2019 Draft offers motivation for OKC Thunder to aim for play-in berth

OKC Thunder forward Chet Holmgren (7) leads Josh Giddey (3), Aaron Wiggins (21) and Tre Mann (23) across the floor during an NBA Summer League game: Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports
OKC Thunder forward Chet Holmgren (7) leads Josh Giddey (3), Aaron Wiggins (21) and Tre Mann (23) across the floor during an NBA Summer League game: Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports /

It was a common belief by analysts, oddsmakers, and fans that the OKC Thunder would be among the group known as ‘tankers’ in 2022-23.

That was a fair assumption given the prospects in the 2023 NBA Draft. Two youngsters are considered franchise changers  – – Victor Wembanyama and Scoot Henderson. Plus, there are a further six that analysts believe could develop into stars in the secondary or tertiary roles on their teams.  That’s a DEEP class.

Arguably, the current parity being witnessed in the NBA can be traced back to when the NBA shifted how the draft lottery would be handled with a specific emphasis on seeding.

Under the new system, three teams have an equal 14 percent odds of landing the top draft pick but it’s the teams who finish in the next tier who have much better odds of nabbing either the top seed or moving up.

Case in point, in the first year of using the new system the Pelicans who had a 37.2 percent shot at the eighth seed and only a six percent shot at the top pick defied the odds and won the top pick (Zion Williamson).

In fact, the eighth and seventh seeds have all fared well since the changes to the lottery. In 2020, the Hornets followed up the Pelicans’ fortune by leaping up to the third seed (LaMelo Ball). In 2021, the Raptors were the team taking the leap from the projected seventh seed up to fourth and ended up selecting the Rookie of the Year (Scottie Barnes).

OKC Thunder could view a deep 2019 draft class as a reason to gun for a play-in berth

Consider the 2019 Draft class that Zion Williamson headlined. Only three players (Williamson, Ja Morant, RJ Barrett) were cited with a comparable level of hype. Yet, all 14 lottery picks from that class have roles on their teams. Zion and Ja have ascended to superstar levels, while eight of the lottery picks are starting for their clubs.

However, this class produced an unprecedented number of prospects who are featured on their teams to various degrees. To say there were more than a few gems in this draft class, would be an understatement.

Perhaps the most obvious, outside the lottery picks is Jordan Poole (28th) who carved out an integral position with the defending champions and collected his bag this offseason.

Matisse Thybulle (20th), Brandon Clarke (21st), and Grant Williams (22nd) are integral to their club’s defensive schemes,

Nic Claxton (31st) is the starting center on a team who just won their 10th in a row (Nets) with his contributions playing a significant part in their success.

Keldon Johnson (29th) and Kevin Porter Jr. (30th) are starting for the Spurs and Rockets with an opportunity to help develop their team’s future cores.

Several players have developed into contributors or role-playing specialists on their teams such as Terance Mann (48th) for the Clippers.

Bol Bol entered the 2019 draft expecting to be a lottery pick but plummeted to 44th. He was selected by the Nuggets but never broke through in Denver and landed in Orlando. His rise this season is yet another example of the overwhelming depth of this class.

As LeBron James infamously stated, Wembanyama isn’t a unicorn, he’s an alien! That type of superstar statement speaks to how special of a talent the French man is. Equally compelling and arguably not getting as much hype as deserved is guard Scoot Henderson.

Consider the teams at the top of the ladder and how many have been linked to wanting to trade or add depth specifically with a playmaking, versatile guard in mind and Henderson’s value jumps off the page.

Of course, OKC already has the best at doing that — Shai Gilgeous-Alexander 😉 but every team wants to bolster its depth.

To that end, with the Thunder cornerstone having a break-out season and knowing Chet Holmgren is sitting on the sidelines it gives Sam Presti and the front office many more choices.

Granted, every team in the association would bend over backward to land Wembanyama or Henderson but balancing keeping your present star happy by being competitive which will undoubtedly help his own personal opportunities (All-Star and All-NBA potential) is at least for the moment the better choice.

Portland established the second-half template swoon last season. Their record at the  All-Star break was 25-34… they finished 2-21 (27-55). It netted them the seventh seed although they weren’t as fortunate as the Pelicans, Hornets, or Raptors before them they still landed a young asset (Shaedon Sharpe) many believe could be special.

Ultimately, there is ample time for the Thunder to change course but for the moment they enter the weekend with visions of the play-in on their minds and every reason to take direct aim.

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