Tahlequah Daily Press

Thunder/NBA

June 26, 2014

Thunder looking to upgrade woeful bench in draft

The most telling statistic for Oklahoma City this year took place in Game 6 of the Western Conference Finals. Facing elimination, the Thunder were only able to manage 5 points from their bench in an overtime loss to San Antonio.

Point guard Derek Fisher scored all five of those points. But now that he’s the head coach for the New York Knicks, the Thunder has no bench player on its roster who notched a single point in the most important game of the season.

That’s the most pressing problem General Manager Sam Presti must address tonight in the 2014 NBA Draft: Find a player who can help today and not years down the road.

Oklahoma City holds two picks in the first round with the No. 21 and No. 29 selections. For a team that made it to the final four, it seems to offer up a myriad of possibilities for Presti.

“We have to figure out where the value is,” Presti said. “We have to figure out how to best utilize those tools to improve the team now or in the future. My job is to calculate how to get the best out of the team so that the coaches have as many options as possible to build the deepest team and put players on the floor who are going to grow throughout the season and probably throughout the years.”

However, at a closer look, the options are not as vast as the team would hope. And it all has to do with expectations.

Whether the players, coaches and management want to admit it, the franchise is now in the position where anything less than a NBA title is a failure. It’s something almost the entire organization rejected during exit interviews last month, but that is where they are.

With that being the case, when the draft starts, Presti has to be asking who can help the team win next year? While he has proven to be a master at finding gems in past drafts, there’s no guarantee he can do it again this year with the picks coming so late in the round.

Some of the names being thrown around as possible draft selections include: Jordan Adams, a shooting guard out of UCLA; P.J. Hairston, a shooting guard from North Carolina; Zach LaVine, UCLA shooting guard; Elfrid Payton, point guard from Louisiana-Lafayette, Jordan Clarkson, shooting guard out Missouri and Mitch McGary, a Michigan post player.

With the need to not only find scoring off the bench, but also a starting shooting guard if Thabo Sefolosha is not brought back, several of these players could make nice picks.

However, with a team featuring Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka all set to enter their prime and final years of their contracts, the Thunder no longer have the time to try and develop players that can’t help immediately.

Yet, according to Presti, that is still the franchise’s focus.

“We feel really good that when you draft a player you can develop them within your organizational culture, can build habits and develop them in relation to your system and your current makeup of your team,” Presti said. “So the draft has been something that we’ve looked at as an important part of our organizational building but also our cultural building.”

The Thunder need players who can help today. If they can’t find sure things in the draft, Presti has said he’s not against trading the picks.

“I think there’s a big difference between picking a player and selecting a player,” Presti said. “And when you’re picking, you’re picking from not necessarily things that you want. Selecting, to me, is when you’re selecting something from a pool that you value. And we want to be in a position to select.”

“We want to be in a position where we can add to the team without subtracting.”

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