OKC Thunder: NBA Draft ’19 Primer

The NBA Draft is nearly upon us. And while we are virtually sure that Zion Williamson will go first overall to the new look Pelicans, beyond that is anybody’s guess. Guys like Ja Morant, RJ Barrett, Jarett Culver, and many others will vie to be the best player in the class.

Let’s take a quick look at the important bullet points of the draft. And don’t forget to listen to The Sports Animal’s coverage from 6-10 central Thursday night!

When is it?

Coverage begins Thursday, June 20th at 6 PM CDT. The draft itself starts at 6:30. TV coverage is on ESPN, with pre-draft coverage on NBATV.

Where is it?

For the seventh straight year, the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York will host the NBA Draft.

Alright, what about the Thunder?

Great question. With the 21st overall pick, the Thunder have several options. The obvious and most competitive choice would be to go after a player who could theoretically contribute right away, as opposed to a drafting a project player with potential who would warm the bench next season. This has led many to believe that Carolina’s Cameron Johnson is the correct choice. But there’s no guarantee he’ll be available at 21, and there’s no guarantee that the Thunder like him.

There’s also been talk about the Thunder trading the 21st pick. The reasons would be twofold: getting back an established veteran player who could contribute right away, as well as potentially getting some luxury tax relief (i.e. offloading a larger contract such as Dennis Schroder’s). In a best case scenario, the Thunder could get better *and* cut costs — a win-win-win for ownership, management, and fans.

One more note: although the Thunder don’t have a second round pick right now, I would be shocked if they didn’t acquire one, are at least push heavily to do so. Not only have they worked out a lot of players projected to go in the second, but they also are incredibly cap-strapped — meaning that they have little financial wiggle room. They have to fill in the margins and hope they hit on a lottery ticket. There’s also always the option to offer two-way contracts to undrafted players.

Okay, who could they get?

I’m glad you asked. There are obvious areas of need for the Thunder, namely shooting. But you must also try to get a player who isn’t a total defensive liability, as well as being able to fit into the Thunder’s ecosystem — something that is often overlooked. All of that said, let’s take a look at a few players the Thunder could feasibly nab at 21. (note: these player profiles are from previous draft articles I’ve written.)

CAMERON JOHNSON

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.

TY JEROME

6-5 195 lbs. Point 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.

KEVIN PORTER JR.

Two-guard, USC

6’6” 220 lbs.

Kevin Porter Jr. is easily the most intriguing prospect in this draft. It will be tough to come up with a player with a larger distance between his ceiling and floor. He spent most of his only year at USC either injured or suspended.

There’s no doubt that Porter Jr. is highly skilled. But off-the-court issues and some wild decision making on it make him a risky pick. Otherwise, he’s got the tools of a lottery pick. (His father was murdered at 4 years old, so perhaps personal issues can be excused.)

Questions about maturity aside, Porter Jr. is a lottery talent at a discount price. If you can somehow look past his abysmal 52% clip from the foul line, Porter Jr. showed promise as a shooter: he hit 41% of his threes. He’s shown an effective stepback jumper, which has become a go-to for players like James Harden and Luka Doncic.

TYLER HERRO

Two-guard, Kentucky

6’5” 195 lbs

Tyler Herro is a floor spacer, pure and simple. As a freshman, Herro shot 36% from deep on a healthy 4.6 attempts per game. Volume and efficiency in one neat package. It’s shooting the Thunder need — perhaps Herro is a seamless fit.

Herro is aggressive in looking for his shot. In his lone season at Kentucky, he showed an ability to run off of multiple screens to find an opening. His form is tremendous.

One thing Herro will struggle with is the physical part of the game. His wingspan leaves much to be desired (remember Presti’s type!). He’s also limited athletically, and didn’t demonstrate much ball-handling ability. Still, it’s easy to make comparisons to JJ Redick, although that may be unfair to Herro.

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