After a disappointing end to a their NBA season, the Oklahoma City Thunder looked to add young talent to their already loaded roster at the 2014 NBA Draft on Thursday night. Known for his high draft acumen, GM Sam Presti — who had two first-round picks and traded for a second-round pick — surprised a significant portion of Thunder nation with all three draft picks. Knowing Presti, I’m sure he has something up his sleeve. Here are my grades for the picks.
No. 21 Overall, Mitch McGary, F/C, Michigan
Facing a one-year suspension by the NCAA due to a failed drug test, Michigan standout Mitch McGary declared for the 2014 NBA Draft despite being limited by a back injury to a total of eight games in the 2013-14 season. The most surprising aspect of this draft choice by Presti isn’t that he took McGary, but rather where he took him. Before the back injury and suspension, the conclusion regarding McGary was a resounding one: lottery pick. On nearly every pre-draft big board and mock draft after the surgery and suspension, McGary ranked somewhere between the extremely late first-round and mid second-round. With that said, he brings unquestionable size and strength to a Thunder team that, with this pick, may be indicating their intention to part ways with Kendrick Perkins and/or Nick Collison.
McGary’s numbers in college won’t blow you away (7.8 PPG, 6.6 RPG in 47 career games), but his mobility and high basketball IQ will mesh well with the Thunder’s primary ball handlers in pick-and-roll situations.
With the nagging back injury and off-the-court issues, McGary most likely would have been available at pick 29 for a Thunder team that desperately needed to add some bench scoring due to struggling to tickle the twine with Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant on the bench. McGary is a bit of a reach at 20, but he will more than likely become a solid rebounder at the next level.
No. 29 Overall, Josh Huestis, SF, Stanford
With their second pick, the Thunder again did not satisfy a need and seemed to reach a bit too far. Huestis lives, breathes, eats and sleeps defense. His best attribute is his defensive ability. His second best attribute is his defensive ability. In absolute certainty, Huestis will not be a starter for the 2015 Thunder team, which means he will be another defensive minded wing player, joining Andre Roberson and Perry Jones III, coming off an offensively depleted bench.
In a similar respect as McGary, Huestis would have been available much later in the draft and could have been a steal later in the second round.
No. 55 Overall (From Hornets), Semaj Christon, PG, Xavier
At 55, this pick is no risk, high reward. Christon, who at one point was considered a potential lottery pick, averaged 16.2 points per game and 4.4 assists in his 67 games career at Xavier. He has shown a very quick first step and has the ability to finish above the rim. He is also great at drawing fouls and can defend both guard positions.
Christon is undersized at a mere 185 pounds and will need to become stronger if he hopes to make the Thunder roster. In order to earn playing time on a team dripping with talent like the Thunder, he’ll need to improve his jump shot. Although he shot 38 percent from three during his sophomore season, he shot less than two per game. With that said, this is a safe and smart pick. Christon is a kid with upside, and at pick No. 55, simply earning a roster spot means the pick paid off.
All three players that Presti drafted are solid players and have a future in the NBA. Unfortunately, none of these players satisfy the significant hole on the Thunder roster: bench scoring. With Durant and Westbrook on the bench, the Thunder struggle mightily to produce points.
Presti is arguably the best general manager in the entire league and has selected some of the best players in today’s NBA, two of whom made First-Team All-NBA honors in 2014 (Durant, James Harden). He has an uncanny knack for identifying talent and allowing head coach Scott Brooks to mesh that talent with the current roster. Though I may not understand Presti’s picks completely, it would be hard for me to argue with his past success. The Thunder got three solid players who all have an opportunity to excel.