The Oklahoma City Thunder have the 21st pick in the 2017 NBA Draft. This particular draft is one experts across the world predict to be one of the deeper pools of talent in recent years. There is no reason Oklahoma City can’t improve upon its 47-win season last year with this draft pick.
It is important to note that this article will assume the following:
- Enes Kanter is still apart of the team before and after the draft.
- Andre Roberson — a restricted free agent — will return to the Thunder.
- Russell Westbrook strongly informs Sam Presti of his commitment to stay.
- The Thunder keep their 21st pick and do not trade up or down.
Let’s get right into it.
WHAT THE MOCK DRAFTS ARE SAYING
The dozens of mock drafts available on the internet provide information on what NBA scouts, experts and personalities believe Oklahoma City will choose when their name is called. After looking at mock drafts from DraftExpress, CBS and Bleacher Report to name a few, one thing becomes apparent.
They are going off past history. Most mocks have Oklahoma City taking a power forward or a center.
Since the 2008 draft (the Westbrook draft), the Thunder have selected bigs predominantly. Although slightly — 11 PF’s or C’s to 9 guards — it is apparent Sam Presti wanted to balance the perimeter play of Westbrook, Kevin Durant and James Harden with exceptional big play.
Not to mention Westbrook’s distribution strength lies in penetration and dump-off passes to the bigs. Presti said as much when discussing Westbrook and the Thunder’s possible roster moves at his exit interview last week.
With the game becoming more skill-driven and less about physical mismatches on the post, this could be a great opportunity for Presti to not solely focus on what could help Westbrook’s assist numbers but rather on what could improve the team as currently constructed.
Names like Tyler Lydon from Syracuse, Jonathan Motley from Baylor or Ivan Raab from California dot mock drafts for Oklahoma City. The other name that occurs frequently is Duke sharpshooter Luke Kennard — we will get to his style later.
Again, this pick is about improving the roster as is. With Steven Adams, Kanter, a second year Sabonis and Dakari Johnson in the pipeline, another big could have little impact in year one unless you hit a miracle homerun.
A HISTORY OF THE 21ST PICK
When next season ends, the Thunder will have been in Oklahoma City for 10 years. In that spirit let us look at the type of value the 21st pick can yield over the past 10 years.
- 2007 Daequan Cook — currently plays in Iran, former 3-point Champion
- 2008 Ryan Anderson — starts for the Houston Rockets
- 2009 Darren Collison — starts for the Sacramento Kings
- 2010 Craig Brackins — out of the league
- 2011 Nolan Smith — assistant coach for Duke
- 2012 Jared Sullinger — waived by the Phoenix Suns during the previous trade deadline
- 2013 Gorgui Dieng — starts for the Minnesota Timberwolves
- 2014 Mitch McGary — out of the league
- 2015 Justin Anderson — starter for the Philadelphia 76ers (started final eight games of 2016-17 season)
- 2016 DeAndre Bembry — bench player/D-leaguer in the Atlanta Hawks system
Of the 10 picks, only three can be categorized as “busts” while Bembry is just entering his first NBA offseason. The other six are either starting, were starters or at some point were heavy contributors off the bench.
From a value standpoint, that is actually very promising. While only Anderson and Collison had great success as rookie starters, the remaining solid picks built a respectable body of work over time.
In a draft that many believe is the deepest in years, the historical background and incoming talent may suggest the Thunder could find themselves in position to draft a player who could provide immediate production as a reserve or even as a starter.
THE FREQUENT NAMES
Mentioned earlier were Tyler Lydon and Luke Kennard as players that surfaced most often in mock drafts for Oklahoma City. While both are talented and have skills that could help the Thunder, these picks do not move the needle in terms of day one team improvement.
Tyler Lydon (appeared in three mock drafts)
- Right off the bat, drafting a semi-athletic, rangy power forward makes the Sabonis draft pick a year earlier questionable.
- Assuming Sabonis is still on the team and very much in the organization’s long term plans, a potential drafting of Lydon would see the Syracuse product lost in a log-jam of talented bigs.
