After months of preparation, the 2022 NBA Draft has come and gone – and for 58 prospects – their dreams have become realized.
In Oklahoma City grounds, this draft class marked the second installment of their new-era rebuild. With the picks No. 2, 12, and 34 to commence draft day – Sam Presti and company navigated through the night without any hiccups, while even acquiring another pick in the process.
Despite a surprising No. 1 nod to forward Paolo Banchero, the Thunder stayed true in their highly-anticipated haul, bringing in Gonzaga center Chet Holmgren, New Zealand Breakers forward Ousmane Dieng, Santa Clara guard Jalen Williams, and Arkansas center Jaylin Williams.
Let's grade each of the Thunder draft picks:
Chet Holmgren: A+
The slipper fits with Chet Holmgren and the Thunder organization.
Oklahoma City has been looking to shoot for the moon throughout itstwo-year rebuild. While most teams have stayed par to the course in their franchise molding, the Thunder have undergone a one-of-a-kind retool which has seen the team squeeze out assets, drain the draft market, and chase unique prospects in hopes of some hits.
Holmgren has the best shot of a grand slam.
At 7 feet tall with a 7-foot-6 wingspan, Holmgren’s measurables are uncanny to any prospect in this draft. Once you stir his 195-pound frame into the pot – you’ve found an archetype unheard of at the center position.
Throughout the Thunder’s rebuilding process, one rotational hole has stuck out like a sore thumb, the center position. With the organization filtering in the likes of Moses Brown, Tony Bradley, and Olivier Sarr for one-year rentals, they’ve carried no true five for the long haul to this point. In their place, forwards Jeremiah Robinson-Earl and Isaiah Roby have had to play up a few sizes – killing them in rebounding categories.
With Holmgren, the Thunder smashed this rotational need, but they also got one of the most unique players in the process, just ask Sam Presti.
“He’s going to have to adjust and learn just like any player, but I think he’s unique, and if you really think about some of the best players in the NBA, and I’m not saying the he is or he will be, but I think unique is beneficial, and I think some of the things that make him unique can be leveraged and utilized,” said Presti.
On the offensive front, Holmgren is a surefire star in high-ball screen play. With Shai Gilgeous-Alexander leading in NBA in drives the last two seasons and Josh Giddey at the rear-view mirror, it was a necessity the Thunder not only got a big man – but one who could pick or pop off a screen. As a 39.0% three-point shooter at Gonzaga, Holmgren mastered the art of coming off the catch while also sharpening his craft coming off DHOs and shooting threes in transition. When the opportunity presented itself, he slithered to the basket for loft passes, alley-oops, and overall scores around the basket.
The trio of Holmgren, Gilgeous-Alexander, and Giddey presents a nightmarish blueprint diving into the future as with floor-spacing galore, two premier ball handlers, and a Swiss-Army Knife screen setter – the franchise has cemented their status in stretch five play.
Defensively, the Thunder's long-term Achilles Heel has rested in screen defense. With previous members Steven Adams and Enes Kanter routinely hit with screens, too many openings were allowed on defense. Holmgren sets a new precedent in Oklahoma City centers, as his tantalizing hybrid of length, footwork, and agility allows him to protect in all three screen coverages. And don’t forget about his shot blocking, both stationary and on chase downs.
Holmgren has the blueprint of a star with the Thunder, and they have the resources. The floor is high with the center, but the ceiling is immeasurable. One thing is for certain, there’s a top talent in Holmgren.
Ousmane Dieng: B
When it was first reported that the Oklahoma City Thunder had acquired the No. 11 pick via the Knicks, it seemed a foregone conclusion Presti was pushing out pick No. 12 – he kept both.
In the haul to acquire said pick, the Thunder shuffled out three protected-first-round picks. That’s outstanding value for a back-end lottery selection.
On paper, this three-for-one exchange could be deemed a reach. However, this trifecta weakens when delving into the details. Two of the three picks moved, 2023 picks via Washington and Detroit, were claimed by Oklahoma City in last year’s deal in which they dealt Alperen Sengun. Their third pick, a 2023 first via Denver, came lottery-protected via their dealing of Steven Adams.
The value in the upcoming 2023 draft class is expected to be colossal, however, it’s likely only the Nuggets’ pick conveys next season. The Wizards and Pistons picks, protected top-14 and top-18, respectively, carry a slim chance of conveying – pushing those two even further to the wayside.
Because of this, there’s an asterisk when noting the Thunder’s movement of picks, and there was a clear vision in selecting Ousmane Dieng – upside.
Dieng, age 18, had been on Sam Presti’s radar since he was age 16 and 6-foot-3. While in France, the guard hit a major growth spurt, pushing him to the forward spot by the time he signed with the New Zealand Breakers.
The production was up-and-down for the forward this season, as he showed little consistency to open the year – but ended strong averaging 13.3 points and 4.0 rebounds in his final 11 games.
Ousmane Dieng was the quintessential high-risk, high-reward prospect in this class. At 6-foot-10 with a 7-foot-1 wingspan, Dieng has shown remarkable ball-handling and playmaking skills for his size, notably when passing downhill. As a scorer, he carries a beautiful release and seeds of stepback jumpshot. On the defensive front, his frame and lateral quickness make him a bread-and-butter prospect to defend multiple positions. He’s a Thunder player.
The path with Dieng is not expected to be linear. He’s still a raw prospect budding with potential, but also lacking the consistency of your traditional lottery selection. However, what he can bank on is Oklahoma City’s developing process. Whether Dieng dips into G League waters, fields bench minutes, or closes the year as a starter – he’s under an incubator with Oklahoma City.
