6 Players the Oklahoma City Thunder Need to Target with Their Draft Pick
After coming off their longest, most emotionally draining win of the season, the Thunder look poised to take control of their second round match-up as momentum heads back to Oklahoma City on Wednesday night.
This will obviously be the biggest game of the season, but it will also be the biggest game in many of the Thunder players' young careers. Scott Brooks and his players will be focused on finishing out the playoffs strong, which is something that 25 other teams can't currently say.
For those other 25 teams, it's time to think about the off-season, player contracts, and the NBA Draft, set for June 23, a little over a month away.
There is no way that Scott Brooks can be thinking about the draft, but I can guarantee that Thunder GM Sam Presti is. With only one pick in the draft—which is in the late first round—Presti doesn't have much room for error.
Of course, with only one upcoming free-agent on the Thunder roster (Nazr Mohammed, who I'm sure they'll try to re-sign), Presti very well may trade away his only pick for future picks, cap space, or may even be disinterested due to the lack of depth among potential NBA players in this draft.
Whatever the case, with the 24th pick, I'm convinced that somebody is going to be available that can help out the Thunder. So, if you're reading this Mr. Presti, here are some quality guys to go after.
You can thank me later.
Justin Harper (6'10", F, Richmond)
Many mock drafts have the Thunder taking the 6'10" Forward with their only pick in the draft. I couldn't agree with this more.
Harper—who averaged 17.9 PPG and led his 12th ranked Spiders to the Sweet 16—is the perfect compliment to the Thunder's new-found bash brothers—Serge Ibaka and Kendrick Perkins.
All the people who were upset when Presti dealt crowd favorite Jeff Green to Boston for Perkins would be getting the perfect replacement. It may even be an upgrade, as Harper stands two inches taller than Green, making him more physically reliable than Green was guarding posts.
Also, it's obvious that the Thunder are in need of a scoring boost to their front-court. When the Green/Perkins trade went down, many people undervalued the departure of Nenad Krstic and his importance to the Thunder's offense.
Ibaka is developing, sure, but Perkins is quite possibly the most offensively-challenged post player in the league. Harper provides a long frame that's hard to guard that can also hit jump shots out to three point range.
If that isn't enough, he's also quick enough to blow by other post players who may be defending him on the perimeter. He's actually a combo-forward, which would give the Thunder depth at both the Small Forward and the Power Forward.
Harper is the perfect fit for the Thunder, and my guess is that he'll be available.
Nicola Mirotic (6'10", F, Montenegro)
This is really more of a reach, as many mock drafts have Mirotic falling into the second round. With that being said, Mirotic may be the best shooting big man in the draft.
This could and should interest Presti. Like Harper, Mirotic would provide some much needed scoring to the Thunder front-court.
One knock on Mirotic is his lack of body strength for a big man, but I say having a 6'10" marksman on your roster is never a bad thing, especially when you have Perkins, Ibaka, and Nick Collison on your roster who you know are going to do some dirty work on the inside.
I can't press enough why the ability to stretch the floor is important for this Thunder roster. Russell Westbrook would see a spike in both his assists and lay-up attempts per game. With two big men currently clogging the inside, Westbrook is relying way too much on his improved, yet vastly unpolished outside jumper.
JaJuan Johnson (6'10", F, Purdue)
Assuming that everybody who is currently playing for the Thunder will be playing for them again next year gives Presti an opportunity to take a chance on a prospect.
Meet JuJuan Johnson: Big Ten Player of the Year, Consensus All-American, and college graduate.
Johnson really bloomed in his senior year at Purdue, averaging 20.5 PPG, 8.6 RPG, and 2.3 BPG. But while his stats and awards look great on paper, it's all about how great his body is going to look in the NBA, which is, apparently, his biggest downside.
While Johnson stands 6'10" and uses his lanky frame to his advantage defensively, he lacks the weight and body strength to bang around in the post against bigger opponents. He was able to get away with it in college, but the NBA will be a different story.
His offensive game steadily improved each year he was at Purdue, but his inflated numbers his senior year could have partly been due to Robbie Hummel's absence. He will need to improve his jump shot in order to have a solid impact in the NBA.
Right now, he's a really great 3/4 candidate on a team that plays up-tempo, and I think that's why Presti should take a look at him. Like Johnson, the Thunder thrive in the open-court. He could provide solid depth to the Thunder's roster immediately.
Johnson is a good enough scorer and defender to get playing time at the next level, but if he gets drafted by the right team, his value could really soar.
Tyler Honeycutt (6'8", SG/SF, UCLA)
After an improved sophomore season at UCLA, Honeycutt has decided to enter the NBA draft. Many believe that Honeycutt would have benefited from staying an extra year at UCLA, and while they may be true, this actually works out well for the Thunder.
Had Honeycutt stayed, he would have likely improved his current mid-to-late first round draft status, almost completely knocking out the Thunder's chances of getting him (barring a complete collapse next season).
Sure, his 12.8 PPG and 7.2 RPG aren't incredibly impressive numbers, but he became a more solid offensive and defensive player (2.1 BPG by a SF is impressive) in his time spent at UCLA, and his potential is untapped.
He would not only provide much needed depth at SF for the Thunder, but he could eventually (and hopefully) take Thabo Sefalosha's current role as defensive stopper—only Honeycutt would actually be able to play offense, as well.
If Honeycutt falls to No. 24, he'd be tough for Presti to pass on.
Although, I still think Harper is a better fit for what the Thunder truly need at the moment. Honeycutt just provides something that the Thunder can mold for the future.
Nolan Smith (6'3", PG, Duke), Kyle Singler (6'8", SF, Duke)
I decided to make this draft choice a tandem pick because I feel like both Smith and Singler are highly underrated prospects. And, you know, they both graduated from the same school.
Singler would be the best pick for the Thunder out of the two, solely because I think the Thunder's glaring weaknesses are front-court offense and depth at SF; Singler provides both of those.
His numbers dipped slightly his senior year, but he still had a great season in terms of both offensive production and being a leader for his team. Singler is a hard-nosed, do everything right type of player that Mike Krzyzewski seems to keep molding. He would be an asset to any team that drafts him.
Smith is the sexier pick. While he is also a hard-nosed, do everything right type of player, he brings a level of intensity and a grab-bag of offensive prowess that Singler doesn't possess.
While Kyrie Irving was down with an injury, Smith led his team on the court with stellar performance after stellar performance, all the way to obtaining a one-seed in the NCAA Tournament.
He was on top of his game, and even though people don't like to think Irving's return to the court for the Tournament had anything to do with Smith's less impressive outings and Duke's earlier-than-predicted departure, they're wrong.
Smith had to get used to playing off the ball again—being a second fiddle to the possible No. 1 draft pick—and it just didn't work out.
Smith is a point guard at heart, and while some NBA teams may draft him in hopes of getting an off-ball guard, they're going to be "stuck" with a really, really good point guard, and a really, really good leader.
The only way I can see Smith being drafted by the Thunder, though, is if Westbrook decides he wants to test free agency and not re-sign with the Thunder. If that's the case, Nolan Smith would be a great pick.