- He is a more polished shooter than Sabonis was coming out of college, but his lack of on the ball athleticism would relegate him to a stand-in-the-corner type player — hindering his progress.
Luke Kennard (appeared in three mock drafts)
- While he is a dynamite shooter (44 percent shooter last season from three), he suffers from a scouting report filled with “lacks athleticism” critiques.
- The Thunder already have Alex Abrines — a sharpshooter who possesses a high ceiling of athleticism — and Doug McDermott, who can be better compared to Kennard, over the next few years.
- Unless you think Kennard is better than Abrines or McDermott, this pick seems lacking in the improvement department.
- Jonathan Motley and John Collins of Wake Forest are power forwards, while Ivan Raab is a center.
- Oklahoma City has one of the more talented front courts from top to bottom in the league.
- These picks would not help outside shooting, perimeter athleticism or scoring off the bench — the Thunder’s main weaknesses.
SETTING UP THE PICK
Going back to Oklahoma City’s weaknesses, — outside shooting, perimeter athleticism and bench scoring — the 21st pick is an interesting spot to be in.
Considering the depth of the draft, some talented small forward/wing types could slip out of the lottery and fall into Presti’s hands. This is where the North Carolina product Justin Jackson dream comes into play.
Jackson is one of the more talented prospects to come out of the ACC this season. A natural scorer with great size, Jackson has everything that could thrive in the Thunder system from day one. His potential screams late lottery pick, but his lack of build and unpolished offensive game could scare a few teams ahead of the Thunder away.
Realistically, Jackson will more than likely not be there when Oklahoma City picks at 21. What does that leave?
If you are looking for a skill set similar to what Jackson provides, you are looking for a an athletic perimeter player:
- Who can quickly develop an outside shot at the NBA level to a level where defenders need to respect it.
- Who possesses versatility to play multiple positions due to size, athleticism and skill set is important.
- Who’s weaknesses are shielded by playing with ball-dominant guards like Westbrook or Victor Oladipo.
SO WHO’S THE PICK?
Feb 25, 2017; Hartford, CT, USA; Southern Methodist Mustangs forward Semi Ojeleye (33) returns the ball against Connecticut Huskies guard Rodney Purvis (15) in the second half at XL Center. SMU defeated UConn 69-61. Mandatory Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports
Semi Ojeleye — SF/PF Southern Methodist 19 ppg 6.7 rpg
Out of the numerous mock drafts researched, SBNation was the only example of the Thunder not picking a PF/C or Luke Kennard.
Ojeleye is one of the more skilled athletes in this draft. Luckily — or unluckily — for Oklahoma City, the SMU prospect is projected all over the map. Anywhere from a mid-lottery pick to a late second round pick. This is due in large part to his heavy reliance upon his athleticism which could hurt him as a high pick on a bad team looking for a new star.
Ojeleye is not day one star material on a lottery team. On the Thunder, Ojeleye is a day one contributor, and potentially a great one.
- His athleticism has now been mentioned now three times, and for good reason. He is an athletic freak.
- He can finish at the rim very well. Similar to Jerami Grant where everything two feet from the rim ends up being a thunderous dunk.
- His size at 6’7″ height provides the versatility to defend guards, wings and some power forwards on switches.
- He is a capable ball handler and and can be depended upon with the ball in his hands.
- A solid offensive rebounder, averaged nearly three a game.
- Agression. This is key. He is not passive and looks to create havoc whether he has the ball in his hands or not.
- Has the capability of being a great defender with his speed, size and athleticism.
- When open, his spot-up jumper is smooth and efficient. He shot 49 percent from the floor and nearly 43 percent from three.
- According to DraftExpress, he was first in the NCAA in pick/pop spot up jumper efficiency — Westbrook strength.
- Also according to DraftExpress, he was third in iso efficiency. With his strength and ball handling he is able to create on his own when the play breaks down, something the Thunder desperately needed in the postseason.
