Oklahoma City Thunder: 10 Prospects the Thunder Should Target in the Draft
Is it a little too early to project who the Thunder are going to spend their only 2012 draft pick on? Probably. Is that going to stop me from doing it? No way.
In all honesty, Sam Presti may trade the Thunder's solo draft pick away for future draft picks, cash or already established players who could help out the team.
We're 21 games into the season, and the Thunder hold the league's best record at 17-4. The play of Russell Westbrook has been stellar since his $80 million contract, Kevin Durant is averaging 51 percent from the field as a jump shooter, Serge Ibaka is coming off a franchise-best 10 blocks against Dallas, while Harden and Perkins are really coming into their own this season.
What more could the Thunder ask for? With only Nazr Mohammed and Royal Ivey as free agents at the end of the year, the Thunder are set to once again have one of the best and deepest rosters in the league next season.
However, finding a gem with a late first-round pick in a stacked draft class wouldn't be such a bad thing, would it?
Tomas Satoransksy, Combo Guard, Czech Republic
Before everyone jumps down my throat with the, "Uh, why would the Thunder take a combo guard? They already have Russ, Harden, Maynor, Reggie, Cook and Thabo," just hear me out.
James Harden becomes a free agent after next season. Odds are that the Thunder are going to keep him on—they need to, at least. Also, due to Westbrooks' unselfishness, the chances of re-signing Harden are even better.
However, does that mean getting Harden back is guaranteed? Not exactly. Somebody is going to want to offer him a lot of money. I know that Harden has "bros" on the Thunder, but this is a business, not a teenage sleepover.
Maynor becomes a free agent at the same time, and while the Thunder could give him a significantly smaller contract, he may want to test the waters to see what else is out there.
Meet Tomas Satoransky, a 6'7" combo guard from the Czech Republic. At 20 years old with some developing left to do, the Thunder could stash Satoransky in Europe to develop for at least another season—making him available to come over when Maynor and Harden become free agents.
Satoransky is already a polished defender, and at 6'7", he handles the ball like a point guard. The knocks on him right now are his strength and perimeter shooting—both things that could be better after a year or two more in Europe.
Also, look at that picture. Satoransky is a high-flyer. Can you imagine Harden and him coming off the bench together? There would be so much finishing at the rim!
Think about it.
Kevin Jones, Power Forward, West Virginia
In the same vain as the last slide, Serge Ibaka also becomes a free agent after next season. Just like Harden's situation, most Thunder fans expect Harden to be re-signing with the Thunder thanks to Westbrook's unselfish contract.
However, Ibaka has steadily improved ever since his rookie season and has become one of the premiere defenders and shot-blockers in the NBA. Somebody is going to want to pay him a lot of money, too, and I don't expect the Thunder to be able to pay both Harden and Ibaka the amount of money to keep them here and happy.
If Ibaka is the piece to go, then the Thunder need to start thinking about a replacement. West Virginia's Kevin Jones is having a monster senior season, and while he may not be the defensive stalwart Ibaka has proved to be, Jones does provide a much more rounded offensive game that could ultimately help just as much given the Thunder's projected starting five.
Jones is averaging 20.9 points per game, 11.5 rebounds per game and 1.1 blocks per game while shooting 54 percent from the field. Those are beastly numbers to be putting up in the Big East. Despite his breakout season, Jones is still just projected as a second round draft pick.
Because the Thunder will likely have one of the last picks in the first round, they could possibly snatch him up and hope for the best.
Jones is a tough player who isn't afraid to back down his opponents, but at 6'8" Jones is a bit of a "tweener" for the NBA. Luckily, he is able to play both forward positions.
If this pick were to happen, Jones could be brought off the bench next season behind Ibaka and take a year to develop before possibly sliding into the starting lineup.
Doron Lamb, Shooting Guard, Kentucky
Doron Lamb is sneakily sliding under the radar at this point, likely due to the amount of talent that surrounds him at the University of Kentucky.
As of now, ESPN Insider Chad Ford has Lamb as a late first-round pick and ranked at No. 35 overall in the draft class. That means there's a decent chance of him being on the board when the Thunder make their only selection.
Although his height leaves you wanting more from a shooting guard, Lamb makes up for it with his athleticism, wingspan and ever-improving jump shot. So far this season, Lamb is averaging 13.3 points per game while shooting 46 percent (both from the field and from deep). Considering the scorers he has to compete with on his own roster, those are really solid numbers.
Lamb has proven that he has the tools and dribbling ability to also play point guard, even though his natural position is playing off the ball. Does this sound familiar?
I'm not trying to say that Lamb could be Russell Westbrook 2.0, because in reality, they're pretty different players. However, if you team the two up together, I imagine it could be pretty interesting to watch.
