The Oklahoma City Thunder hit it big Tuesday night.
Entering the NBA Draft Lottery with the projected fourth-best and twelfth-best odds, the Thunder had little guaranteed.
With Special Assistant Nick Collison at the Thunder’s side, they exceeded expectations, garnering the No. 2 and No. 12 pick in the upcoming NBA Draft.
On the surface level, this climb to the top may add nothing more than a larger scope on the draft board and an overall better cut of prospects. While true, Tuesday’s result has added multiple ripples into the Thunder’s rebuilding journey and multiple others, too.
Thunder Rebuild Elevated to Next Level
Over the last three seasons, the Oklahoma City Thunder have been locked into asset accumulation mode. Stemming from the shifts of Paul George and Russell Westbrook in 2019, the organization has had its crosshairs locked on obtaining draft equity – no matter the cost. From acquiring "untradeable" pieces in Chris Paul and Al Horford to bringing on Derrick Favors to save the Jazz of luxury tax, Sam Presti has sat atop a treasure trove of draft picks.
Since shifting into full-on rebuilding mode two seasons ago, the process has been simple. To open play, the entire roster has been put on display with Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Lu Dort readily logging upwards of 30 minutes. In the next phase, veterans such as Al Horford and Mike Muscala were substituted for younger faces within the franchise. In their final stage, the Thunder essentially opened the floodgates the past two seasons, giving the go-ahead for rookies and call-up contenders to make their mark.
This recipe has called for success over the last two seasons, notably kickstarting the development of players such as Tre Mann, Aaron Wiggins, and Lindy Waters III, among others.
Oklahoma City took a surge in last season’s NBA Draft, selecting Josh Giddey with the No. 6 Pick. Though, the pegged cornerstone prospects in the Top 3 were unturned – keeping the Thunder on a similar win/loss wavelength this season.
Tuesday’s results add a whole new ripple to the franchise's outlook.
With the addition of the Thunder’s No. 2 Pick, under the assumption they select a player, the organization will add its second cornerstone piece to tag along with Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, joining a potential-filled squad alongside Giddey, Dort, and Mann. Their draft position guarantees two or more of Chet Holmgren, Paolo Banchero, and Jabari Smith. All three of these players carry unprecedented potential and are a perfect fit under Bricktown’s rotation.
From a team openly hosting a firehouse sale two years ago, this rebuilding effort has come a long way. Now, the Thunder are way ahead of the expected curve, with the No. 2 pick in the draft, an additional lottery pick, and a combined 17 first-round picks in the next five years – they’ve hit the upper-echelon of young teams in the league.
Roster Crunch On Hold
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The Oklahoma City Thunder have a rotational problem. They had too many backcourt members.
Frankly, this is a great problem to have. For the youngest organization to have an abscess of young guard talent should be a good indicator of their trajectory. However, there’s not really an open-cast invite for either guard spot anymore. With Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Josh Giddey being the presumptive future at the guard spots, both members attract 30-minute roles on a game-to-game basis. For a player like Tre Mann, his scoring outbursts have pushed him to the front of sixth man talks leading forward – let’s chalk that up as 25 minutes. With those three players alone, you’ve already allocated 85 minutes, and that’s on the conservative side. For members still in need of minutes, Aaron Wiggins, Kenrich Williams, Theo Maledon, and Vit Krejci are on the outside looking in.
As part of this impact, Mark Daigneault relocated Lu Dort to a small forward role full-time this season to allow for the play of the trio. Had Oklahoma City fallen out of the Top 3, Sam Presti would have likely gone best player available. That would’ve created a quartet of guards.
With the expected Top 3 of Holmgren, Banchero, and Smith, the consensus top players would come from Purdue guard Jaden Ivey and Kentucky guard Shaedon Sharpe. Both of these players hand prospective teams uncanny potential for a pick outside the Top 3. Oklahoma City loves to swing for the fences. That would’ve only made this rotational puzzle even more complex though.
Instead, Oklahoma City will have access to the assumed Top 3 candidates, all of which can play immediately with big-time minutes. The Thunder have been in dire need of a center the last two seasons, Holmgren fills right in. They’ve also been one of the poorest three-point teams the last few seasons, Smith is a marksman from range. In Bricktown, an elite-level scorer hasn’t graced the forward spot since Paul George, Banchero can most definitely be that.
The Wild Wild West
The Western Conference just got even steeper.
Leading into lottery night, the Rockets and Thunder were the only Western Conference teams projected to fall inside the Top 5. When Mark Tatum opened his final envelope, three of the final four teams came from the West – Oklahoma City (2), Houston (3), and Sacramento (4.)
As aforementioned, the Thunder have climbed a few rungs as a roster. With two lottery selections, they should have a partner suited to play alongside SGA and Giddey alongside a key long-term piece moving forward. For Oklahoma City, their main problems have fallen at the five and on threes, at least one of those will be handled at the podium.
For the Houston Rockets, they were the worst team in the NBA for the second-consecutive season. Despite this, they came up empty of the top pick on both occasions. This is unfortunate for them, but for the second-straight draft – they’ll walk out of the war room with a number one-caliber player. You add this new piece alongside Jalen Green, one of the most crafty scorers in the league, and there’s a dynamic duo for years to come.
Sacramento shocked the NBA landscape by trading Tyrese Haliburton to the Indiana Pacers this season. The member on the other side of that transaction, Domantas Sabonis, proceeded to net the Kings their best lottery outcome since Tyreke Evans in 2009. In classic Sacramento fashion, the franchise could very well replace Haliburton with another guard from this draft in Jaden Ivey or Shaedon Sharpe. That would place Davion Mitchell back into treacherous waters, but the high ceilings from both of these men are undeniable.
With the end results from Tuesday, this draft lottery has advanced the Thunder and Rockets in their rebuilding efforts while the Kings are now given a Wild Card.