The college basketball season officially tipped off last night and there were some good games with a lot of really good performances from future NBA players.
The marquee games came from the Champions Classic which featured 3rd ranked Kansas vs. Michigan St. and 9th ranked Duke vs. 10th ranked Kentucky. Both games had some breakout performances but those weren’t the only teams that had guys shine on opening night.
For a team like the Thunder, who will again have 3 first round draft picks, last night was kind of the first night of auditions for a lot of players because there were lots of scouts at each of the games. Especially in The Garden. No last night wasn’t the end all be all for most guys but for a lot it was good they showed up to make sure they stayed on the radar of the scouts.
For the Thunder, they have a lot of options they could do with their 3 picks starting with using them all to draft 3 guys. They could also do what they did in this past draft and trade away one for more future picks, or they could trade them all away for a more established player. The best option, in my opinion, would be to use them all.
They will have their own which will be the most valuable and is a projected top 5 pick and they also own both the Clippers and Suns first round picks with only the Suns pick being top 12 protected. The Suns pick is projected to be late in the first round while the Clippers pick is a little tricky because that pick could fall anywhere from 5 if they can’t get it together to 20 if they can stay afloat then end up getting Kawhi Leonard back at some point.
For the sake of this, lets just say it falls in the middle of the first somewhere. So that would mean the Thunder would have a top 5, late lottery or just outside the lottery, and late first round pick. Not a bad spot to be in for them.
Now, it should be noted that, as of right now, the team can’t draft 3 guys and not get rid of a few guys that are on the roster because again, as of right now, all 15 guys on the roster right now are signed to be on the roster next season and per NBA rules, teams can only have 15 guys on their active roster. Derrick Favors has a $10.1 million player option that he likely opts into but he might not be on the team by the draft so that’s one guy that could be out. Isaiah Roby and Mike Muscala both have team options that would likely be picked up but if playing time so far this season is any indication then Roby could be another guy that is gone.
They also have Gabriel Deck and Kenrich Williams both on non-guaranteed contracts and both could also be off the roster next season with Deck going back to Argentina to play and Kenrich being traded at the deadline. Either way the Thunder have some decisions to make because they just can’t keep things the way they are and draft 3 players. It would also not be the smartest thing to keep trading away picks for more picks because then what was the point of even trading for them in the first place?
As mentioned above, I think the best option would be to use the picks and figure out who they should get rid of. With that being said, there are plenty of players for them to look at in the upcoming draft. It’s going to be a long season so the names could change but for now these are the players Thunder fans should keep their eyes on and get familiar with in college basketball.
Their Projected Top 5 Pick
The Thunder need a franchise big man. Someone that can score and defend at a high level or at least do one of those at an elite level. Lucky for them, the 2022 draft class is littered with big men, particularly at the top. Here are the guys they should have their eyes on.
Paolo Banchero – PF Duke (6’10” 250lbs)
Banchero is projected to go top 2 and after seeing his first game against Kentucky it’s easy to see why. He a very skilled scorer and could bring the ball up as a playmaker. He has a nice handle for his size which would all him to create out of the pick and roll as a ball handler. Banchero can also be a monster inside and battle with other bigs. He would be a perfect addition to the Thunder to go along with Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Josh Giddey because of his scoring and playmaking ability. He does have work to do on the defensive end but will certainly have some time to get better.
Chet Holmgren – C Gonzaga (7′ 195lbs)
Along with Banchero, Holmgren is projected top 2 and again, after seeing his first game it’s easy to see why. He is a special unique talent. A 7 footer with guards skills is going to be extremely hard to pass on. Especially considering how well he can defend. His NBA comp has been Dirk lite with Marcus Camby Defense and if that is really what he is like then he will easily be the first pick. The Thunder could definitely use a guy like him to be a franchise cornerstone. He needs to add some strength/weight so he doesn’t get pushed around in the post but being a great shot blocker could solve that.
Jalen Duren – C Memphis (6’10” 230)
Duren might be the most athletic and physically gifted big man in the draft. He’s a guy that commands a double team in the lost post and doesn’t fold when it happens. He runs the floor really well, has decent hands, and can really defend. He isn’t the scorer that the others are but could easily turn out to be a decent scoring big. Playing with the Thunder would be great because of his athleticism and how he runs the floor. He would be a great asset in pick and roll situations. He is a great rim protector, rebounder, and can sometimes defend guards on the wing. He does need to work on his footwork and being less predictable in the post but a year with Penny Hardaway should help.
Jabari Smith – PF/C Auburn (6’9″ 220lbs)
Outside of Holmgren, Smith might be the best all around big man in the draft. He has all the skills to be a great NBA player for a really long time. He can score, dribble, stretch the floor, play off the ball, play-make, and defend. There really isn’t much he can’t do. The biggest thing with him seemed to be consistency but he was in high school and after a year of college that could be solved. The Thunder could for sure use a prospect like him.
