I heard various names thrown around in terms of who the Thunder needed to select with their 21st and 29th picks. I heard so many different names, in fact, that I decided to plug “2014 NBA Mock Draft” into a search engine to see the results, deciding that I would finally stop when I started running across the same names multiple times. I ended up churning out a list as long as it was varied.
The names that I heard mentioned in connection with the 21st and 29th picks of the 2014 NBA Draft are as follows (in no particular order): TJ Warren, Clint Capela, Jordan Adams, P.J. Hairston, Zach LaVine, Jusuf Nurkic, K.J. McDaniels, Jordan Clarkson, Rodney Hood, Glenn Robinson III, C.J. Wilcox, Cleanthony Early, Walter Tavares, Elfrid Payton, Thanasis Antetokounmpo, Shabazz Napier, Dario Saric, Kyle Anderson, Damien Inglis, Adreian Payne, Nick Johnson, DeAndre Kane, Andrew Harrison, James Young, Spencer Dinwiddie, and Kristaps Porzingis (before he pulled his name from the draft altogether) among others. Notice how that list pretty much contains anyone projected to be selected between the mid-1st round and mid-2nd round?
I would have said that the list failed to contain the actual picks at the 21st and 29th positions, but oddly enough, the CBS Draft Machine and Kevin Hanson had the Thunder selecting Mitch McGary at #29. And perhaps even more odd, Drafttek.com called our 21st pick outright shortly before he was selected. Now Josh Huestis, on the other hand, was the first round pick no one saw coming.
The disappointment among the Thunder groups I’m a member of on Facebook was very noticeable after the 29th selection. My groups were very active towards the beginning of the NBA Draft, with all kinds of speculation being thrown out there as to who the Thunder would ultimately select. There were a few groans after pick #21, but a few of my group members were rather quick to jump to McGary’s defense, reminding others that he was projected to be a high lottery pick before his back injury. But when Huestis was selected with the 29th pick, the once-heavy traffic among those groups slowed to a crawl, as every member among them was no doubt asking themselves the exact same question, “Who?”
But apparently that was not the last move of the night for the Thunder, as they acquired the rights to the 55th overall pick, Semaj Christon, from the Charlotte Hornets in exchange for cash considerations. Most Thunder fans were not even aware of this move until the following morning, as they were still reeling from the out-of-nowhere 29th pick.
I’m going to go ahead and break down the strengths and weaknesses of all three players, then tell you how I think they could potentially fit in with the Thunder.
C Mitch McGary: 6’10″ 266 lbs. (Michigan)
Strengths - Looking at game film on this kid, there were two things about him that stuck out immediately for me. The first thing is that he really knew how to throw his weight around in the low post. Guys like 210 lb. Cleanthony Early and 222 lb. Clint Capela would get eaten for lunch in the low post by guys like Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol. McGary looks like a big man who would be able to hold his ground against the low-post bruisers of the NBA. Then again, when you’ve drawn comparisons to Bill Laimbeer, there’s the possibility of you becoming a low-post bruiser yourself. The second thing was that he has a pretty good mid-range shot, and looks like he can drop the occasional 3-ball as well. Plus, he doesn’t mind getting the “garbage shots”, or passing out of the low post if needed. He displays a high basketball IQ as well.
Weaknesses - He is quite inexperienced, especially for a player of his age. His aggressive style of play also leaves him open to drawing regular fouls. He also plays with so much emotion and energy, it is feared that this kid’s play may not remain consistent over the course of an 82-game season.
Final Take - Sure this kid could have potentially been taken at #29, but the thing about Sam Presti is that he has a tendency to draft for specific needs as opposed to grabbing the best available player. McGary provides a big body that will be tough to move in the low post, and he can set screens that have the effectiveness of hockey checks at times. I can tell he was drafted as the answer to Nick Collison’s eventual departure, and I’m really liking this pick myself. I have a good feeling he’s going to fit in quite nicely on the OKC roster, even at the 5 spot. Despite his 6’10″ height, he has a 7′ even wingspan, and an 8’11.5″ standing reach, which will allow him the ability to get low post points over 7+-footers.
SF Josh Huestis: 6’8″ 215 lbs. (Stanford)
Strengths - He’s a hard worker and hustle player who shows a tendency to play very disruptive perimeter defense. He’s also well conditioned and plays great off of the ball. What I like about him is his tendency to challenge shots and he also plays great help-side defense. Plus, he rarely finds himself in foul trouble, despite his aggressiveness on defense.
Weaknesses - He’s not a consistent jump shooter or ball handler, which really hurts his stock at the offensive end. Plus, you can’t really expect him to stretch the floor much, and he’s not really efficient on isolation plays either. Despite having a shooting stroke he could potentially improve, he doesn’t really show you much else at the offensive end of the floor.
Final Take - Presti has made bold picks before, and he definitely raised more than a few eyebrows with this selection. It looks to me as though Presti was more concerned than he initially let on about losing Thabo Sefolosha’s perimeter defense, and that was the motivation behind this selection. The problem is, with his weight, he gives up 25 pounds to Kevin Durant, who is a bit small for the 4 spot even with his 240 lb. frame. And being relegated to the 3 spot, I don’t see him getting much playing time with Durant starting at the same position. Personally, I see this kid spending much of his rookie year with the Tulsa 66ers, and learning to transition to the 2 spot, where he would be of more use to the Thunder.
PG Semaj Christon: 6’3″ 186 lbs. (Xavier)
Strengths - He may be a somewhat rangy PG prospect, but he has incredible physical tools for the position housing a 6’6″ wingspan. He also gives the Thunder great end-to-end speed and solid athletic ability. He’s fearless in cutting to the rim with his aggressive style of play, and has shown an ability to finish above the rim. He’s also great at drawing fouls, and can contort his body to convert difficult shots. He also shows great defensive ability, and can guard either the 1 or 2 spots with equal efficiency. I also like his toughness, and the fact that he isn’t turnover-prone. Plus, he also shows a good ability to drive the lane and subsequently dish the ball to an open shooter on the perimeter.
Weaknesses - For all of his athletic ability, he’s still quite raw and inexperienced. He doesn’t show much confidence in his jumper, and it’s still a work in progress, as teams will actually flat-out dare him to shoot from the perimeter. He’s also still developing as a floor general, as he doesn’t dictate pace very well, and isn’t much of a passer outside of the drive-and-dish situation. Another concern of mine is how he displays a shaky handle, especially when forced to use his left hand. He will also need to improve his floor vision, and curb a bit of his “ball-hog” tendency. I’d also like to see him work on his free throw shooting, and put on a bit more weight.
Final Take - Acquiring the draft rights to Christon wasn’t a bad idea. He’s a no-risk, high-reward player who could turn into one of the biggest steals of the 2014 NBA Draft if he can reach his ceiling.
While Presti’s selections were certainly interesting, at the end of the day, they actually make sense for the team overall. Well, I guess you could make the Huestis pick an exception, as he really just comes across as another Andre Roberson to me. McGary is the answer to time beating down on Nick Collison, and Christon gives the Thunder a 3rd aggressive guard who will drive the lane for easy points. Presti’s selections may not always make sense initially, but they tend to pan out more often than not. Remember how people thought Presti was reaching for Serge Ibaka with the 24th pick of the 2008 NBA Draft? Now think of the steal that Ibaka’s become. If there’s one thing I’ve learned over the years, it’s that Sam Presti is a man who knows what he’s doing. Until I actually notice his decisions start truly hurting the team, in Presti I trust.