Barring a draft night trade — it can’t be ruled out with Sam Presti at the helm — Oklahoma City is essentially near the back of the line when it comes to their pick of top-flight talent.
But that doesn’t mean there’s none to be had. Seemingly every year, late first-round and even second-round picks make immediate impacts for their teams — for example, Kyle Kuzma (27th overall in 2017), Malcolm Brogdon (36th in ‘16), or even former Thunder player Serge Ibaka (24th in ‘08).
Let’s take a look at five more prospects who could help improve the Thunder:
6’8” 210 lbs. Wing, North Carolina
I know it’s the first question you have, so here’s your answer: yes, Cameron Johnson can shoot. And, although many NBA scouts consider his age to be a negative, Johnson is probably ready to contribute right away considering that he is 23. (For reference, Terrance Ferguson is just 21.)
Not only does he have great shooting form, but at 6’8”, Johnson’s shot is tough to contest, much less block. Oftentimes, you have to choose between volume or efficiency with shooters — not so with Johnson, who, in his final year at UNC, shot a scorching 46% on a healthy 5.8 attempts per game.
And yet Johnson projects to be a late first-round, early second-round player mostly because of his athletic profile. He’s an average athlete at best, and there are real concerns about if he can defend on the NBA level. His weight and strength are also huge questions, although he has the frame to add some muscle.
At 21st overall, Johnson would be a risk, but if Presti is looking for immediate help, perhaps the rangy wing is worth a shot.
6’6” 200 lbs. Guard, Virginia Tech
Nickeil Alexander-Walker is long like his name. The Canadian native is a versatile combo guard who showed some range in his two years at Virginia Tech — 38% from deep — and shot a decent volume with 4.5 threes per game.
Alexander-Walker showed a heady approach to the game that was beyond his years, and didn’t often make the wrong basketball decision. He’s a crafty player who can pass with both right and left hands. He also averaged two steals per game last season, a metric that typically translates to the NBA level.
In fact, I’d compare his game to his cousin, the young-but-proming Shai Gilgeous-Alexander of the LA Clippers. They both know how to use their frames to their advantage and never seem to be in a great hurry. Patience is a virtue.
And yet Alexander-Walker did not show a knack for scoring in isolation, and there are real questions about his shot-creating ability for himself. He projects to be a great solid secondary ball-handler, so perhaps he would fit in well on the Thunder’s bench mob alongside Dennis Schroder.
6’7” 240 lbs. Forward, Tennessee
Grant Williams had a pretty great year at Tennessee, and some awesome moments in the NCAA tournament as well. Williams projects as a plus playmaker and scorer at the four spot — a rare skill set for his position.
Not only did he exhibit a capable three-point shot for two of his three years in Knoxville, but Williams also fits Sam Presti’s mold in terms of physical tools. His seven-foot wingspan makes up for his relative lack of height.
One giant red flag: although he shot 37% from deep his freshman year, his shooting fell through the floor his sophomore year (12%), and didn’t quite return to form his senior year (33%). A somewhat small sample size in each of his three years makes it difficult to project how his shooting will translate.
Despite his shooting concerns, there is a lot to like about Grant Williams, especially from an IQ and a motor standpoint. It will be interesting to see if the Thunder take a pass at Williams — perhaps if not in the first round, there’s a chance he could be there in the second if the Thunder are willing to trade for his rights like they did with Hamidou Diallo.
6’6” 215 lbs. Wing, Kentucky
Explosion is the word that comes to mind when you watch Keldon Johnson play. But he’s not just an athlete. He showed real floor-spacing ability as a one-and-done at Kentucky.
He checks all the boxes — both for what the Thunder need and what Sam Presti usually goes for. He’s got all of the physical tools (including an impressive standing reach) and the athletic profile of an NBA wing.
Perhaps more importantly, he can shoot — 38% from deep as a freshman — and he has a pretty shot. He also has a solid motor and plays with passion.
He will need to show more consistency as a shooter, though, as he showed some streakiness in his one year at Kentucky. And he showed very little in the way of defensive prowess, not garnering very many steals or blocks.
Still, Johnson has an impressive skill set (and tool set), and I can’t help but feel like the Thunder will take him if available at 21.
6-5 195 lbs. Guard, Virginia
Like Brooklyn’s Joe Harris and Milwaukee’s Malcolm Brogdon — two of the NBA’s best shooters — Ty Jerome is an unheralded guard coming out Virginia. More similarities: all of them high IQ upperclassmen emerging from Tony Bennett’s Cavalier system.
Jerome is an efficient shooter from deep — 40% in his junior season on a healthy 5.4 attempts per game. A natural point guard, Jerome has shown more than just an ability to spot up. He was also a lockdown defender in college, although it remains to be seen how his lack of physicality would allow him to defend in the NBA.
And that’s exactly the knock on Jerome — a lack of speed and a questionable athletic profile. I believe that a spot up shooting guard would be a better role for him, but he would likely have to be hidden in unfavorable matchups due to his small wingspan and lack of speed.
Still, though, the shooting and intangibles figure to project to the next level, which make him a very intriguing fit for the Thunder. And, if the Thunder opt to go with somebody else, he could be available in the second round if the Thunder trade for a pick.