With the NBA draft only one day away, the Oklahoma City Thunder are in an enviable position of having two picks in the first round of a loaded draft class. In a class filled with many high ceiling players, general manager Sam Presti is bound to find some value with picks 21 and 29. With a young core and a roster that will return most of last year’s minutes, the Thunder have the luxury of being able to draft someone who they can develop as opposed to an immediate contributor. Still, Presti and the rest of the front office have a few needs that can be addressed in the draft.
Starting two-guard Thabo Sefolosha is a free agent, and his exit interview made it seem as though he will not be returning. Even if he does, he lost his starting role in the playoffs and saw a huge decrease in minutes, including some games where he did not play in at all. If he does return, Reggie Jackson may step into the starting role, where he played extremely well alongside Russell Westbrook in the playoffs. Still, drafting someone who they can develop into a perimeter threat and a solid on-ball defender would be highly beneficial.
- Backup Point Guard
Derek Fisher is now the head coach of the New York Knicks and Reggie Jackson can have his contract extended (something that the team would be wise to do), but a true point guard who can facilitate the offense and pass well would be a good pick. Seeing as how Westbrook is more of a scorer than a distributer, finding him a backup who can get Kevin Durant the ball when Westbrook is on the bench would not only keep the offense running, but enable Jackson to keep his role of slasher/passer when Russ is getting a rest.
- Big Man
You can never have enough size. Steven Adams showed great potential during his rookie year and may take over the starting job. Serge Ibaka’s value is unquestioned after the Spurs series. Kendrick Perkins, despite his low value, is not likely to be amnestied during a contract year. Even with these three returning and the likely increased roles for Andre Roberson and Perry Jones, another young rebounder would be a good selection.
Depending on the situation, this could be a significant possibility. The Thunder have a $6.5 million trade exception from the sign-and-trade with Minnesota for Kevin Martin which expires in about a month. The Thunder may pair a first rounder with a trade exception to land a player who can add significant minutes to the rotation. Another option that has been discussed is Iman Shumpert from the Knicks for the 29th pick.
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So what will happen on the 26th? There could be a trade of one pick, two selections, or even pairing the two picks to trade up earlier in the draft. In either case, these are some names who may be joining Loud City for the upcoming season.
- TJ Warren, Forward, North Carolina State
Getting some help in the form of the draft’s premier scorer would be a definite plus for a team that struggles with its offensive identity when Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook are on the bench. Warren wrapped up an electric sophomore year at NC State by averaging 24.9 points per game. At 6-8, he would provide great size in a scorer off of the bench.
- Adreian Payne, Center, Michigan State
The Thunder need physicality in the low post and Payne would provide just that. After four years under Tom Izzo at Michigan State, he also is capable of contributing right away. It is doubtful that he would fall this far down the draft board, but if he does, Sam Presti will likely snap him up.
- Shabazz Napier, Guard, Connecticut
Napier is a winner. He was part of two championship teams at UConn, one of which he led himself. With Derek Fisher retiring and Reggie Jackson potentially testing the free agency waters in the upcoming offseason, a young and affordable backup for Russell Westbrook would be a good pick. Napier has great leadership skills, is a great decision maker and a fearless shooter. What else could the Thunder ask for in a backup for Russ?
- Isaiah Austin, Center, Baylor
It is very hard to find a 7’1” player as athletic as Austin is. He is capable of scoring from all over the court thanks to his 7’3” wingspan. Despite his offensive talents, he is a defensive liability and lacks the ideal size to rebound and bang around in the low post with other NBA centers. Given the Thunder’s strong current roster, however, they have the luxury of being able to develop Austin, giving him time to put on the muscle that he will need to be a reliable rotation player.
- Clint Capela, Forward, Switzerland
With all of the young players that the team is currently developing, an intriguing option might be a draft and stash of a foreigner such as Capela. He has the size, strength and athleticism to become a force in the future. At only 20, he can spend a few more years developing overseas before traveling to ply his trade in the NBA.
With two first round draft picks, there are a lot of options for the Oklahoma City Thunder to consider. Sam Presti has a history of smart draft choices, so it shouldn’t surprise anyone if a big move is made. In any event, the offseason moves made this season will be crucial in securing the future of the Thunder as a contender for years to come.
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