Draft gives Thunder Nation permission to care again … seriously
Netting three of the first 12 selections while trading away future picks, OKC suddenly too good, too deep and too talented to continue playing for picks rather than victories
The NBA draft took place Thursday night and the consensus is Oklahoma City knocked it out of the park.
We’ll get to who the Thunder chose in a few moments, because, sort of, who they selected is secondary. It’s how they selected one of those picks — one of the New York Knicks’ picks, actually — that’s the most compelling thing about Oklahoma City’s draft night because here’s what it means:
It means season ticket holders in the lower bowl can return to the arena and quit leaving their seats embarrassingly empty because the games will matter again.
It means the fans who buy the cheap seats upstairs in Loud City can now buy them knowing the team coach Mark Daigneault puts on the floor, though it still has an interest in development, now has an interest in winning basketball games, too.
It means what some of the Thunder said during their exit interviews in April, if it doesn’t happen, won’t be from a lack of trying.
For instance …
“I think everyone wants to win and the sooner that can start, the better,” said Josh Giddey, the No. 6 pick in the 2021 draft, who surpassed all expectation last season.
“Oh, definitely make it to the playoffs. That’s got to be the goal,” Lu Dort said. “I feel like we’re going to be a team that’s going to shock a lot of people.”
“Things will be different next year,” Kenrich Williams said. “I’m sure they’ll be different … We want to win games. I’m not just speaking for myself, I’m speaking for the whole team.”
Though Thunder general manager Sam Presti tends to be cautious with his words, his draft night action spoke volumes.
OKC entered with two first-round picks, the second and 12th selections.
With the second, the Thunder selected Gonzaga 7-foot freshman Chet Holmgren, who many thought might be the top talent in the whole shebang; and with the 12th, one of the picks they received in the Paul George trade to the LA Clippers — aka, the gift that keeps on giving — it was Santa Clara junior guard Jalen Williams.
However, before Williams was taken, the New York Knicks selected Ousmane Dieng, a 19-year-old from France, and before he could sit down with ESPN to talk about it, ESPN’s Gene Wojciechowski reported Dieng’s actual destination to be Oklahoma City and not long after that the Thunder announced it had traded a trio of 2023 first-round picks to New York for him.
Specifically, The Athletic’s Shams Charania tweeted, OKC traded three 2023 first-round picks it had previously received in trades, originally belonging to Detroit (top-18 protected), Washington (top-14 protected) and Denver (top-14 protected).
The point, of course, is this:
If Presti’s dealing away three 2023 first-round selections to get the 11th pick in the same draft he’s also choosing second and 12th, for a team that still boasts Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Dort, Giddey and others with bright futures, the time to be fine with losing is over.
Come October, you can tune into the Thunder not just because they happen to be playing, but because you’re allowed to reinvest with their fortunes, too.
About those picks?
• No. 2, Chet Holmgren
7-foot, 195 pounds
14.1 points, 9,9 rebounds, 3.7 blocks at Gonzaga last season, shooting 60.7 percent, 39 percent from 3-point land and 71.7 percent from the free-throw line. A shot-blocker who can shoot from distance, what’s not to love?
• No. 11, Ousmane Dieng
6-10, 225 pounds
8.9 points, 3.2 rebounds, 1.1 assists, shooting 39.8 percent, 27.1 percent from 3-point land and 66.7 percent from the free-throw line over 23 games for the New Zealand Breakers last season in NBL Australia.
• No. 12, Jalen Williams
6-6, 190 pounds
18 points, 4.4 rebounds, 4.2 assists as a Santa Clara junior last season, shooting 51.3 percent, 39.6 percent from 3-point land and 80.9 percent from the free-throw line.
Then, if you can believe it, the Thunder went out and selected Jaylin Williams — same name, different spelling — with the 34th pick, out of Arkansas.
A 6-10 forward, he averaged 10.9 points, 9.8 rebounds, 2.6 assists and 1.1 blocks last season as a sophomore, shooting 52.7 percent, 23.9 percent from 3-point land and 72.9 percent from the free-throw line.
Maybe he makes the team and maybe he doesn’t. There are no guarantees for second-round picks, though, to his credit, he was one of the first picks of the second round.
Kevin O’Connor, who covers the NBA for The Ringer, may not be a genius, but he’s probably not a dummy and he offered this about OKC’s draft:
“I love what the Thunder have done tonight in the draft. Chet Holmgren, Ousmane Dieng, Jalen Williams,” he tweeted. “Three guys that can excel with or without the ball. Three defensive oriented players. Perfect fits next to SGA and Giddey. Oklahoma City has the best young core in the whole NBA.”
Good stuff, right?
What’s abundantly clear is the Thunder have too much talent and too much invested in the coming season to continue playing for draft picks rather than victories.
After two seasons of roster contortions and injuries that stubbornly never healed in the name of not winning, Thunder Nation can tune back in again.
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