High upside swings are to be part of the process in the Thunder’s rebuild. With a record-setting allotment of picks, a looming roster crunch if picks aren’t traded, and a young core intact – it was in the Thunder’s best interest to splash the pot sooner rather than later. Though Dieng does not fill immediate holes within the roster, and he carries a relatively low floor for a lottery pick, his guard-like skill set makes him an alluring prospect to develop alongside Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Josh Giddey.
Jalen Williams: A+
Recommended for You
Jalen Williams was the top stock riser in this year’s draft process. After a sophomore campaign that saw him dominate as a role player, he carried No. 1 responsibilities on both ends of the basketball this year at Santa Clara. With a successful junior campaign, he entered the Chicago draft lottery as a sneaky first-round pick.
Two NBA combine games later – the rumblings were out on him potentially going in the lottery. The Oklahoma City Thunder fulfilled those murmurs, nabbing the guard at pick No. 12, while acknowledging his combine efforts as a factor in his selection post-draft.
The common consensus would tell you Jalen Williams at 12 was a reach at this spot. He’s already 21 years old, he faced WCC competition, and numerous fan favorites were still on the board. But, if anything, he's more likely to be a steal at this spot.
By the end of the season, Jalen Williams should be a fan favorite in Bricktown.
There was no better wing fit in this draft for Oklahoma City than Williams. As an offensive piece, Williams carries a bevy of traits compatible with his new backcourt. A late growth spurt sent him into the wing position at 6-foot-5, but the guard-like skills never waned. He’s an extremely intelligent passer with the ball, particularly in downhill situations – but that’s not all. In a one-on-one matchup, he has a tight handle that can open up the floor at virtually all three levels, and that’s not even his top trait in joining the Thunder. His catch-and-shoot game developed drastically this season, elevating to a 40-percent three-point shooter both on the move and in spot-up scenarios.
Defensively, Williams plays towards Oklahoma City’s love of lengthy prospects. With a 7-foot-2 wingspan, he’s shown the ability to play out at the two or three, making him even more of an instant glue guy in the rotation.
The Oklahoma City Thunder have a clear logjam in the guard spots, but only three roster spaces are etched into stone: Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Josh Giddey, and Tre Mann. Jalen Williams is the perfect fourth to this block who can intertwine with any of these players on the floor and make an impact playing on or off the ball. The Thunder were the second-worst catch-and-shoot team since tracking became available last season, and Williams adds a clear remedy. Along with this, he packs a special punch as a playmaker and wing defender.
When breaking down championship teams, you need to have big-time role players to take you to the promised land. At his floor, Williams is the "big-time role player" for this system. But, his ceiling would undoubtedly make him a focal point on both sides of the floor, both on and off the ball.
This pick was a perfect blend of addressing needs and dipping into some upside.
Jaylin Williams: C-
Mario Nanni was jumping out of his seat with the Thunder’s final selection.
After selecting Jalen Williams at pick No. 12, the Thunder double-dipped into the moniker, snagging Arkansas center Jaylin Williams at pick No. 34.
As mentioned by Presti and Will Dawkins, they'll work on the nickname later.
You cannot be shocked at how the Thunder went about making their final selection. While most first-round sliders carried unprecedented value for this slot, most of them came out of the backcourt. While home-run swings should be the name of the game in Bricktown’s ballpark – a fine line needed to be drawn after selecting Jalen Williams.
With the selection of Jaylin Williams, he joined Chet Holmgren as the lone true centers on the Thunder roster, filling a role still needing some rebuilding.
Williams’ selection had energy and overall hustle atop Thunder minds as they sent in their call as he led Division-1 in charges with 54 last season. In his sophomore year, he blossomed from a bench piece into a near double-double contributor averaging 10.9 points and 9.8 rebounds.
Oklahoma City has a well-documented history of repelling non-shooting centers in their rebuild, but they don't hold the same traits as Williams. He’s a smooth mover at 6-foot-10, 240 pounds, making him a solid roll-man offensively. On defense, his hustle and agility make him a solid stab at yielding a relief defender for Holmgren.
There’s a large swing factor with Williams in his role moving forward, and it comes as a shooter. While he did shoot in the 70s at the stripe, he never was placed in spots to pop in the mid-range or from distance. Ultimately, he’ll need to find himself in this area to maximize the team’s offensive production of screens.
The Thunder likely had “role player” in mind when snagging Williams, in large part due to his defensive hustle, but he’ll still need to work on broadening his range. He’s a solid pick given the team’s need, however, it wouldn’t be crazy to see him don an Oklahoma City Blue jersey to start the year.
Overall Grade: A+
The Thunder walked out of Thursday with one of the best hauls of the draft.
Though the impact of Oklahoma City’s selections will not likely sway the win column next season, they managed to check all the boxes for a successful draft.
The team’s waning issues at the five spot are no more, and major strides have been made in the catch-and-shoot department with Holmgren and Williams on deck.
For a trade-up that required three first-round picks, Sam Presti maximized its overall usage, shipping them out in the now to take on a high-ceiling prospect in Ousmane Dieng.
To cap the evening, doubling up on Williams’ brought even more support to the center spot while continuing to build on the effort mantra displayed in their first-round selections.
It’ll be a well-cooked process to fully gauge how the Thunder’s 2022 prospects fare on the NBA floor – but their lottery trifecta in acquiring three high ceiling pieces, who all fit in the Thunder’s blueprint, made their draft nothing short of a slam dunk.