Building the Oklahoma City Thunder’s perfect 2022 NBA draft — Mocking all four picks

Building the Oklahoma City Thunder’s perfect 2022 NBA draft — Mocking all four picks post thumbnail image

The Oklahoma City Thunder are a combined 46-108 over their past two NBA seasons, finishing at the bottom of the Western Conference’s Northwest division in both of those campaigns. How the Thunder navigate the 2022 NBA draft figures to provide major insight into how much longer OKC remains in the basement.

With four picks to make on June 23 at Barclays Center (8 p.m. ET, ESPN and ESPN app), and three first-rounders — including the No. 2 overall pick — the Thunder have a chance to transform their franchise more than any other team on draft night. General manager Sam Presti and coach Mark Daigneault are at the helm of an organization with a number of young, talented pieces around which to build — backcourt phenoms Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Josh Giddey primary among them — and the players OKC chooses to complement them will provide a window in the franchise’s direction, and how soon a passionate fan base can expect the team to contend for a playoff berth or, later, a Western Conference or NBA title.

In an exercise similar to the one we conducted with the Spurs, we looked at a plausible list of potential picks that would represent a best-case scenario for Oklahoma City in the 2022 NBA draft.


No. 2 pick: Chet Holmgren | 7-1 | Freshman | PF/C | Gonzaga | 20.1 years old

The Thunder cycled through a rotating cast of big men all season, using undersized players including Isaiah Roby, Jeremiah Robinson-Earl, Mamadi Diakite and Jaylen Hoard as well as veteran stopgaps Derrick Favors and Mike Muscala. None of those players look like long-term starting-caliber solutions, which makes this a perfect opportunity to utilize the No. 2 pick to dramatically upgrade the OKC frontcourt in what’s considered one of the best drafts for big men we’ve seen in some time — four of the five top prospects in the class are either power forwards, centers or project to play both spots.

If the Magic elect to go with Jabari Smith at No. 1 as expected, that means the Thunder will see what we consider to be the draft’s best prospect fall right into their laps in Holmgren.

Holmgren was the most impactful two-way player in college basketball as a freshman. His timing, length, mobility and toughness made him an absolute force both as a rim-protector and covering ground on the perimeter. He’s effective guarding pick-and-roll in a variety of different schemes with his ability to hedge, trap, drop or switch and contain smaller players, getting in a deep, agile stance, turning his hips to rotate from one side of the paint to another, and using his 7-foot-6 wingspan and quick instincts to challenge jumpers and layups and usually be first off the ground for defensive rebounds.

The Thunder showed quite a bit of promise defensively when healthy last season, and have considerable room for growth with a backcourt consisting of supersized point guards Josh Giddey and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and one of the toughest perimeter players in the league in Lu Dort. Adding those three with Holmgren along with a role player who brings strong leadership and knows how to impact winning, like Kenrich Williams, for example, could make for an exciting lineup on both ends of the floor.

Holmgren is versatile offensively as well. Operating alongside two of the best upperclassmen in the college game in Drew Timme and Andrew Nembhard, Holmgren played a complementary role for Gonzaga last season, mostly being used as a floor-spacer, rim-runner, cutter, offensive rebounder and pick-and-roll finisher. He was brutally efficient doing so, hitting 39% of his 3-pointers and a scorching 74% of his 2s, finishing with 56 dunks and the second-highest true shooting percentage in this draft class.

With that said, there’s clearly another gear Holmgren can get to on this end of the floor, especially as a ball-handler and passer, where he wasn’t utilized very frequently on a team than ran through national player of the year candidate Timme, and a battle-tested point guard in Nembhard. Holmgren’s ability to turn defense into offense pushing off the glass is one of his most attractive traits, as he’s a fluid ball-handler with terrific body control and long strides that make him a terror for opposing big man to match up with in back-pedaling situations. In the half-court, Holmgren will benefit from NBA spacing and the opportunity to ramp up his assertiveness as a shot-creator in pick-and-roll or isolation situations as well. He’ll provide an excellent lob target for his guards to find as a cutter or pick-and-roll finisher, while spacing the floor effectively at the same time.

The Thunder ranked last in NBA offensive efficiency last season, hitting the lowest percentage of 3-pointers in the league (32.3%), and rarely getting to the free throw line. Holmgren should help in all those areas immediately with the smarts, skill and unselfishness he brings.


