Could Jeff Withey be a late steal for the Thunder in the draft?
A perennial championship contender when healthy, the Oklahoma City Thunder will look to bolster their already formidable lineup by adding some sleepers in this month’s draft.
With the No. 12, the No. 29 and the No. 32 picks, the Thunder are in solid position to either trade up on draft night or develop some young talent. The organization’s last three lottery picks have been remarkable, selecting Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden. General manager Sam Presti is one of the best in the business and should make the right decision at No. 12.
The other two picks are another story, however. Late picks that can produce are hard to come by. At best, these players typically turn into solid role players. While the current crop of amateurs is not as deep as it has been in years past, Presti might be wise to grab Erick Green, Jeff Withey or Lorenzo Brown, potential sleepers that could fall under the radar.
Erick Green, Virginia Tech
With some development, Erick Green could become a serviceable backup guard behind the electric Westbrook. When No. 0 was injured in the team’s first-round series, the Houston Rockets exposed the Thunder’s lack of perimeter depth.
Against a stingy Memphis Grizzlies team, Durant looked awfully helpless without his point guard running mate. Reggie Jackson certainly exceeded expectations, but the Thunder could use another guard as insurance.
Scoring an incredible 25.0 points per game for Virginia Tech last season, Erick Green is a lanky 6’4” combo guard who could fit in nicely off the bench. He is capable of playing point guard, having dropped 3.8 assists per game last season.
With Westbrook and Durant as the primary ball-handlers, the Thunder do not have a traditional point guard. Green fits in well with this trend, as he might be a shooting guard masquerading as a point guard.
His adept 38.9 percent clip from three-point range last season makes him a floor spacer that could fit in nicely alongside OKC’s shooters.
Expected to fall somewhere between No. 25 and No. 35, Green could be a welcome addition to Loud City.
Jeff Withey, Kansas
The senior Kansas center, Withey has elevated his game tremendously over his four years in Lawrence. A starter on last season’s Sweet 16 team, Withey averaged 13.7 points and 8.5 rebounds per game, career highs in both categories.
Playing over 30 minutes a night, the big man still converted a stellar 58.2 percent of his field goals. Unlike some miserable big-man shooters, Withey also knocked down a decent 71.4 percent of his free throws.
Withey was a monster defender last season, dominating opponents in the Big 12 and averaging 3.9 blocks per game. While that number will not be nearly as high in the pros, Withey could compose an intimidating front line alongside the league’s leading shot-blocker, Ibaka.
Expected to fall near the end of the first round, Withey might be a savvy addition to an already loaded Thunder roster.
Lorenzo Brown, North Carolina State
Averaging 7.2 assists per game last season, North Carolina State’s Lorenzo Brown was one of the best playmakers in the ACC.
Brown is a crafty 6’5” combo guard who could bring court vision and length to an athletic Thunder backcourt. The NC State product will certainly need some time to develop, however.
Despite his playmaking prowess, Brown turned the ball over an average of 3.5 times per game last season. His near 2-1 assist-to-turnover ratio could become catastrophic against smothering NBA defenses.
Which of these players would fit best on the Thunder?
His improvement between his sophomore and junior seasons was also suspect. Other than improving by about one assist per game, Brown took a hit in points per game, rebounds per game and field-goal percentage.
However, given the Thunder’s ability to develop young guards, Brown could be the perfect second-round pick. He is a leader that stuffs the stat sheet.
Beyond his 7.2 assists per game, Brown also scored 12.4 points per game and hauled in 4.3 boards. In a huge win over then-No. 1 Duke, Brown scored 12 points to go along with 13 dimes to lead the Wolfpack to a stunning 84-76 victory over the Blue Devils.
While he put up some duds against top teams during the regular season, Brown left it all on the court in the NCAA tournament. In a second-round matchup against the Temple Owls, Brown dropped 22 points and nine assists on 60 percent shooting in a tight 76-72 loss for the No. 8 seed Wolfpack.
Brown would likely spend most of his rookie year on the bench if he is drafted by OKC, playing behind Westbrook and Jackson. However, in short spurts, Brown could be a nice change-of-pace guard to spell Jackson.
Expected to fall somewhere in the second round, OKC management could take a gamble and nab the playmaking guard.
All statistics used from ESPN.com, Basketball-Reference.com, NBADraft.net and DraftExpress.com.