The Oklahoma City Thunder enter the 2021 NBA Draft on the top of the totem pole. With six selections, five of which landing in the top 36, Sam Presti will have an abundant amount of dice rolls in a highly-touted class.
Presti’s track record of taking big swings in the draft coupled with a rebuilding roster should make July 29 a breeze in terms of draft selection, but as reported — that may not be the case.
As first reported by Sam Amico of HoopsWire, he’s heard chatted that Thunder GM Sam Presti has “no desire” to select three rookies on guaranteed contracts.
That may put a wrench in things.
Oklahoma City’s lottery aspirations were shattered last month receiving picks no. 6 and no. 18 through the lottery drawing. Even then, the Thunder still salvaged some hope acquiring pick no. 16 in the Al Horford-Kemba Walker swap and have added on picks 34 and 36 in the second round. As an additive, they have a late chip at pick no. 55.
That’s a lot of draft picks. The question is though, how many should they be using?
Under the current roster, Oklahoma City have seven players under guaranteed contracts next year in Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Kemba Walker, Theo Maledon, Ty Jerome, Lu Dort, Darius Bazley, and Aleksej Pokusevski. In addition to Oklahoma City’s six guaranteed deals, they also are under four non-guaranteed contracts with Gabriel Deck, Kenrich Williams, Charlie Brown Jr., and Isaiah Roby.
That’s already ten guys.
Based on last season’s performances, it should be expected that Kenrich Williams’ $2 million deal will be picked up alongside Isaiah Roby’s $1.78 million contract. Despite being age 26, Gabriel Deck flashed enough potential in his 10-game stint with the Thunder to earn a second year on the roster, though he may be a trade piece. Charlie Brown Jr. was a surprising pick-up to close the regular season, but I do not expect the Saint Joe’s. alum to secure a deal.
That leaves up with nine players on the roster.
Oklahoma City delved into overseas play throughout the 2020-21 season. The Thunder first struck a deal with Real Madrid forward Gabriel Deck, but the real prize came in Anadolu Efes guard Vasilije Micic. Micic flirted with the idea of joining Oklahoma City for the upcoming season, though he recently rejoined his European club on a three-year extension, he’s out.
The one underlooked prospect throughout all of Presti’s practices came in the form of Vit Krejci. Krejci was highly sought after by Oklahoma City last season moving up to pick no. 37 in last year’s draft to acquire him. Krejci was sidelined all of last season with an ACL tear suffered last September, but the guard opted to move to Oklahoma City in January in an effort to rehab. In his time off the floor, Krejci has been engulfed into the Thunder’s culture, whether it was attending home games or being at teammates’ birthday parties — he was there. This is not even mentioning how Krejci signed a contract with the Thunder’s G-League Affiliate Blue last season, though, he never suited up.
Now, the 6-foot-8 guard is nearing a full recovery. The Thunder bought out Krejci’s overseas deal with Zaragoza this month, but the fine lining of the agreement may punch him a ticket onto Oklahoma City’s roster. As of reports, overseas buyouts cannot occur for G-League acquisitions, potentially two-way contracts as well. If that’s the case, Krejci will be on the Thunder’s primary roster next season.
Adding even more smoke to the fire, both two-way forwards Josh Hall and Jaylen Hoard had their moments with the Thunder. Hall joined the Thunder as a key UDFA ending an injury-plagued season with a 25-point, 10-rebound performance in the season finale. For Jaylen Hoard, he impressed as a gritty finisher and solid defender in his 19 games averaging 6.1 points, 3.4 rebounds, and 1.3 assists.
Both Hall and Hoard are deserving of an NBA gig, Oklahoma City may not be able to provide this. However, one quirk in the G-League’s two-contract system is teams may resign prior two-way players to a new two-way deal for next season.
I’d expect Josh Hall to receive a two-way extension while Jaylen Hoard, though worthy of a new deal, gets left out.
Oklahoma City will see three players hit the free agent market in Svi Mykhailiuk, Tony Bradley, and Mike Muscala. In the cases of Mykhailiuk and Bradley, the Thunder will have first dibs with the ability to match potential offer sheets. On the other hand, Muscala will be unrestricted, though the veteran has been adamant he’d love to rejoin the group.
The Thunder’s current rotation of SGA, Maledon, Jerome, and Williams makes Mykhailiuk receiving major minutes a difficulty. Svi is a dominant shooter and a wing Oklahoma City has been in need of for five-plus years, but I’d assume he’ll walk. For Mike Muscala, the big man earned his stripes as a stretch five and could be the Thunder’s main veteran leader, but I also expect him to be washed for younger prospects.
Tony Bradley is a hard puzzle. Bradley finished 22-game tenure in Blue and White with career numbers posting 8.7 points and 6.1 rebounds in a sub-20-minute role. Bradley was a decent backup big who did an excellent job rolling and rebounding on both ends, but his lack of a jumpshot goes against the franchise’s “pace and space” play as of late. I’d imagine the Thunder bounce around the possibility of keeping Bradley, but if the price is too much — they may rather invest in the draft.
In free agency, Oklahoma City has had an abysmal history in signing new acquisitions (Patrick Patterson was the franchise’s best signing at the time) and I don’t expect that to change this offseason. Though Oklahoma City will enter the FA pool with a larger pocketbook than most, signing players to large contracts can disrupt future extensions and tarnish Presti’s ability to take on hefty contracts for assets.
My prediction of how many selections Oklahoma City will use is four. I’d anticipate that the Thunder will use the combination of picks no. 16 and 18 in efforts to collect a second lottery pick, or even cash-in on picks no. 34 and 36 to trade into the late first-round.
A golden scenario for the Thunder would involve a stockpile of picks being moved to crack into the top 3, but due to recent reports, a more conservative approach makes more sense here.
In my imaginative scenario, I could see the Thunder trading both 16 and 18 to the New Orleans Pelicans for center Steven Adams and pick no. 10. I believe the Thunder will try and lodge their way into the late first-round but an approach consisting of one of their early seconds plus a veteran (ex: Kenrich Williams) could help seal the deal.
In regards to pick no. 55, any pick here would either be a euro-stash, sold off, or used to get first dibs on a G-League deal.
Planned roster leading into Draft Day (11): Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Kemba Walker, Vit Krejci, Theo Maledon, Ty Jerome, Kenrich Williams, Lu Dort, Darius Bazley, Aleksej Pokusevski, Isaiah Roby and Gabriel Deck. Josh Hall will remain on a two-way contract.
Planned two-way contracts leading into Draft Day (1): Josh Hall
Pick selections: 6, 16, 18, 34, 36, 55
My prediction: Oklahoma City moves up to no. 10 with New Orleans, fails to secure any other trades. Pick no. 55 is used for euro-stash.