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Check out highlights of NBA draft prospect Shaedon Sharpe.

No. 12 pick: Shaedon Sharpe | 6-5 | Freshman | Shooting Guard | Kentucky | 19.0 years old

Sharpe is conducting competitive 3-on-3 workouts for most, but not all of the teams picking in the top 10, with his floor likely being this spot for the Thunder, who will be getting a visit and have studied him more closely than any team in the NBA. Sharpe dropping to 12th on draft night would be surprising, but not unimaginable. Not every team picking in the 5-10 range has a great handle on what Sharpe’s game is, and not all would be willing to give him the freedom and reps he’d need to learn on the fly and make up for the experience he missed by skipping his senior year of high school, opting not to play at Kentucky and heading straight to the NBA. Sharpe’s camp also doesn’t sound overly concerned with where he’s picked, preferring to take a long-term view in steering him to an advantageous development situation in which he can maximize his significant potential and become an All-Star, with the Thunder being at the top of their list.

For the Thunder, picking a talent like Sharpe would be a no-brainer, as he’s one of the most physically gifted wing players in the class, while also possessing an exceptionally high skill level with his polished footwork, smooth ability to create offense for himself, dynamic shot-making and deep range, giving him one of the highest upsides of any player in the draft. Sharpe’s ability to play either wing spot with his 7-foot wingspan will allow him to see minutes alongside any of the Thunder’s big three of Giddey, Gilgeous-Alexander and Dort, while absorbing quite a few touches and shots in bench units when one or more of the above players sits.

Thunder head coach Mark Daigneault looks like an ideal mentor for the young Sharpe at this stage of his career. Daigneault has proven comfortable handing the reins over to highly touted talents while providing them with the structure and accountability needed to maximize their development and still remaining competitive from game to game, earning him rave reviews from players he’s worked with thanks to the relationships he’s built. Although Sharpe probably won’t be the most efficient offensive player early in his career and will surely have a transition to make on the defensive end and with his intensity level, the Thunder are the type of forward-thinking team to see the benefits of taking early lumps and hoping to reap the rewards later on as Sharpe enters his 20s.


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Wake Forest’s Jake LaRavia catches the lob from Alondes Williams and throws down the jam.

No. 30 pick: Jake LaRavia | 6-8 | Junior | Power Forward | Wake Forest | 20.5 years old

This pick might shed some insight into how the Thunder brass views its team and the direction we can expect to see them take next season and beyond. Gilgeous-Alexander and Dort have patiently endured a two-year rebuilding process that has seen the team lose more than 70% of its games. How will they feel about a third year of heavy losses and chasing lottery balls — with a potential generational player in Victor Wembanyama on the horizon should the team be fortunate enough to land the No. 1 pick in 2023?

Dort, a fan favorite and one of the NBA’s best bargains at $1.9 million per year, is extension-eligible this summer before becoming an unrestricted free agent next year. Do the Thunder reward him now, which would surely ease any potential tension that might arise, or wait to see how a backcourt of Giddey, Gilgeous-Alexander and Dort performs with a full NBA season under Giddey’s belt? Dort can’t be signed to more than a 4-year, $58-million extension, per ESPN’s Bobby Marks, which might be a tad low for him on the open market, but could very well provide the type of security a 23-year old player who hasn’t made that much money to this point in his career, could very well covet.

Giddey, despite being only 19, is likely not the type of player who will enjoy being in a losing situation for an extended period of time. Giddey, SGA, Dort and Holmgren could be a core able to make a run at the Western Conference play-in game if surrounded with the right type of role players and veterans.

The June 29 team option date on Mike Muscala’s contract is another sneakily interesting inflection point for the Thunder. Muscala elected to sign a two-year deal with Oklahoma City a year ago, expressing his comfort with the organization and city on multiple occasions. Muscala, who turns 31 in a few weeks, was extremely productive for the Thunder on a per-minute basis last season, averaging a scorching 23 points per-40 minutes on 43% 3-point shooting. He’s exactly the type of veteran floor-spacer the team would likely want to have around if winning next season is a priority, and similar things can be said about Kenrich Williams, who is also extension-eligible this summer.

