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What to expect from the Oklahoma City Thunder in tonight’s NBA Draft

After a full year’s wait — the big moment is finally here. Tonight at 7 pm CST, sixty prospects will hear their name called at the 2021 NBA Draft, and Oklahoma City should have their markings all over it.

To set the stage, all thirty first-round selections will yield the pick’s rightful owner five minutes to make a draft choice. In the second round, all thirty of those picks will yield their rightful owner two minutes to tab a prospect. 

The trading market will be open throughout Thursday morning but will lockout at 2 pm CST. Trades will be reopened upon the draft’s initiation at 7 pm CST. During this lay-low period, trades cannot be made official by the league, but trade offers will still very much be flooding through the door.

Expect Oklahoma City to be active throughout the day.

WIth picks no. 6, 16, and 18 in the first round coupled with 34, 36, and 55 in the second round, Oklahoma City has the largest load of ammo in terms of draft capital headed into the night. On top of their already loaded clip this season, they currently own 17 first-round picks and 18 second-round picks over the next six seasons. They have the assets.

The question that will waver throughout the day and into the war room will be how far their assets may actually go. Upon last month’s lottery draw, it was anticipated Oklahoma City had a clear avenue to trading up into the draft — that’s not a guarantee anymore. 

The first pick in the draft will belong to the Detroit Pistons. It has been, though never verified, reported that the Thunder have offered Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and pick no. 6 to move to the class’ throne — but even then Detroit has not budged. As per Adrain Wojnarowski, the Pistons “have landed” on Oklahoma State point guard Cade Cunningham, and unless blown away via trade — he’s suiting up in the Motor City. 

At pick number two, the Houston Rockets will take the board. Houston, as a product of trading for Russell Westbrook in 2019, owes the Thunder their own first-round pick in 2024 and 2026 in addition to a pick swap in 2025. With that stated, Oklahoma City could offer the Rockets all of their selections back alongside pick no. 6 and potentially move capital for pick no. 2, but it appears Jalen Green will be their guy.    

The best route for Oklahoma City to peek into the top 3 will come in the way of Cleveland. The Cleveland Cavaliers are approaching an impending financial crisis needing to resign Collin Sexton and Jarrett Allen to major extensions over the next year. A method of dealing with the Cavaliers would come from collecting Kevin Love in a package. Love, age 31, places a major burden on Cleveland’s salary table making $60 million over the next two years — the Thunder can bring him on. If Oklahoma City has the go-ahead for a deal involving Love and picks no. 3, additional picks at no. 16 and 18 would almost need to be shipped away for a deal, likely needing an extra player or future pick to tie a knot on things. Evan Mobley out of USC should be the pick here.

Picks 4 and 5 will be held by Toronto and Orlando respectively. Toronto is stuck on the fence between rebuild and playoff mode under their current roster, so blockbuster moves should not be ruled out with them. However, if Toronto is looking to slide back in the draft, Oklahoma City’s price to pay may be too much for what it’s worth. This also applies to pick no. 5 with Orlando. 

Consolidation packages with a bundle of picks no. 16 and 18 should be in the running for most picks in the mid-late lottery. Sacramento at pick no. 9 traded down from pick no. 10 for two mid-seconds in the 2017 draft, so two dice rolls could make some sense. The Indiana Pacers at pick no. 13 also could be in play if they see little star-power at their selection. 

The Brooklyn Nets should be a team to monitor late in the first round as with guards Bruce Brown and Spencer Dinwiddie expecting a payday they’ll be penny-pinching this offseason. Oklahoma City could dish out their second-round picks in 34 and 36 to move up with them at pick no. 27, take on center DeAndre Jordan’s two-year contract as a piece. If that is the case, a win-now, cost-effective deal such as Kenrich Williams still may tickle their fancy.

As for transactions not primarily focused on draft picks, Kemba Walker is Oklahoma City’s lone player expected to be actively displayed on the market. As an offseason transaction last month, Walker is making over $107 million over the next three years. Plus, at age 31, he’s not in line with the Thunder’s youth movement.

