There’s a problem with the Thunder. After encouraging regular season performances, the Thunder have been haemorrhaging post season wins year after year, forcing them to sit back and watch as arguably less talented teams proceed further into the playoffs.
On paper, the Thunder have clear advantages over many teams. During the 2018-19 season, they had the fourth highest defensive rating in the league, the most steals and deflections, as well as two high intensity superstars automatically putting up 30 points a night. Even with the constantly developing Steven Adams rounding off the Thunder’s own “big 3”, it was not enough to secure more than one win against the hobbled Portland Trailblazers in the playoffs.
Next season, the Thunder will have the highest salary in the league and if nothing changes, Oklahoma could continue on this downward spiral and possibly not even make the playoffs at all.
However, there is still hope.
Oklahoma have the potential this offseason, however limited, to perhaps clear some of that cap space and acquire some useful talent at the same time.
Signing and Developing Young Talent
The Thunder have the 21st pick in the first round of the draft, which may not be high enough to snag a marquee rookie, but historically many of Thunder’s low draft picks have developed into sensational role players. Serge Ibaka was picked 24th overall in 2008 and is now at the height of his career, Eric Bledsoe was picked 18th overall in 2010. For years, Oklahoma have had multiple picks in each round of the draft. However, Oklahoma’s draft picks dried up after 2014 and since then, the only first round picks they’ve received have been Cameron Payne (14th in 2015) and Terrance Ferguson (21st in 2017).
With most high-ranking rookies likely to be snagged up, the Thunder should be looking at future potential when making their draft choice.
Just looking at the Thunder’s roster it’s no secret that they are in love with athletic wings. That’s why it would be in Oklahoma’s best interests to draft Power Forward Cameron Johnson from North Carolina. Not only is Johnson one of the oldest rookies in the draft, but he is also the best shooter, knocking down 40.3% of his 3s. Just like other Thunder players, his long reach allows him to easily poke balls loose and his maturity and discipline can be seen in transition offense, shooting well timed contested lay ups and spacing the floor for his teammates.
Honourable mentions go to Rui Hachimura and KZ Okpala, two other players that would suit the Thunder’s rotation. Hachimura’s best asset is his scoring, although he prefers going inside than shooting the three. Okpala was Stanfords top scorer and his handles and footwork allow him to create plays for himself and his teammates.
Roberson to Sacramento for Bogdanovic
Oklahoma have kept their solid core of Westbrook, Adams and Roberson for years and with Roberson looking to miss another year and with almost $11 million left on his contract, it would be a good idea to start looking at that contract. With one season left on his contract, it would be worth considering trading him for a player who can have an immediate impact.
At a very affordable $8.5 million, the 26 year old Serb is entering his 3rd year in the NBA and has become an instant household name in Sacramento after bouncing between Indiana and Phoenix before finally landing with the Kings.
Bobo’s passing and court vision is severely underrated, usually coming off the bench. The Thunder’s young roster would almost guarantee that he would be starting alongside Westbrook and George, who would benefit greatly from Bogdanovich’s playmaking and versatility.
Adams to Cleveland for Love
Steven Adams dedication to his team is remarkable, easily a fan favourite and one of the most talented old school big men in the league. However, his lack of shooting and defence on high pick and rolls have not helped the Thunder.
While Oklahoma are looking to add shooting depth to their bigs, Cleveland are rebuilding, and Adams is a perfect centrepiece to develop a young core around. Cleveland are also suffering from a lack of elite defenders and rim protectors, coming last in blocks and opponent FG% this season. Teams playing the Cavs on average end up shooting 3% better from the field.
On the other hand, Steven Adams had a tough time dealing with multiple elite shooters and pick and rolls during the Thunder’s playoff run with Portland. Kevin Love’s experience in the playoffs against Golden State, forcing constant switches and outside shooting, allowed him to develop as a solid pick and roll defender.
Another advantage over Adams’ is Love’s shooting ability. Adams tendency to laugh in the face of every reporter who suggests that he shoot from outside the paint occasionally is endearing to the legacy of classic centres. In today’s game, a big man shooter like Kevin Love would help clear the runway for Air-Westbrook to do what he does best.