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It’s impossible to sort fact from fiction as Thunder GM Sam Presti has deployed the Oklahoma City front office to scout lottery talents and prod trade options with other teams in the 2022 NBA Draft. Daily Thunder’s Brandon Rahbar will keep sounding the smoke alarms and transaction alerts on Twitter as draft rumors regarding OKC keep rumbling up until the picks are in.
But let’s forget who Presti will pick. Who do we want him to draft this year, using or packaging the #2 and #12 overall selections with the deepest inventory of future assets in the NBA? We’ve mocked and debated and analyzed this draft class into the ground, so here are our final arguments for which prospects we want to see in Thunder blue in 2022.
Who should the Thunder take with their first lottery pick (most likely #2)?
Aidan Elrod: Chet Holmgren (scouting report)
Holmgren is the best player in the class and if you care about fit when drafting, he’s an excellent choice there as well. The Thunder are currently lacking shooting and rim protection, two things Chet will provide the team while unlocking some versatility next to Josh Giddey and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (not to mention whoever OKC takes at #12). Chet provides S-Tier defense and B-Tier offense. He stretches the floor, is an elite play finisher, and fills a connective role in the offense.
Chet would be a home run pick for the Thunder in this draft, the kind of cornerstone the Thunder have been looking for since the Paul George trade and infamous roster break-up that followed.
Ryan Woods: Jabari Smith, Jr. (scouting report)
No player in this draft fits more naturally or complements SGA and Giddey like 6’10 forward Jabari Smith would. Can I interest you in 42% from the three-point line on 5.5 attempts per game in a quality league? Imagine the early pick-and-pop game with Giddey. Imagine the grab-and-go potential. Imagine the second-side, mid-post scenarios. Sorry, that’s a lot of hyphens. But IMAGINE! This roster needs a lot of things, but shooting and frontcourt pieces are at the top of the list. Jabari checks both boxes while being an absolute dog on the defensive end. Something that’s flown under the radar in this draft lead up is how bad Auburn’s guard play was this year. Like, WOOF. I’ll bet on his ability to develop the isolation scoring long-term with better teammates and more space.
In my best Thor voice: BRING ME JABARI.
Brandon Rahbar: Paolo Banchero (scouting report)
Worried Holmgren is too skinny to scuffle with the supersized centers of the NBA? Banchero and his 250 pounds can bang with the big boys. Worried Jabari will never be able to handle the ball, nor finish at the rim? Paolo can get any shot he wants from anywhere on the floor–and he doesn’t need any guard’s help in doing so because he’s got their handles. And because OKC loves their jumbo playmakers, Banchero’s cherry on top is that the Dookie is a better passer than Chet or Jabari as well.
Cray Allred: Jaden Ivey (scouting report)
No lie, Chet is my guy. But Ivey would be a worthy pick in a vacuum and–more attractively–as part of whatever trade Presti would make to move down and get him. I love Holmgren, but I love the 2023 draft class more. The Thunder are negotiating from the epitome of strength, and could conceivably extract yet another juicy haul from a team much more desperate to snag a top-3 pick this week. If the Thunder can add to their Victor Wembanyama/Scoot Henderson capital while scooping Ivey, a Westbrook-lite fireball who would revive Oklahoma City’s three- or four-headed guard monster? Sign me up.
Who should the Thunder take with their second lottery pick (most likely #12)?
Rahbar: Just trade up.
While a good player like Jeremy Sochan or AJ Griffin may fall to 12, why not take matters into your own hands and creak open that war chest of assets to jump a player tier and guarantee Presti gets the guy he likes the most? All the scuttlebutt of OKC moving up from their second lottery pick to #7 or #8 is focused on targeting Shaedon Sharpe. And I understand the reasoning. The pseudo Kentucky Wildcat was the #1 ranked player in his high school class and John Calipari pinky promises he’d be the top pick if he returned to college and declared for the 2023 NBA Draft. Well, despite the fact that someone in the Bluegrass State needs to YouTube search “Victor Wembanyama mixtape,” Coach Cal’s point about Sharpe’s upside stands. Like Mel Gibson’s wife advises at the end of “Signs”: swing away, Sammy.
I also endorse trading up for either Dyson Daniels and his elite, switchable defense with a dash of great playmaking and offensive upside or for Bennedict Mathurin and his big bodied, bouncy athleticism and pure shooting stroke.
Woods: Jeremy Sochan (scouting report)
11 years ago OKC took the big “faller” of the night, Perry Jones, over the eventual 4-time NBA champion Draymond Green. Can we not do that again? Please? Sochan makes a good case for himself:
“I think all the time I’ve watched Draymond and I think recently, maybe this year, maybe the year I was in Germany, I really realized he’s a real presence. He doesn’t have to score, but he involves everyone. He’s that guy who gets under people’s skins, plays good defense. He’s just a presence. You always see him on the court. He doesn’t hide away from anything.” – Jeremy Sochan
As the biggest Draymond Green fan, let me acknowledge that Sochan would be so lucky to reach Green’s level. Draymond is a 1-of-1, BUT we’re now far enough removed from his mold-breaking arrival for prospects coming into the league to be able to say, “I grew up watching Draymond and have styled my game to be like him .” SGA gets trapped on pick-and-roll actions a lot. Sochan is the kind of guy who can take that pass from Shai over the top and create easy offense playing downhill in 4-on-3 settings.
Elrod: Malaki Branham (scouting report)
Branham’s combination of age, efficiency, size, and standout performances against legit competition makes him too hard to pass up for me. He has issues, specifically inconsistent space creation and defensive inefficiencies. But the shotmaking and overall offensive acumen for this young guard really shine. After his 10 game adjusting period before the breakout at Nebraska, he averaged 17 points on 53/43/82 splits (!) in 22 games. He would be a home run at #12.
Elrod bonus picks at #12: Bennedict Mathurin & Tari Eason
Allred: Shaedon Sharpe (scouting report)
Sharpe was once mocked in the top-5 consistently (and could still go there), but reports have him favoring Oklahoma City and potentially this far to the Thunder. This pick is all theory for me, because there is very little on tape to evaluate Sharpe. But if he’s around this late, he’ll easily be the prospect with the highest superstar ceiling even though his game is mostly shrouded in mystery. He’d be an ultra young, ultra upside pick who would forward put on an explosive show as a rookie while keeping that ’23 tank humming as a net-negative against NBA competition. Let teams take half measures aim for role players in the late lottery–OKC is still shooting for the stars as they rebuild with resolve.
Who did we forget?
Let us know your picks in the comments. And make it convincing, so we can really help the Thunder front office lurkers make up their minds.