The Draft lottery has come and gone. Everything Oklahoma City Thunder fans and the front office dealt with over the last season looks like it was worth it after drawing the No. 2 and No. 12 pick (via the Los Angeles Clippers) in the first round of the 2022 NBA Draft. OKC will also draft 30th from the Phoenix Suns.
As Thunder fans, it’s time to start gearing your attention to who the Thunder could potentially snag with the No. 2 pick. There are three names to choose from: Jabari Smith, Paolo Banchero, and Chet Holmgren.
Jabari Smith, 19, Auburn.
Weight: 220 pounds
Jabari Smith is becoming known as the best player in the NBA Draft. He’s the most NBA-ready player in the draft, and he’s projected to go first or second in the draft. The freshman phenom out of Auburn University averaged 16.9 points and 7.4 rebounds, 1.0 blocks, and 1.1 steal on 42.9 percent shooting, including 42.0 percent shooting from three. Atypical of many prototypical NBA big men, Smith is also an 80 percent free-throw shooter.
Smith’s upside is his mobility and versatility. He can handle the ball like a guard, run the court like a guard, shoot like a highly-efficient guard, and defend the perimeter. Dually, he has all the qualities of a productive big man: he’s nimble, stronger than he looks, physical, can finish after contact, and can defend the paint.
Orlando may snag Smith with the No. 1 pick, but if not, it wouldn’t be a bad idea for Presti to bite the bullet.
Paolo Banchero, 19, Duke.
Weight: 250 pounds
Banchero is my favorite simply because of his playing style and how I think he will fit with OKC’s team. The standout forward from Duke University averaged 17.2 points, 7.8 rebounds, and 3.2 assists on 47.8 percent shooting and 72.9 percent shooting from the free-throw line. Although Banchero only shot 33.4 percent from three, his assertive and aggressive playing style on both ends of the floor best fits this Thunder team.
How does his playing style fit when neither Shai Gilgeous-Alexander nor Josh Giddey are overly assertive, aggressive players? That’s the exact reason.
Here’s the truth: Oklahoma City isn’t winning a championship without a star that’s an enforcer. They need a guy that’ll force the topic and honestly, that’s not SGA or Giddey; two players that are great distributors and playmakers, but lack that cut-throat mentality on the court. Banchero is that guy, and he’ll help balance out OKC’s passive style of play.
Chet Holmgren, 20, Gonzaga.
Weight: 194 pounds
Holmgren could be the best player in this draft, or he could be the biggest bust. He could be a franchise player and generational great or a run-of-the-mill guy in the league. The lanky big man from the northwest coast averaged 14.1 points, 9.9 rebounds, 1.9 assists, and 3.7 blocks per game on 60 percent shooting from the floor, 39 percent shooting from three, and 71.7 percent from the free-throw line. On paper, Holmgren is the easiest decision for the Thunder or the Magic, but his lack of size is alarming.
When thinking of players he’d go against in the NBA like Giannis Antetokounmpo, Joel Embiid, Nikola Jokic, Steven Adams, Jonas Valanciunas, and more, it’s scary to think of the physical beating Holmgren may endure at the NBA level. If Holmgren were 40 pounds heavier, he’d be a no-brainer at No. 1.
Think back to previous Thunder drafts, Sam Presti is a sharpshooter when he’s in the top five. In 2007, Presti drafted Kevin Durant’s second overall. He turned out nicely, didn’t he? In 2008, Presti drafted Russell Westbrook fourth overall. He turned out to be one of the most iconic point guards ever. Then in 2009, Presti struck lucky for the third-straight year, drafting James Harden third overall, and he’s turned out to be one of the most revolutionary scorers of a generation. June 23 will be Presti’s highest draft pick since Kevin Durant in 2007. Is it pretty safe to assume that Sam will make the right choice with another generational great player?