Names to look out for with Oklahoma City’s picks

Pick no. 6 still allows for a bevy of options for the Thunder. The assumed board of prospects at this spot will reside in, barring any shockers, Florida State forward Scottie Barnes, G-League Ignite forward Jonathan Kuminga, and UConn guard James Bouknight. The expectation is one of these three names will be taken before Oklahoma City’s selection.

The safe route with Oklahoma City’s no. 6 pick will come from  UConn guard James Bouknight. 

Bouknight, age 20, is seen as the perfect backcourt tandem alongside Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. Bouknight averaged 18.7 points, 5.7 rebounds, and 1.8 assists in his sophomore campaign, though his 29.3% outing from distance sounded some alarms. Despite the low three-ball, Bouknight was shooting in the mid-thirties from distance prior to a shoulder injury — and put on a masterful display shooting at his pro day. His comparison to this Thunder is that of CJ McCollum to Damian Lillard, a complimentary iso-scorer who can take control, or can hide into space. 

The wild card option, and my personal favorite, rests in G-League Ignite forward Jonathan Kuminga. Kuminga was a no-brainer top 5 pick last month, but a recent rise in forward Scottie Barnes has placed him to six most likely. At six, Kuminga has the highest ceiling of available prospects, but also a relatively low floor — the granddaddy of boom-or-bust picks. Kuminga is an uber-athletic 6-foot-8 forward who has elite athleticism, interior scoring, and drops of both shot-creation and multi-positional defense. The lengthy 18-year-old shot below 25% from downtown last season, but on a near five attempts a night, the confidence was there. If Kuminga pans out from distance, not only is he a nice piece next to SGA, but he could be the “piece” himself. If things go awry, however, his floor could see him as an athletic defensive specialist incapable of taking over on offense. 

Here’s my take on Kuminga.

Selections 16 and 18 will likely be on it’s way out for trade-up purposes, but if not traded, solid options are available. Of the most unlikely to be available are guards Josh Giddey and Moses Moody. Either guard would outsource help to the Thunder as Giddey is an intriguing 6-foot-8 playmaker while Moody is a “safe bet” as a premier defender who can also create on offense — think Mikal Bridges. 

Those who are seen as late-lottery to mid-first-round talent are Keon Johnson and Alperen Sengun. Johnson is an electric guard out of Tennessee with unprecedented athleticism and pressure defensively. Johnson has the room to be this year’s steal if he grows into a reliable shooter, if not, look to him as a spark plug off the bench. Alperen Sengun is a tantalizing 19-year-old with elite-level footwork and interior ability but needs to work on shooting outside of the paint.  

The likeliest available options reach a deep range for the Thunder, meaning there’s a flurry of choices to be made. The Thunder could chase after potential-filled forwards Jalen Johnson or Ziare Williams. They also could go the route of selecting high-scoring guards in Cameron Thomas or Nah’Shon Bones Hyland. In the frontcourt, names Isaiah Todd and JT Thor are expected to fall into the late first round, but their astounding skill sets in their respective frames could swindle Presti to strike early.

Picks 34 and 36 are signaled to be dealt off this evening for a move-up, but value still sits around these positions, for an indicator, Theo Maledon was selected 34th last season. Forwards Isaiah Todd or JT Thor are dream destinations here, but unlikely. If the Thunder strike here, boom-or-bust candidates in Josh Primo, Tre Mann, Josh Christopher among others should be in the running. A high-floor, low-ceiling 22-year-old is fairly safe to bet against here.

Pick 55 is almost 100% to be sold off, flipped, or used on a draft-and-stash piece. But, we’ll toss Shawnee State’s EJ Onu in here. 

What to expect with Sam Presti

Expect the unexpected with Sam Presti. Presti’s vault of future assets plus current young pieces means his trade offers may genuinely blow a team away to the point of Oklahoma City advancing up the board. Murmurs of Shai being available could very well be true, but even then, don’t expect him to be dealt for anything less than a superstar return. Outside of Shai though, it’s hard to see why any other player would be off of the table, though asking prices would be sky high for some.

As a conservative approach, expect a trade or two coming out of Oklahoma City specifically in regards to moving picks 16 and 18, and picks 34 and 36 in packages. 

The Draft will commence at 7 pm CST tonight. Regardless of which turn it will take for the Thunder, fireworks are to be expected.

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