I’ve learned you never write about anything right when it happens. With emotions at a crescendo, you may exaggerate the highs and hyperbolize the lows. With that said, this draft was a bit of a disappointment. Not necessarily with the players that we got, but with the lack of activity from the Thunder. We’ll never know whether the Thunder intended to draft the two players they got from the get go. But with needs being what they are, the Thunder didn’t really fill any of their most glaring needs with their two draft picks. And that’s where the disappointment lies.
With that said, the Thunder do enter the free agency period with more cap flexibility and more money in hand than they have had in the past. Maybe they intended to get two players in the draft all along and decided to fill their needs via free agency. With perimeter shooting being one of the most glaring needs, the Thunder could easily get that after July 1st from someone like CJ Miles or Mike Miller. Or they may entice a team that is looking to rid themselves of salary in order to make a big free agency splash (i.e. Mike Dunleavy Jr from the Bulls using the $6.6 million dollar Traded Player Exception).
While the expectations leading up to the draft may have shrouded the draft in disappointment, it’s always important to remember where the Thunder are, in relation to the rest of the league. They were one of the Top 4 teams in the league and took the eventual champs to 6 games in the Western Conference Finals. While getting to the Western Conference Finals may no longer be a cause for celebration, it’s important to remember that this team is on the cusp of a championship and has their core pieces in place. I like to compare this team to a great album. The core players (Durant, Westbrook, Ibaka, Jackson, and Adams) are the hits on the album, while the other players are the filler tracks. The better the filler tracks, the better the album. The Thunder are close to having a great album, and the filler track have enough time to grow on you.
Here’s a look at the three players the Thunder obtained in the 2014 draft:
No 21 – Mitch McGary – PF/C – University of Michigan
When the Toronto Raptors chose Bruno Caboclo (who??!!), I was certain the Thunder would select either Clint Capela or Kyle Anderson. And I would have been happy with either of those selections. But then the Thunder selected McGary, and I was like “Huh?”. Let me preface this by saying, I was a huge fan of McGary’s in the 2012-13 season, when Michigan made their run in the tournament. I thought he had the potential to a Nick Collison/Bill Laimbeer type player for the Thunder. When he decided to stay in school for the 2013-14 season, I said to myself, “I wonder if he’ll be available for the Dallas pick (wherever that may end up being)?” With McGary being a potential lottery pick and the Dallas pick being protected for the top 20, I figured there was no way McGary would fall that far down.
But alas, McGary was injured for most of his sophomore season with a back injury and was facing a season long ban due to a failed drug test. With all that stacked against him, McGary decided to enter his name into the draft. With an injured back and a bit of a tarnished reputation, McGary’s stock fell. Adding to that fire, McGary refused to allow NBA doctors to perform a physical on him. Many people viewed that as a sign that he was damaged goods, but apparently that might have been a smokescreen due to a promise he received from the Thunder.
So what does McGary bring to the table? With Nick Collison aging and in the final year of his contract, McGary becomes a great development replacement for the veteran. He has a lot of the same skill set as Collison. He sets great screens, is good in the pick and roll, is a good passer, and has the (surprising) quickness and agility to get around most big men. He has great role player potential and will probably get meaningful minutes sometime this season.
No. 29 – Josh Huestis – SG/SF – Stanford University
When you write a blog, one of the chores is to do research. So when the season ended, I immediately switched over to draft mode. I watched most of the draft video breakdowns at DraftExpress.com and NBADraft.net. I got to know the players who would logically be available when the Thunder chose at 29. But once again, the Thunder managed to surprise me and chose someone whom I did no research on. Josh Who-tis??? When I first saw his name, I thought he might have been hispanic. I thought his name may have been pronounced Josh Wes-teez.
Last season, it was Andre Roberson, who was billed as a perimeter defender and wing rebounder. This season, it was Huestis, who is being billed as a perimeter defender and wing rebounder. Whaaaatttt???? I’ve kind of gotten over the fact that we didn’t draft a wing that could shoot. But why rehash the “perimeter defender who needs to develop a shot” routine? And let me reiterate….this has nothing to do with Huestis. He seems like a hard worker and someone who will fit in the Thunder culture. But at what point do we stop drafting these types of players and start drafting more complete players? Even at 29, players like Kyle Anderson, Cleanthony Early, and KJ McDaniels were still available.
After looking around the internet, I happened upon some Huestis videos. He is definitely a big perimeter defender that does great in one on one situations. He seems to have a better shot than Roberson at this same point last season, but its a shot that still would not be deemed threatening to opponents. Word is that the Thunder intend to have Huestis develop in Tulsa for most of the season, but they said the same thing about Roberson and he ended up starting 16 games last season.
No. 55 – Semaj Christon – PG – Xavier University
When I started looking at mock drafts around January, Christon’s name began showing up at the Thunder’s pick late in the first round. With the uncertainty surrounding Reggie Jackson’s future, the Thunder decided to buy Christon’s rights from Charlotte. Christon has good size for a point guard (6’3″) and carries a 6’6″ wingspan. He reminds me a lot of Marquis Teague of the Chicago Bulls. Someone that plays athletically and can get into the lane. But also someone who will have to work on his shot and develop more of a floor game as a point guard.
Will he make the team? I have no idea. It all depends on who the Thunder acquire during free agency. With 12 players already guaranteed and 2 on non-guaranteed team options (Hasheem Thabeet and Grant Jerrett), there may not be enough space on the roster for Christon to be signed. But you can guarantee that if the Thunder like Christon, they’ll find some way to keep him within the organization’s system as they did with Jerrett last season.
Again, as I wrote last season, this draft had as much to do with the players who were drafted as with the players who were still on the roster when the night ended. The team has extreme confidence in the young players within the organization and has plans to keep them on the roster for right now. They could have possibly included them in draft day deals in order to move up, but chose, instead, to stay the course and let that royal jelly work its magic on players like Lamb, Jones, Roberson, and Jerrett. With the draft over, it’s on to free agency.