Jeffery Taylor, Small Forward, Vanderbilt
Jeffery Taylor is the type of player that could go just past the lottery, or he could still be on the board when the Thunder select with one of the final first-round picks.
For the Thunder's sake, Taylor still being on the board could make things interesting. There's no doubt that Kevin Durant is the Thunder's franchise player, so why would the Thunder want to draft a small forward?
Before the Thunder selected Reggie Jackson in the 2011 draft, I wrote numerous articles and ranted to friends about how the Thunder had to take a small forward to backup Durant this season. When Jordan Hamilton fell in to the Thunder's lap, I thought a miracle had happened.
Then, well, you know the rest. In retrospect, not taking Hamilton could have been the right decision, as he has split time between the Nuggets and their Developmental League team, where as Jackson has proved to be useful in light of Eric Maynor's season-ending injury.
Regardless, Sam Presti still knew that he needed more small forward depth, so he went out and acquired Lazar Hayward from Minnesota. Hayward may pan out, but he has been used sparingly this season and he could definitely be upgraded.
In a roundabout way, we're back to Jeff Taylor—a guy who could come in and be an immediate upgrade, or at the very least, provide more depth at the position. Taylor still needs to work on his perimeter game and decision making (he's averaging nearly three turnovers per game this season), but he is the real deal athletically and on the defensive end of the ball.
That's not to say that he's offensively challenged by any means, as he is averaging over 17 points per game for Vanderbilt this season. Taylor is more of a slasher than a jump shooter, which could be of use for the Thunder's bench.
Andrew Nicholson, Power Forward, St. Bonaventure
Weight: 225 pounds
Andrew Nicholson is a guy that you've probably never heard of, but his name has been rising on the mock draft boards due to his size, work ethic and the overall improvement he's shown throughout his career at St. Bonaventure.
His ability to improve in all areas of the game shows that Nicholson still has a lot of upside. He is one of those gifted players who never started playing organized basketball until late in his life, but now that he's knee-deep in the basketball waters, it's sink or swim for the Canadian recruit.
Playing at St. Bonaventure has certainly derailed Nicholson of garnering much national attention, but his style of play is very similar to Ibaka's, and he may be the next best thing if Ibaka chooses to part ways with the Thunder.
As a junior, Nicholson averaged 20.8 points per game, 7.3 rebounds per game 1.5 blocks per game. This year Nicholson has seen his scoring average drop to 15 points per game, but he has improved his decision making and free-throw shooting—two areas that transfer over very well to the NBA.
A knock on Nicholson is that he needs to get stronger, sometimes getting out-muscled for rebounds. However, offensively he is a monster in the paint, which is something the Thunder are in need of.
Nicholson could be a draft day steal for a team with a late first round pick—you know, like the Thunder have.
Alex Young, Shooting Guard/Small Forward, IUPUI
Alex Young out of IUPUI is another guy that is currently flying way under the radar. Young figures to be a second round pick, but that could all change by the end of the season.
Like the aforementioned Kevin Jones, Jeffery Taylor and Andrew Nicholson, Young is a fourth-year guy who has contributed since he was a freshman. Everything is coming together for Young this year, though, as he is averaging a career-high 20.3 points per game for the Jaguars.
Even though Young plays at a small school, he is actually benefited by the emergence of George Hill as a decent player in the NBA. Hill flew under the radar in the 2008 draft before being selected by San Antonio with the No. 26 pick.
While Young may not be as polished as Hill was upon coming out, he is still a prospect that shouldn't go overlooked. Young has already scored 25-plus points in eight games this season—topped off with a 43-point explosion (an IUPUI record) in a win over Western Kentucky.
Young takes on average five threes per game, so shooting just 30 percent from deep should be something that he continues working on. He does have good range, though, and is explosive while driving.
His ability to score would be a nice commodity off the bench for the Thunder, who currently rely on Harden to absorb over-the-bulk of the bench points.
Robert Sacre, Center, Gonzaga
I'm not going to lie, I'm not too high on Robert Sacre. He is currently playing through his senior year at Gonzaga, and overall, I feel like his college career has been underwhelming.
With that being said, Sacre does possess one quality that can't be taught: size. He has an NBA-ready frame at 7'0" and 247 pounds, and his length comes in handy on the defensive side of the ball. His shot-blocking ability could be a valuable asset if Ibaka were to fly the coop.
Also, with Nazr Mohammed becoming a free agent on top of providing minimal production for the Thunder this year, Sacre could step in and provide the needed front-court depth that Mohammed is unable to provide (provide well, I should say).
On offense, Sacre is still quite raw and unpolished. He can score with his back to the basket, but he needs to work on more of an offensive repertoire with post moves and a mid-range jump shot.
While the selection of Sacre isn't as exciting as some of the previous mentioned possibilities, he may be the smartest selection due to the reliability factor. Sam Presti would know ahead of time what he's going to get out of Sacre—rebounding and blocks.