Yannick Nzosa – C Congo (6’11” 175lbs)
Nzosa isn’t playing college basketball but he definitely someone the Thunder fans have to look up and keep an eye on. He is a raw prospect but the talent is surely there and he would fit the Thunder timeline. He is a great roll man and knows how to read defenses in those situations. He’s a decent defender who can protect the rim. He isn’t the best scorer and doesn’t have all the skills but he has enough talent to be effective on that end of the floor. Nzosa has some work to go but again the talent is there and would be a nice asset for the Thunder.
Patrick Baldwin Jr. – PF Wisconsin-Milwaukee (6’10” 200lbs)
Another raw prospect though his game is a little more polished and doesn’t need as much work as Nzosa. He’s a pretty good athlete that can defend multiple positions. Has some offensive skills like his playmaking, shooting, and scoring in pick and roll. He’s a decent rebounder also. He’s a guy that would fit their timeline and the more he plays the better we’ll have an idea of what he can do on the floor.
Nikola Jovic – PF/C Serbia (6’10” 2o5lbs)
I wasn’t sure if I should put Jovic on the list for the potential top 5 pick because as of now he’s all over the place on draft boards but I expect him to be closer to the top 5 than late lottery or late first. He is another guy that isn’t playing college ball but fans have to keep an eye on him. Like a lot of international guys, Jovic is very skilled. Decent shooter, playmaker, good in pick and roll, rim protector, and an ok overall defender. He’s not as quick or athletic as the other bigs mentioned but as we’ve seen, if you’re very skilled that doesn’t matter much.
The Other Two Picks
Going to group the other two picks together because the guys in the late lottery to late first aren’t that separate from each other. With these picks they can get depth for their front court and/or get more guard depth. Here are those guys.
TyTy Washington – G Kentucky
Washington didn’t have a great first game but don’t let that detour you from how good he could be. Could be a lottery pick if he plays like he is expected to. He’s good off the dribble, a decent playmaker, can shoot a little, knows how to get to the line and can defend. Can be a little streaky and inconsistent but we’ll see more as the season goes on.
Trevor Keels – G Duke
Keels is going to shoot up draft boards if he plays like he did in Duke’s first game against Kentucky. Before the game he was projected to go anywhere from the second round to undrafted but it only took a few hours for most to update their draft boards and put him in the first round. He’s really strong, can get to the basket, he’s a decent floor general who can play-make for others. He has to become a better shooter but when people talk about having “it” Keels has it.
Marcus Bagley – F Arizona St.
The younger Bagley could have came out last year but decided to polish his game more and it could turn out being very beneficial for him. He’s a pretty good all around player. A decent scorer, defender, shooter, and playmaker. He’s a little streaky and sometimes is a little inconsistent but another year of college will surely help.
Peyton Watson – SF UCLA
UCLA brought back a good portion of their roster so it might be hard for Watson to crack the starting lineup early but he will certainly get a lot of playing time. He is a pretty good athlete that can score pretty much anyway he wants and defends. Not the best shooter so that would need work but he is good off the ball and would fit really well with the Thunder.
Kendall Brown – SF Baylor
Brown has great size and looks like a NBA player. Good athlete that can score and defend plus plays really hard. Can even post a little. He isn’t the best shooter and isn’t the best ball handler so he for needs to improve in those areas but does have a lot of talent.
Max Christie – G Michigan St.
Christie is one of my favorite prospects. Looks like a pro player. He can score at all levels and does something a lot of guards don’t do anymore and that’s score in the midrange. He’s shifty, long, and athletic. He has to work on his defense but would for sure be one of my top picks for the Thunder to draft with one of their later picks. A lot of upside.
Michael Foster – PF G-League Ignite
He won’t be playing college basketball but Thunder fans can catch him when watching G-League games. Foster is very athletic and is a decent low post scorer and decent defender also. He can also put the ball on the floor a little. He doesn’t stretch the floor much and isn’t as polished offensively but he does have some talent and a lot of upside.
Hunter Sallis – G Gonzaga
Another guy that can score in the midrange that I like. He’s a good athlete that can score off the dribble and a solid defender. He’s an ok shooter but that’s one area he certainly needs to improve. However, his overall skill could make up for his deficiencies.
Dyson Daniels – G G-League Ignite
Another G-League guy. Playing there will certainly be beneficial for him but don’t be mistaken, he is still good. Solid athlete that can shoot, play-make, defend, and pretty much do a little of everything. Consistency will be key for him.
Daimion Collins – F Kentucky
I think the best way to describe Collins right now is a very good hustle player. We will see how his game expands as the season goes on though. Pretty good pick and roll guy and good rebounder and defender. Needs to add more to his offense though.
Mark Williams – C Duke
Williams is an interesting prospect. They say you can’t teach 7 foot and he is one of the reasons why. He is a great rim protector and a pretty good pick and roll man. Very strong which helps him score in the low post. He is a little slow though which could be an issue in the league so he will need to get faster foot speed.