A player like Jake LaRavia could help straddle the line between competing and swinging for upside. He was an All-ACC player in his third season of college basketball, scoring efficiently, showing terrific passing prowess and being highly switchable defensively with his outstanding instincts, intensity and awareness off the ball, making him appear ready to see minutes in a NBA game in the not-too-distant future. On the other hand, LaRavia is just 20 years old, nearly the same age as freshmen such as Holmgren and TyTy Washington Jr., and still has some potential left to tap into as his frame improves, his quickness and explosiveness is maximized and his assertiveness as an outside shooter and overall scorer increases. Surrounding the Thunder core with more shooting is an important goal, be it in the draft or free agency, and although LaRavia isn’t a sniper in terms of quantity of makes like Ochai Agbaji, AJ Griffin or Jabari Smith, his all-around versatility and modern qualities make him an interesting potential fit on the team’s roster.


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No. 34 pick: Khalifa Diop | 7-0 | Center | Gran Canaria | 20.3 years old

One thing the Thunder will be cognizant of on draft night is the small number of roster spots available at this point, as the team already has 15 contracts on the books with four draft picks at their disposal. That’s provided the team opts into the contracts of the aforementioned Muscala, the young and productive Isaiah Roby and 20-year old French point guard Theo Maledon, who still has plenty of untapped upside and in whom the team has already invested over 2,600 NBA minutes. Those 15 contracts don’t include draft rights OKC holds in 28-year old Vasilije Micic, arguably the best point guard in Europe, who is intent on making his way to the NBA, a source told ESPN, but isn’t an ideal fit with the Thunder’s timeline considering the plethora of young talent the team already has in the backcourt.

The Thunder could be a huge player on draft night, using their four draft picks, Micic’s rights, an additional 13 picks they’ve compiled for future years and a figure nearly $32 million under the salary cap that gives them the ability to absorb a big contract in a trade should they choose. Players including Kenrich Williams, Darius Bazley, Tre Mann, Roby, and others have positive trade value if the team decided to make a splash deal.

The Thunder have proven willing to consolidate picks to move up and select a prospect they covet — packaging the No. 34 and 36 picks last year to select Jeremiah Robinson-Earl at No. 32, and using the No. 25 and No. 28 picks in 2020 to draft Aleksej Pokusevski.

With that in mind, it wouldn’t be surprising if the Thunder elected to consolidate the No. 30 and 34 picks to get into the 20s to pick a player that surprisingly slid out of the green room, or is simply viewed as having a huge upside or deemed to be an excellent fit with their roster composition and timeline — LSU’s Tari Eason, for example.

Should the team elect not to pull off a deal and stand pat, drafting an international player like Diop could make a lot of sense. Diop could play in the NBA Summer League and then be brought to the NBA immediately depending on how free agency and the rest of the Thunder roster plays out, or be stashed in Europe for another season to preserve flexibility. Diop is in an excellent development situation in Spain with Gran Canaria, which competes in the Spanish ACB and EuroCup, and will only be more attractive with another year of experience under his belt in the highest levels of European competition next summer.

Playing quite a few undersized lineups, the Thunder struggled at times with the size and physicality of opposing frontcourts, something that a player like Diop, 7-feet tall with a chiseled 250-pound frame, could help alleviate. Diop made significant improvement this season that culminated in a strong showing in the ACB playoff quarterfinals against an elite European team in Barcelona, posting 32 points and 12 rebounds in 55 minutes through three games. He’s mobile, plays with impressive intensity and brings excellent versatility with the fluency he shows defending pick-and-rolls in a variety of ways — be it switching, hedging, trapping or dropping — thanks to his timing, the strong coaching he’s received to this point and the significant experience he’s garnered earning playing time in one of the most challenging leagues any prospect in this draft competed in this season.

While Diop isn’t the most skilled or polished big man in this class, he knows his role and should be able to emerge as a strong target for Giddey and Gilgeous-Alexander in screening and rolling with purpose to the rim. He’s a solid finisher, averaging one made dunk for every 16 minutes he was on the court this season, which is a clear area of need for the Thunder, and could be beneficial operating alongside a thin-framed big man like Holmgren, who will likely need some time to adapt to the strength and physicality of NBA frontcourts.

Jonathan Givony is an NBA Draft expert and the founder and co-owner of DraftExpress.com, a private scouting and analytics service utilized by NBA, NCAA and International teams.



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