Guys like Andrew Nicholson and Alex Young are sexier picks, but also have more "bust" potential. Sacre may never be a starting center in the NBA, but he will be a guy who can provide solid depth and productive bench minutes.
JaMychal Green, Power Forward, Alabama
JaMychal Green is a hard prospect to figure out. I really enjoy watching him play due to his ability to seem more athletic than anyone else on the court (see: picture), but at the same time I'm not quite sure he's ready to come in and provide production for an NBA squad.
Still, he's a guy the Thunder should look at closer, because that kind of athletic ability doesn't just come around every day.
Even though he's a tad undersized for power forward at the next level, his length overcompensates for any height deficiencies he may have. When you combine his length and his athleticism, what do you get? A really nice shot-blocker.
Green has averaged at least 1.6 blocks per game throughout his career at Alabama. Last season as a junior, Green averaged 2.1 blocks per game, which is a really nice stat for a 6'8" power forward.
There are some things that he needs to work on, though, and most of them start with his inconsistent jump shot. Green is shooting a career best 55 percent from the field, but I can only assume most of his buckets are coming from within the paint.
His game reminds me of Ibaka's of a year or two ago. He still needs to work on a mid-range jumper, he has virtually no outside game at all, but he's ultra-athletic, a good finisher and a great shot-blocker.
I think Green has a lot of upside, but that all depends on the amount of work he's willing to put in.
Lucas Nogueira, Center, Brazil
JaMychal Green's overall game is a good comparison to Ibaka's skill set from a year or two ago, but Lucas Nogueira may very well be Ibaka's clone.
First off, the size is about the same. Ibaka certainly has more bulk to his frame, but both are around 6'10" or 6'11". Second, they play the exact same way.
Both players are athletic for their size—enough so to run the court well and finish at the rim off the dribble. Both players are excellent rebounders and feared shot-blockers. The difference between the two (right now) is that Ibaka has developed a mid-range game, where as Nogueira still needs to find a reliable jump shot.
With that being said, Nogueira may already be more polished with his back to the basket than Ibaka currently is. Nogueira has tremendous upside and here's the best part—he's only 19.
That means, like I mentioned with the possible Tomas Satoransky pick, the Thunder could essentially keep Nogueira in Brazil for a year or two to develop before having him join the lineup.
I like everything about this pick, but there-in lies the only problem—how many GMs are going to like this pick, as well? Nogueira is a guy who could make a late push into the mid-first round, canceling out any chances for the Thunder to select him.
However, Nogueira currently sits as a "first round bubble pick" according to Chad Ford, and if teams think he won't be ready to join their team for a year or two, he could be sitting pretty at the end of the first round for the Thunder to calmly snatch up.
Here's a fun stat for you...Nogueira scored 22 points, pulled down 14 rebounds and had three blocks against the United States in the FIBA Americas U18 Championship.
Le'Bryan Nash, Small Forward, Oklahoma State
This could be the riskiest pick for the Thunder, and I think that's why I may like it the most. It's always fun to gamble, right?
Le'Bryan Nash is playing just down the road from the Thunder in Stillwater, OK with Oklahoma State, so there's no way that he won't go unlooked for the remainder of the season. At 6'7" and 230 pounds, Nash has one of the most NBA ready builds in the entire draft.
He's incredibly athletic (again, see: picture) and has the ability to break down defenders with the dribble and get to the rim with relative ease. Through 22 games, Nash is averaging 13.3 points per game and 4.9 rebounds per game.
Nash has had some struggle with his shot, as he's only shooting 39 percent from the field and a rather abysmal 26 percent from deep, but he's also scored over 20 points six times this year including a 27 point outburst that led his Cowboys in a victory over then No. 2 Missouri.
Nash is likely just going through the ups and downs of transitioning to college hoops as a freshman, but he does have a nice jump shot, a great first step and explosive leaping ability. His build and physical style of play make him a great defender, as well. That is, when he feels like playing defense.
That's the one knock on Nash: his maturity. That alone makes him a risky selection for the Thunder, especially for a guy like Sam Presti who has a reputation for only filling his roster with quality character guys.
However, if Nash is still on the board when the Thunder make their selection, there's almost no doubt that he'll be the best player available. If Harden doesn't re-sign, then drafting Nash seems genius, but if he does, then you have a logjam with Harden, Thabo, Durant and Nash all demanding playing time.
What's going to happen if Harden ends up starting and Nash takes on Harden's role as sixth man? Is that something that he's going to enjoy and make the best of, or are his maturity issues going to get the best of him?
These are questions that Presti is going to have to ask himself when mulling over what to do with his only pick in the draft, but who are we kidding, he's likely just going to get rid of the pick, anyway.