All the Oklahoma City Thunder had to do on Wednesday night was lose to the Miami Heat, and they would have been rewarded an additional first-round pick in this year’s draft over the Philadelphia 76ers. Miami Heat head coach Eric Spoelstra threw in the towel at the start of the second quarter, opting to rest his starters because they’ve solidified the fourth spot in the Eastern Conference. Thunder head coach Billy Donovan followed Spoelstra by also pulling his starters halfway through the third frame.
The stage was set for the Thunder to lose this game. They were trailing by 13 points with Devon Hall and Darius Bazley, yes, 20-year old, 6-foot-10 stretch-four Bazley alternating running the offense.
With the reserves in, everything seemed to be going according to plan. OKC reached their largest deficit by trailing the Heat by 22 points with 10:21 remaining in the game. The draft pick was in the bag. I wouldn’t be surprised if Sam Presti was at his house pouring up in celebration of the secured pick. But, Bazley and the Thunder’s “C” team decided to follow the Thunder’s ‘comeback kid’ reputation they’ve built this season. From that point on, the Thunder’s young core went on a 34-11 run to end the game, and the kid that essentially made the highschool-to-NBA jump led the charge with 16 of those points.
Presti and Thunder fans should rest easy tonight knowing that their team is in good hands and primed for a successful future with, or without that pick that now belongs to the 76ers, who may be revamping ‘the Process” after this season.
The NBCA considers Donovan this season’s best coach. Oklahoma City also has the consensus heir to Russell Westbrook’s former throne in Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, who has averaged 19.1 points, 6.0 rebounds, and 3.4 assists per game in his second season. That’s in addition to the clear benefit of having Chris Paul as an older leader, whether he’s here for three more months or three more years. Steven Adams just turned 27 years old, Dennis Schröder, also under 30, is worthy of the Sixth Man of the Year Award, and Luguentz Dort was undrafted but is showing signs of being a more offensive-minded Andre Roberson, while Hamidou Diallo continues to polish his game and gain confidence.
With this core, including what we know about Bazley and his upside, OKC didn’t necessarily need the draft pick. Young players must achieve as much success as possible early in their careers. We’ve seen what a slither of success has done for guys like Shai, Bazley, Dort, and Diallo’s confidence. Their latest 22-point 10-minute comeback victory without their veteran leaders may have placed their confidence in a completely different tier, which could be scary if used correctly in the playoffs.
The point is, the Thunder still hold Denver’s first-round pick this season. The young core needed this victory, and Billy Donovan was able to evaluate his young players when a game is on the line. It’s honestly a win-win for all parties involved.