Thunder Draft Options: Movin’ On Up

kennard justin jackson
Mark Dolejs – USA Today

The Oklahoma City Thunder own the 21st pick in the 2017 NBA Draft. There is certainly a possibility the Thunder stick with the pick and take a player at 21. But the Thunder have been known to do some shuffling in order to move up in the draft. Of the nine drafts the Thunder have been involved in (to include the 2008 draft, in which they were known as the Seattle Supersonics due to the fact the team hadn’t officially moved to Oklahoma City yet), they have moved up in the first round in four of them.

Here’s a quick summary of the Thunder’s history of moving up in the first round. A quick note: The idea of moving up doesn’t necessarily mean the Thunder change their draft position. If the Thunder starts the draft at 25 and then ends up with the 11th pick, that just means that the team picking 11th drafted the player OKC wanted in exchange for something else.

  • 2009 – Moved up from the 25th pick to the 24th pick. With the pick, the Thunder selected Byron (BJ) Mullens. In exchange, Oklahoma City gave Dallas the 25th pick (Rodrigue Beaubois) and a future 2nd rounder.
  • 2010 – The Thunder had three first rounders in this draft (picks no. 18, 21, and 26). They acquired Daequan Cook and No. 18 from Miami in a pre-draft deal, as Miami was shedding salary in preparation for signing LeBron James and Chris Bosh. The 21st pick was the Thunder’s regular pick. And No. 26 was acquired in a trade with Phoenix in 2007. In this draft, the Thunder traded picks no. 21 and 26 to New Orleans in exchange for Morris Peterson and the rights to the no. 11 pick, which became Cole Aldrich.
  • 2013 – In this draft, the Thunder had two picks in the first round (No. 12 and 29) and the second pick of the second round (which is a valuable pick). With the 12th pick, which was acquired from Houston via Toronto in the James Harden trade, the Thunder selected Steven Adams. Oklahoma City then moved from 29 to 26 in order to acquire Andre Roberson. The team the Thunder tangoed with in that deal: Golden State. The Thunder gave the Warriors the 29th pick (Archie Goodwin) and cash.
  • 2016 – In this draft, the Thunder had no first round pick. Their pick, which eventually became no. 26, was part of the trade package that netted Oklahoma City Dion Waiters. Oklahoma City still found a way get into the first round, though. They traded Serge Ibaka to the Orlando Magic in exchange for Victor Oladipo, Ersan Ilyasova, and the rights to the 11th pick, which became Domantas Sabonis.

If the Thunder likes someone in the draft that will likely be selected ahead of their position, they will  do their due diligence to try and obtain said player….even if it happens several years later. In the 2013 NBA Draft, the Thunder were enamored by an athletic 2-guard out of Indiana. Unfortunately, that player was selected with the 2nd pick, which was too far for the Thunder to move up without giving up too many of their assets. Several years later, the possibility came up for the Thunder to acquire that player in, ironically, a draft day deal, and the Thunder jumped at the opportunity to acquire Victor Oladipo.

But if the Thunder can move up within the draft to get a player they covet, they would likely want to do that more than waiting several years to obtain the player via different means. In keeping this realistic, I’m looking at the Thunder probably moving up between picks 9-15. So this is not an article where the Thunder somehow obtain Markelle Fultz. Eschewing the details of how the Thunder move up, here are five players the Thunder may covet enough to move up in this draft.

Luke Kennard – SG

Duke | Sophomore | 6’5″ | 6’5″ wingspan | 19.5 pts | 52.5% FG | 43.8% 3pt FG | 5.1 rebs

The lefty out of Duke would give the Thunder something they desperately need: shooting. Kennard has always been known as a shooter. Where he made the biggest leap from his freshman to sophomore season was in his ball-handling. Looking at his statistics, you can see that his turnovers doubled from his freshman year to sophomore year, going from 0.8 to 1.6. What gets lost in that is the fact that Kennard’s usage rate increased from 14.6% to 22.6%. More usage mean more opportunities for turnovers. But Kennard’s increase in usage didn’t really increase his turnovers by all that much. With that said, the jump from college defenders to NBA defenders is night and day. Whether Kennard’s ball-handling translates to the NBA will remain to be seen.

Where Kennard might struggle professionally is on defense. His lateral quickness wasn’t great in college, and that will need to improve mightily to be effective in the pros. In addition, his wingspan, or lack thereof, further “slows him down,” because his length isn’t a threat when he recovers on shooters or as a weakside defender.

