The Oklahoma City Thunder ran headfirst into the buzzsaw that was the San Antonio Spurs, and now the team has to face another offseason trying to answer questions about how to get itself over the hump.
Unlike most true championship contenders, however, the Thunder have two first-round draft picks to work with, and with those picks comes a number of different options for general manager Sam Presti to consider.
Some of the bigger, most discussed possibilities and storylines will be analyzed here in an attempt to identify the best move for the Thunder to finally be the last team standing amidst the confetti.
Drafting a Replacement for Thabo Sefolosha
Thabo Sefolosha is a free agent this offseason, and his playoff performance hardly did him any favors when it comes to re-signing with the Thunder.
OKC is in dire need of solid two-way players, and Sefolosha did more harm than good for the offense last year.
Presti might want to keep him around as a perimeter stopper, so this option may not necessarily mean Sefolosha leaves the team, but the Thunder can use one of their draft picks to add a possible starter at shooting guard (depending on what they do with Reggie Jackson, but more on that later).
These are the potential 2-guards that could fall to the Thunder with either of their picks (21st and 29th overall):
- Jordan Adams, UCLA (6’5”, 209 pounds): He’s a crafty and intelligent guard who lost significant weight before the combine. He’s a solid perimeter shooter but could stand to get better in that regard. He was a solid defensive presence for UCLA.
- Jordan Clarkson, Missouri (6’5”, 186 pounds): An improved shooting stroke has opened eyes at workouts, and he has the versatility to play both guard spots.
- P.J. Hairston, D-League (6’5”, 229 pounds): Character and maturity concerns abound after getting dismissed from North Carolina, but Hairston has the tools to be a perfect three-and-D complement to Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook.
- Zach LaVine, UCLA (6’6”, 181 pounds): LaVine has a very slender frame, but he’s young (19 years old) and has elite athleticism. His outside shot needs a lot of work, but LaVine’s upside makes him an absolute steal in the 20s.
- Nik Stauskas, Michigan (6’6”, 207 pounds): It’s unlikely that Stauskas falls this far, but anything can happen in such a stacked draft. His defense needs work, but he’s THE best shooter in the draft and a much better playmaker than anybody gives him credit for.
- C.J. Wilcox, Washington (6’5”, 201 pounds): Wilcox is one of the best shooters in the draft, and he has the athleticism to defend his position nicely in the NBA. Shooting is his elite trait, and it’s one the Thunder desperately need.
- James Young, Kentucky (6’7”, 213 pounds): His outside shot was underwhelming at Kentucky, but he has natural form and NBA personnel are confident that he’ll be a good shooter at the next level. At 18 years old, the potential is very enticing—especially if he gets his jumper refined.
Maybe this doesn’t happen depending on any trades or free-agent moves the Thunder make, but they need two-way wing players and should be able to scoop up a quality role player (and possible starter) with one of their picks.
Trading for Iman Shumpert
The New York Knicks were shopping Shumpert at last year’s trade deadline, and ESPN’s Marc Stein reveals that the Knicks are still very much interested in trading the fourth-year guard.
Hearing: Knicks have explored possibility of swapping Iman Shumpert for late first-round pick heading into Thursday's draft— Marc Stein (@ESPNSteinLine) June 23, 2014
Stein continued to connect the dots back to OKC:
Links to OKC are inevitable when subject of Shumpert comes up after OKC showed interest in defensive specialist at trade deadline— Marc Stein (@ESPNSteinLine) June 23, 2014
The fact that Presti was so interested in Shumpert last year immediately makes this a plausible scenario, and one of his first-round picks will certainly appeal to the Knicks (who currently have no selections).
Shumpert had a bad 2013-14 season, but Presti would be betting that he was adversely affected by his surroundings (the constant trade chatter and the fact that he was playing for…well, the Knicks).
He’s a versatile wing defender with the agility to check most point guards and the length to bother most small forwards, but he has more offensive upside than Sefolosha and is still only just 23 years old.
Shumpert can opt to become a restricted free agent next summer, so there is some risk associated with the move. But the Thunder can sign him to a qualifying offer or match any offers that come his way and should be able to hold on to him for at least two years.
The Georgia Tech product would be a very good replacement for Sefolosha and has more talent than the Thunder are likely to find at pick No. 29.
At the very least, I’m buying that there is definite and mutual interest. Ultimately, it will come down to which pick the Knicks ask for. If it’s No. 29, OKC should be happy to pull the trigger. If New York wants No. 21, that might be a little steep in such a deep draft where the early twenties are like a normal late lottery pick.
Trading for Arron Afflalo
Along with Iman Shumpert, Arron Afflalo’s name was thrown around before the trade deadline and is sure to surface again, especially since Afflalo is occupying Victor Oladipo’s spot at shooting guard and doesn’t factor into the Orlando Magic’s long-term plans.
In terms of talent, Afflalo is a much better fit for OKC. At 28 years old, he doesn’t have the upside of Shumpert, but he’s a much better perimeter shooter (39 percent for his career) and is just as capable on defense.
Furthermore, Afflalo dealt with his expanded role as “the guy” in Orlando very well last season. OKC shouldn’t hope for him to create too much offense on his own, but his 2013-14 production (18.2 points per game on 46 percent shooting from the floor) shows that he’s capable of shouldering some of the offensive burden.
Adding Afflalo would definitely be an excellent move for the Thunder, but the Magic are probably going to have a steep asking price, according to Berry Tramel of NewsOK.com.
In Tramel’s mock draft, Orlando would get both of OKC’s first-round picks in return, as well as a promising young piece like Jeremy Lamb or Perry Jones for Afflalo.
With the trade exception from the Kevin Martin deal and the increasing cap figures, the salaries could work out, and it would give OKC their best shot to win a title this season.
So why am I selling this hypothetical trade? Because it’s not the move Sam Presti has seemed willing to make.
He places great value on draft picks, and rightfully so given his track record. The idea of giving up two picks and a young player would probably be enough to make Presti balk at the trade.
Note: All draft prospect measurements are courtesy of DraftExpress.com