The Oklahoma City Thunder head into Thursday’s NBA Draft armed with two selections inside the lottery and the No. 34 pick overall as they look to add more top-end talent to their young roster.
They defied the odds at the draft lottery to move up to the No. 2 pick and in a class with a clear consensus top three – all vying for the No. 1 overall selection – they find themselves in the enviable spot of having their decision somewhat made for them, picking from two players, rather than three.
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Those three players who project to be in the Top 3, include Auburn’s Jabari Smith, Gonzaga’s Chet Holmgren and Duke’s Paolo Banchero, all possessing star potential and most importantly addressing the Thunder’s biggest area of need – size.
Armed with two dynamic backcourt players in Josh Giddey and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, the Thunder are flush with guards, but in desperate need of a big man to complement their play on both ends of the floor.
With veterans Derrick Favors and Mike Muscala returning next season along with 20-year-old project Aleksej Pokusevski, the Thunder need both size and scoring on the inside.
Last season they were one of the worst pick-and-roll teams in the league, ranking 24th in points per possession from the roll and and 28th in points per possession from the ball-handler.
NBA DRAFT SCOUTING REPORT: Jabari Smith Jr.
According to FanDuel, Smith is the favorite to be taken No. 1 overall by the Orlando Magic, which would leave the Thunder to decide on the polished skills of Banchero or the generational unicorn potential of Holmgren.
Holmgren, who’s 7-foot-1, 195-pound frame, boasting a 7-foot-6 wingspan, offers the Thunder immediate rim protection, while his tantalizing skills with the ball in his hands, especially when it comes to shooting from deep is sure to have Sam Presti’s attention.
Here’s what TSN’s Draft expert Kyle Irving said of the Gonzaga product in his latest Mock Draft.
The Thunder already have their backcourt of the future in Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Josh Giddey and with this pick, they’ll get some much-needed length and rim protection in Holmgren.
Holmgren fits Oklahoma City’s tendency to target players with size and length, and next to Gilgeous-Alexander and Giddey, he’ll be able to ease into an offensive role as a post threat and secondary scorer.
Holmgren will also help stretch the floor for the Thunder but most importantly, it’s his defense that will be an asset to this rebuilding OKC roster.
The shooting stands out with Holmgren, given the Thunder were one of the worst teams in the league past season, shooting a league-worst 43.0 percent from the field.
NBA DRAFT SCOUTING REPORT: Chet Holmgren
They weren’t much better from beyond the arc either, ranking dead last in 3-point percentage, despite getting up the seventh-most attempts in the league. They’re taking them, just not making them.
If Smith or Holmgren are off the table at No. 2, the Thunder won’t have to look far for another elite big man, with Paolo Banchero rated by many as the best talent in the draft.
Banchero’s combination of size, skill, and finesse would provide instant offense for the Thunder, with the 19-year-old able to create buckets off the dribble in isolation as well as being a gifted playmaker at his position, taking some of the burden off Giddey and Gilgeous-Alexander.
NBA DRAFT SCOUTING REPORT: Paolo Banchero
Per TSN’s Draft expert Kyle Irving:
What makes Banchero so special as a prospect is his dual ability to threaten defenses as a shot creator and playmaker.
At 6-foot-10, 250 pounds, Banchero is a walking mismatch because he’s too quick and fluid for bigs, but he’s too strong and physical for guards.
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If the Magic are tempted by the upside of Holmgren, leaving the Thunder to choose between Banchero or Smith, their decision could become slightly more complicated.
Smith would immediately give them the shooting they desperately need, connecting on 42 percent of his 3-point shots last season, while playing solid defense inside and showcasing his ability to switch out onto the perimeter.
Having said that, Banchero’s all-round skills, passing and creation look to be a better fit alongside the Thunder’s existing guards.
The only other player in the draft that could break into the top three selections is Purdue’s Jaden Ivey, but given the Thunder’s need for a big man, it’s hard to see them looking past any of the consensus top three.
When you factor in the franchise’s needs, their penchant for player development and the patience to rebuild, on paper Holmgren makes the most sense for the Thunder.
Until then, OKC will wait with baited breath for the Magic to take their pick.
The NBA Draft is set for Thursday, June 23 at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, from 8:00 pm ET.