafts Holmgren, the twin toothpick towers jokes will run rampant on NBA social media. But the towering trio of SGA, Giddey and Chet would get the last laugh.
4. Shaedon Sharpe
Weight: 200 pounds
I could try to sell you on Sharpe by rattling off all his impressive statistics, physical attributes and pedigree, like how he was the #1 prospect in his high school class. But my pitch is much simpler: he’s a long Canadian guard who is going to Kentucky and the first part of his name is pronounced “Shai.” I mean, come on. Sometimes the picks just write themselves.
(This is assuming Sharpe enters this year’s draft. We’re getting mixed signals on that front.)
5. Jaden Ivey
Weight: 200 pounds
Do you appreciate the silky grace of Shai Gilgeous Alexander’s game but sometimes still long for that raw power and high-flying fury of Russell Westbrook? But wished you could add a knockdown three-point shot to the otherworldly athleticism? Enter Ivey. Yes, the Thunder need a big. But they need shooting even more. And if OKC is picking at 4 or 5, Ivey may be the best player available. In a rebuild, you gotta go for greatest talent instead of reaching for greatest positional need. Especially when that talent will electrify the Paycom Center by bringing back those peak Russ at the Peake vibes.