- Legit floor stretcher.
- While he relied on his athleticism and strength to create space off iso-drives, the NBA will be an adjustment due to Semi not being the biggest or best athlete on the floor most nights.
- He can be careless with his drives if his jabs and first step don’t get him past his defender.
- Does not like being around the rim defensively, does not gobble up a ton of defensive boards for a guy with his frame.
- Leans more towards the raw category in terms of intricate perimeter defense.
- He foul hunts due to sloppy drives.
- Does not possess a soft game. No floater or touch around the rim in traffic.
- When he’s not open, his spot-up jumper is sloppy, forced and unbalanced.
- Completely right-hand dominant. Needs to develop left-hand dribble to combat savvy NBA defenders.
- Has a tendency to take bad, quick shots early in the shot clock.
- While his strength can keep him from getting bullied by bigger forwards, his lack of reach can make him susceptible to over-the-top jumpers.
Why the pick makes sense
Ojeleye’s criticisms can be summed up that he relies too much on his bulky build and athleticism to create offense which also leads to sloppy defensive play on the perimeter. As SMU’s best player and leading scorer, Ojeleye was looked upon to create shots, stretch the floor and basically be the best player in the game.
The funny thing about being on a team with Westbrook, and to a lesser extent Oladipo, is that those cons are nearly cut in half due to him not having to be the best player on the team, or even have the opportunity to shoot early and drive carelessly. The rest can be developed by the Thunder.
Even the defensive rebounding is not a large issue considering Oklahoma City is the best rebounding team in the NBA.
In the postseason it was apparent why the Houston Rockets were able to make plays at the ends of games to win. They had more athletes on the perimeter to stretch the Thunder’s defense and to put pressure on Westbrook’s one man show late. Adding another athlete on the perimeter who has the ability to score, create his own shot and hold his own defensively could be the difference in a tight ball game against the more talented rosters in the league.
Ojeleye is drafted. This could allow two results.
- Roberson moves back to the shooting guard position, pushing Oladipo to the bench. This would greatly improve the second unit, make Oladipo’s occasional runs at the backup point guard position more natural and allow Roberson more comfort on the floor.
- Ojeleye is regulated to the bench day one which could speed up his progression going up against other reserves. If he develops quickly, the bench could get a shot in the arm from another scoring perimeter athlete.
Picturing Oladipo off the bench makes the Thunder a much better, and well balanced squad. A super athlete like Ojeleye to run with either Westbrook or Oladipo sounds exciting.
Again, his weaknesses are nearly snuffed out by not being the primary scorer. Westbrook would be able to penetrate better if another capable wing scorer — one who is not a simple stand-in-the-corner player — is roaming around the perimeter.
Oklahoma City has plenty of bigs stashed. What kept this team from continuing its postseason run was a lack of reliable scorers on the perimeter to ease the burden off Westbrook. Ojeleye provides that potential.
While Ojeleye is another type of player that could fall in the “project” category it is important to remember that the 21st pick is hardly a guarantee. The recent history of the pick is promising however.
Drafting another big who will take time to develop seems counterproductive to the Thunder improving on their sixth seeding in the West last season. Ojeleye will require time and experience to develop, but his strengths from day one are assets that can improve the team when the season begins.
It is important to remember this article’s assumptions at the beginning. Kanter being dealt prior to the draft or on June 22nd makes a “safe” PF/C pick more realistic and pragmatic. If Westbrook does not indicate he wants to stay, that could open up an entirely different can of worms.
It is apparent Westbrook and the Thunder need more capable athletes on the perimeter, especially when it comes to scoring. Oladipo suffered from initial postseason exposure in his first playoff experience as an NBA player but will surely improve upon his disappointing outing.
Ojeleye has the potential to be that versatile wing player Oklahoma City desperately needs.
We invite you to follow Thunder Digest on Twitter and like Thunder Digest on Facebook. Our Podcast is on iTunes. We also have a Thunder Digest Instagram account if you love fun Thunder photography!