Horning: In current draft position, Thunder GM Sam Presti has endured hits and misses

  • 4 min to read
Horning: In current draft position, Thunder GM Sam Presti has endured hits and misses

AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki

Denver Nuggets guard Will Barton, right, drives against Oklahoma City Thunder guard Terrance Ferguson, left, in the first half of an NBA basketball game Friday, March 29, 2019, in Oklahoma City. Ferguson was the 21st pick in the 2017 draft, which is the same spot from which the Thunder will be selecting on June 20.

It’s almost spooky.

The Thunder hold the 21st pick in the June 20 NBA draft and, of all the spots from which organization’s ever chosen, the 21st selection has been the most prolific.

Oklahoma City drafted in the same spot in 2010, 2014 and 2017 as well.

Additionally, the Thunder have selected within four spots of the 21st pick four other times and, as fortune would have it, the same guy — general manager Sam Presti — has been responsible for all of them.

So perhaps it’s a good time to look into Presti’s track record with the 21st pick and others near it.

Basically, he’s batting .571.

Of the seven players chosen at No. 21 or other spots very close, Presti’s hit one home run; made one apparently very good selection of a player who may contribute for seasons to come; drafted another who became an excellent backup point guard, who was eventually spun into a terrific inside scoring punch, who was eventually spun into Carmelo Anthony; and yet another Presti may now wish he’d never traded, but who’s trade may nonetheless have set the Thunder up for their one trip to the NBA finals.

He’s chosen three duds, too.

Going through them, what’s apparent is the fact that few selections die natural deaths with their original team. Only one of these seven did for OKC. Many take on a lives of their own through future trades.

Here’s a look at those selections.

The home run

Serge Ibaka may win an NBA championship tonight as a member of the Toronto Raptors, but in 2008, the offseason prior to OKC becoming a permanent NBA city, Presti chose him with the 24th pick.

Ibaka proved to be a shot-blocking savant, who later developed a perimeter game, one Thunder fans might have eventually felt he relied on too readily. Nevertheless, his value, given where he was selected, has been exorbitant.

Over seven seasons and 524 games in Oklahoma City, Ibaka averaged 11.6 points, 5 rebounds and 2.5 blocked shots.

He was traded prior to the 2016-17 season to Orlando for Ersan Ilyasova, Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis. What that means is Ibaka was eventually spun into the acquisition of Paul George.

Good, solid pick

Only two seasons ago, the Thunder selected Terrance Ferguson with the 21st pick and though it may have appeared questionable through his rookie season, it doesn’t now.

Ferguson started all 74 games in which he played this past season, averaging 26.1 minutes, 6.9 points and 1.9 rebounds, all the while upping his defensive game considerably.

Additionally, for one 19-game run, from Jan. 8 to Feb. 23, Ferguson offered a glimpse of what his offensive potential might be, averaging 11.3 points, 2.0 rebounds and 1.1 assists over 30.3 minutes, while shooting 49.4 percent overall and 45 percent from beyond the 3-point arc.

Fine backup

Remember Reggie Jackson?

He was the 24th selection in the 2011 draft and was a bit player his first two seasons in Oklahoma City, playing 11.1 and 14.2 minutes in 45 and 70 games. Yet, in year three, Jackson came up huge for the Thunder.

He played in 80 games, started 36 — many while OKC was missing an injured Russell Westbrook — and averaged 14.5 points, 3.5 rebounds and 6 assists.

Jackson was traded midseason to Detroit during the 2014-15 campaign as part of a three-team deal that brought Kyle Singler to OKC from Detroit as well as Enes Kanter to OKC from Utah.

The trade was very good to Jackson, who’s been the Pistons’ starting point guard ever since.

In a celebrated move that doesn’t seem nearly so inspired now, Presti turned Kanter, in a trade with New York, into Carmelo Anthony’s one OKC season.

The pick that wasn’t

Believe it or not, Eric Bledsoe, an NBA all-defensive first-teamer, who averaged 15.9 points, 4.6 rebounds and 5.5 assists this past season for Milwaukee, was once-upon-a-time the 18th pick of the 2010 draft, selected by the Thunder. Yet, the day he was drafted, Bledsoe was traded to the Los Angeles Clippers for a 2012 first-round pick.

OKC then took that pick and traded it to Boston, along with Jeff Green, Nenad Krstic and cash for Kendrick Perkins and Nate Robinson in the middle of the 2010-11 season.

The experience and toughness Perkins brought to the franchise was widely credited as a big factor in OKC reaching the 2011-12 NBA finals.

In the same three-team deal that brought Singler and Kanter to the Thunder, Perkins was sent to Utah, which waived him two days later.

Perkins last played in the NBA on April 11, 2018, for Cleveland. It was the only game he played the entire 2017-18 season after not playing at all in the 2016-17 season. Bledsoe’s still going strong.

The duds

• Mitch McGary became the 21st pick in the 2014 draft, taken by the Thunder, after two collegiate seasons at Michigan.

His NBA career amounted to 52 games, all with the Thunder, over two seasons. Oklahoma City waived him on Oct. 24, 2016.

• Craig Brackins, who the Thunder drafted with the 21st pick out of Iowa State in 2010, spent even less time in the league: 17 games, spanning parts of two seasons, all with Philadelphia. However, before that happened, Brackins was traded to New Orleans for, essentially, Cole Aldrich.

Aldrich played 339 NBA games over seven seasons, but only 44 with the Thunder, who washed their hands of him by making him a part of the deal that sent James Harden to Houston.

• Rodrigue Beaubois was the 25th pick in the 2009 draft, taken by the Thunder, but traded that very night to Dallas for Byron Mullens.

Mullens played in just 26 games over two OKC seasons, before being traded to Charlotte for the second-round draft pick that later became Alex Abrines, who has since been waived by the Thunder for reasons that remain a mystery. Prior to being waived, Abrines missed many games for "personal reasons."

Mullens wound up playing in 189 NBA games over five seasons, seven more than Beaubois appeared in over four seasons in Dallas.

The verdict

That the Thunder have a late-ish first-round pick this time around is kind of exciting, yet what they do with it is anybody’s guess.

Will Presti find the next Ibaka, the next Brackens or somebody in between?

It will be some time after the selection, perhaps two or three years, before we really know.

History proves it could go either way.

Draft history

Previous No. 21s

• 2010, Craig Brackins

• 2014, Mitch McGary

• 2017, Terrance Ferguson

Near No. 21s

• 2008, Serge Ibaka (No. 24)

• 2009, Rodrigue Beaubois (No. 25)

• 2010, Eric Bledsoe (No. 18)

• 2011, Reggie Jackson (No. 24)

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