“What’s a Cole Aldrich?” my friend asked as we, and three other guys in a college apartment, watched some giant white guy check in for garbage time of a Thunder blowout against the Lakers in the 2012 playoffs. I was new to my basketball, and Thunder, fandom at the time. The only things I knew for sure that night is I liked the way that bearded guy played and if the Thunder were beating the Lakers, this was a good night.
I’d come to find out that Cole Aldrich was not just a really tall white guy with a disappearing tooth, but a lottery draft pick made my GM wunderkind Sam Presti.
Presti, as most of us all now know, traded up on draft night in 2010 to take Aldrich with the 11th pick. He was supposed to be good. He was not.
It’s got me thinking about the future of this Thunder team that we all love. How are we going to do in the draft? We’ve seen Presti acquire picks like crazy recently. And we know his top-end track record with Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, and James Harden. But what about the other guys? For every Serge Ibaka, how many Cole Aldriches are there? For every lengthy athletic guy, how many actually panned out?
So I decided to take a look at Presti’s record in the late lottery/back of the first round to see what we might be able to expect moving forward. Because while we’re all hoping for multiple top 5 picks in the first round from now until eternity, what if the fake good team Clippers become an actual good team? What if the Rockets figure something out around Christian Wood and their replenished draft stock? If everything goes wrong, can we still build a good team around Shai, Dort, Bazely, and Poku?
A few ground rules here: I’m only looking at drafts from 2011 and on. I’m also going to completely ignore the 2nd round. I love a good 2nd rounder, or undrafted, guy that makes it big as much as anyone. But the 2nd round is such a crapshoot it’s more about luck and good timing than anything else–we can’t predict how the Thunder will draft that far down.
2011 – Reggie Jackson
This is a good pick! It’s not write “SPG” or “Fame” on your shoes level of good, but Reggie was helpful to this team in his role. I loved watching him play the Spurs in the playoffs because it always seemed like they didn’t know what to do with Reggie when he decided he was going to drive and score. Good job, Sam.
2012 – Perry Jones III
Well, the good times sure ended fast. This is a bad year. I get that Perry Jones was mocked to go higher and fell in the Thunder’s lap at 28. But woo boy, where there is smoke there is fire or whatever the opposite of that phrase should be because Perry Jones had no fire. Teams were concerned about his motor and while we’ll always have that one 30-point game that PJ3 gave us, there’s not much else to say here. Except this: Tomas Satoransky, Jae Crowder, Draymond Green, and Khris Middleton. All guys drafted after Jones. All guys the Thunder probably could have used. Bad job, Sam.
2013 – Steven Adams and Andre Roberson
What happened exactly that got the Thunder the number 12 pick in this draft? Was it luck? Who can say? Anyway, I’d say this is a good year for our guy Presti. Whatever you want to say about Adams’ 2016 contract, the fact that I haven’t stopped crying since it was announced that Adams was traded to the Pelicans proves that he was a good draft pick in 2013. And what can we say about Dre? Can he shoot? Not really. Should he have been DPOY in the Melo season when he got hurt? Absolutely. These weren’t knockout picks by any stretch, but the Thunder didn’t need knockout picks at the time. They needed good role guys who might flirt with more, and Presti delivered. Good year.
2014 – Mitch McGary, Josh Huestis, and the terrible, horrible, no good, very bad draft
And here we are again at the bottom of the barrel. 2014 has to be the worst year ever. Not only did the team suffer that year, Sam was snookered into drafting Mitch McGary and Josh Huestis, and then went out and bought the pick that became Semaj Christon (I know I said no 2nd round picks, but this one was so terrible I couldn’t let it slide). McGary made sense. If he had worked out, this would be a different conversation. But once again, Presti trusted in team culture over what others said about a player and it went up in smoke.1 Huestis is cool if you think it’s cool that we are the team that proved you can draft-and-stash stateside. The worst thing about this year is not just who we got, but who we didn’t. Brace yourselves, it’s about to get real bad: Joe Harris, Spencer Dinwiddie, Jerami Grant, Nikola Jokic, Jordan Clarkson, Vasilije Micic. All of those guys went after Huestis. All of them could have been helpful to this team in some way. Bad job, Sam.
2015 – Cameron Payne
No. Just no. (But hey it was nice that we hoodwinked Chicago that one time.)
2016 – Domantas Sabonis
This is another good year! Serge was great, but trading Serge for Victor Ola dipo and the 11th pick that became Sabonis was a smart move by Presti. If that big weirdo KD had just re-signed with OKC, we might have gotten to reap the rewards of Sabonis becoming a playmaking big. Presti and the Thunder got a bad rap for putting Sabonis in as a 4, but that was the only way to get this guy some minutes and the organization knew he was going to be good.
2017 – Terrance Ferguson
What do you make of Terrance Ferguson? On the one hand, we could have had Jarrett Allen, OG Anunoby (my preference), Derrick White, or Josh Hart. On the other hand, Ferguson was really good the last year we had Russ and Paul George on the team. Ferg might still work out for the Sixers, where he’ll likely get the chance to play the role that made him good for OKC a year ago. And hopefully his off-court issues don’t follow him to Philly. Overall, this was a fine draft.
2019 and 2020 – Bazley and Poku
Who can say what will come of these guys? Obviously, Darius Bazley looked great last season and in the bubble. But he was still a rookie. Aleksej Pokusevski looks like a light pole that can shoot and pass. You can be high on these picks, you can be low on them. We don’t know enough just yet, but I’m going to be optimistic and say these are fine picks. Baze looks like a guy who can really play and if his trajectory stays the same, who knows where he’ll end up. As for Poku, Presti swung big for a high reward. If it doesn’t pay off, it’s not the end of the world.
I hate to say it but it looks like Presti is 50/50 on drafts outside of the lottery. But that’s still a decent percentage. You can’t win them all. You can’t always get a rotation guy at number 21, but sometimes you can with an undrafted guy (Lu Dort for life!). We hope going forward that Presti will be drafting in the top-10, and given the current team’s is 30th in offensive rating, that seems pretty likely. But even if we don’t, there’s reason to believe we’ll be getting some good players on this team soon. Just given the sheer number of picks Presti has at his disposal, a 50/50 shot is better than most.