Donovan Mitchell – SG

Louisville | Sophomore | 6’3″ | 6’10” wingspan | 15.6 pts | 46.3% FG | 35.4% 3pt FG | 4.9 rebs

Mitchell reminds me of Dion Waiters. The short, stocky frame mixed in with the long wing span and the ability to get hot in a minute’s time. Many detractors have called Mitchell a 6’3″ small forward. But as the Thunder saw two seasons ago with Waiters, having someone with the ability to guard bigger wings on the post was tantamount to their success. If Waiters isn’t able to guard Kawhi Leonard or Draymond Green for stretches during the 2016 playoffs, then the Thunder’s small ball lineup loses it’s effectiveness.

If the Thunder’s goal this draft is to get a player that will make their small-ball lineups more effective, then Mitchell would be that player. The question becomes where does Mitchell fit on the Thunder when they aren’t in their small-ball lineup? A lot like Waiters, Mitchell can handle the ball, but he’s not a true point guard. And he has bouts of inconsistency from the perimeter. In a normal setting, as a 6th man, Mitchell may struggle on the Thunder to find his footing aside from specific situational uses.

Justin Jackson – SF

North Carolina | Junior | 6’8″ | 6’11” wingspan | 18.4 pts | 51% FG | 36.8% 3pt FG | 4.7 rebs

The thing with Jackson is he would likely spell the future for Andre Roberson. The Thunder are very heavy into player development, so if they draft a player high enough, they will likely clear the way for that player to develop. They did it with Serge Ibaka when they traded Jeff Green. They did it for Steven Adams when they basically benched Kendrick Perkins. And they did it for Domantas Sabonis when they traded Ibaka away for him.

Jackson and Roberson are almost identical in terms of physique. Where they differ is on the offensive end. While Jackson won’t be confused with being a great shooter, he has at least developed a dependable shot if he’s given space. In addition, he’s a 75% free throw shooter, and can handle the ball a bit. Jackson may struggle with the physicality of the game at first, but once he gets some experience, Jackson may prove to be a more welll-rounded player than Roberson.

Frank Ntilikina – PG

Strasbourg (France) | International | 6’5″ | 7′ wingspan | 5.2 pts | 48.3% FG | 40.3% 3pt FG | 2.3 rebs | 1.5 ast

This draft’s international man of mystery. Behind all the grainy, non-HD videos of Ntilikina, what you get is a player that is oozing with potential and has all the physical tools for his position. He’s still more than a month away from turning 19, but Ntilikina is a man among boys in his age class. His length allows him to be a terror on defense, while his offensive game is quickly catching up to his defensive prowess.

If you talk about him with the Thunder, he would be an instant fit with Russell Westbrook. Ntilikina’s length allows him to defend both guard positions and his ever-improving floor game would add another ball handler on the floor.

But do the Thunder, during Westbrook’s prime, have the time to wait for Ntilikina to reach his potential? It’s all about the timeline when it comes to the Thunder, and Ntilikina may just be a little too wet behind the ears for the Thunder’s liking.

Zach Collins – PF/C

Gonzaga | Freshman | 7′ | 7’1″ wingspan | 10 pts | 67.2% FG | 47.6% 3pt FG | 5.9 rebs | 1.8 blks

Much like Justin Jackson, a pick in the direction of Zach Collins would likely signal the end of Enes Kanter’s time in Oklahoma City. Collins is probably the most skilled and most balanced big in the draft. He’s got great footwork in the post and can step out to occasionally knock down a three. Defensively, he’s got good (not great) lateral quickness and can recover rather quickly on the perimeter. On the inside, he has a knack for getting in good position to get blocks.

Collins is an older freshman, so unlike Ntilikina, Collins should assimilate quite nicely into the Thunder’s Russell Westbrook timeline. One of his biggest knocks, though, is he has a tendency to get lost in the flow of the game at times. And with the league trending towards smaller and smaller line-ups, having a big who gets lost in the flow of the game can be a detriment in trying to keep up with the league’s high powered offenses.

There’s always a means to move up in the draft. Not every team in the league is trying to catch up to the Golden State Warriors. Some teams are just fine waiting another year or two before they get serious about developing a team. If the Thunder can catch one of those teams in the 9-15 range, they may be able to grab a player that was thought to be out of their range.

In the next installment of Thunder Draft Options, I will be looking at players that will likely be available at the Thunder’s draft position at 21.

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