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Draft Contenders: Top Targets for OKC Thunder at Pick No. 2

The Thunder have a strong group of candidates for their first pick.

The Oklahoma City Thunder made a rebuilding surge Tuesday evening, strutting out of the 2022 NBA Draft Lottery with their highest selection in franchise history.

2-7-14-9 – those four numbers were all it took for Oklahoma City to make its biggest leap yet in its ongoing rebuilds. These four numbers were the sequential order of the ping-pong balls that sent Thunder representative Nick Collison past the commercial break and to the final two envelopes, obtaining Pick No. 2.

For the Thunder, this pick comes with insanely high stakes.

The Orlando Magic control the top of this year’s draft board claiming the first pick in the draft. However, with no clear-cut number one this draft cycle, the Thunder shouldn’t rule at anybody in their pre-draft evaluations. With three prospects carrying a fair claim at this year’s grand prize – Oklahoma City will be doing their homework in bringing home their next big piece.

Here are the three top contenders for the No. 2 Pick:

Chet Holmgren

Chet Holmgren, 2022 NBA Draft

If you like Aleksej Pokusevski, you’d love what Chet Holmgren could bring to the Thunder’s table.

Clocking in at 7-foot, 195 pounds, he provides unprecedented size and frame for whoever elects to draft him. Plus, based on his lottery night conversation with 7-foot-1 center David Robinson, he may very well be taller. That lengthy frame is not a dime-a-dozen in this league, and with a 7-foot-6 wingspan, there is no set ceiling for Holmgren.

Holmgren lit up the stat sheet with the Gonzaga Bulldogs averaging 14.1 points, 9.9 rebounds, and 3.7 blocks across 32 games.

In his tenure, he showed dominance from all three levels offensively. He finished the season as one of the nation’s best interior forces shooting 80% (80-of-100) in the painted area with dexterity and downhill finishes aplenty. From distance, he rose to the top of Mark Few’s roster shooting 39.0% (41-of-105) at range.

On the defensive front, Holmgren hosts a Masterclass as a rim protector. This season, Holmgren dominated as a shot blocker, consistently rejecting shots both set in the post and on chasedown duty.

Once you get past potential weight concerns, Chet Holmgren presents himself as one of the nicest fits for the Thunder. Playing alongside Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Josh Giddey, Holmgren is a piece who dominates in slipping to the basket on screens or fading to the three-point line for catch-and-shoot shots. Defensively, he provides uncanny ability in pick-and-roll coverage while giving Bricktown the frontcourt enforcer they’ve lacked during the rebuild.

Jabari Smith

Jabari Smith, 2022 NBA Draft
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The Oklahoma City Thunder struggled mightily from downtown this season. Jabari Smith would patch that up for Oklahoma City and then some.

Smith provides elite sharpshooting in a position where shot-making is a premium. At 6-foot-10, 200 pounds, Smith slots in as an elite go-to option off-the-catch under a frame which will cause major headaches for defenders.

Smith shot a blistering 42.0% for the Auburn Tigers from deep last season, churning out averages of 16.9 points, 6.5 rebounds, and 2.0 assists in 34 games.

He’s an elite shooter. There’s not much else to that conversation. With a fluid, quick-trigger release, Smith was the guy for Auburn from distance – and he can hit it from just about anywhere. For additional support, his two-dribble pullup looked unguardable in collegiate play. Possessing limitless range, Smith’s hot hand is one expected to carry over to the next level at ease, making him a plug-and-plug scorer who can immediately make an impact.

On the defensive front, his frame speaks for itself. In terms of lateral movement, Smith is a guard trapped in a 6-foot-10 body. He’s a competent defender against either forward, and under his current trajectory, he should be able to play against shooting guards as well. That ability should make front offices salivate as he essentially can slide into any lineup.

There are some concerns with his on-ball skills, primarily in self-creation off the dribble and isolating to the basket. However, he’s got a lethal skill set that with some additional crafting could generate an offensive juggernaut. Smith’s fit with Oklahoma City is perfect as with Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Josh Giddey on board, they’ll be primed to set him up with wide-open three-point shots. Along with this, they may also open some driving lanes for Smith, unleashing his springy inside potential.

Paolo Banchero

Paolo Banchero

Paolo Banchero has been deemed the consensus third option since the lottery cards were revealed. However, his current skill set could easily make him the premier choice in this draft.

At 19 years old, Banchero already possessed the ideal frame for the NBA. At 6-foot-10, 250 pounds, he’s an explosive on-ball creator who can set himself up in isolation and around the basket.

Banchero averaged 17.2 points, 7.8 rebounds, and 3.2 assists for Duke across 39 games.

Banchero is the top ball-handler out of the Top 3 candidates. His handle holds some semblance to guard, but he’s half a foot taller with 50 pounds tacked onto him. You don’t realize that he’s 250 pounds with his dribbling, but once he turns the corner, it's clear as day. Banchero can take contact around the cup for scores, kick it out, or even set himself up for a jumper.

Defensively, the same globs of potential harped with Smith carry over. Though not as laterally gifted, Banchero projects as a trusty defender against either forward position, and with his activity around the rim so high – he should be an excellent rebounder.

If Banchero shakes off his inconsistent shooting patches, there’s a strong case he’s a better option than Holmgren and Smith. At 6-foot-10, he’s able to create premium shots on-ball at all three levels while still keeping a kick out in his back pocket. For Oklahoma City, the ball-handling may be crunched with Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Josh Giddey here. But, if Sam Presti throws fit out the window and Banchero is their guy – he has all the makeup to be a star for the franchise.

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