How The Thunder And Thabeet Got Here
When the Thunder and Hasheem Thabeet agreed to a two-year deal Wednesday, it immediately made me think back to the weeks leading up to the 2009 NBA Draft.
Thabeet was the top center prospect after dominating most of his college competition. He was a lock to be a top three pick but was anything but a can’t-miss prospect. I remember writing about 53 stories examining Thabeet leading up to draft night. Some were warranted. Some definitely were overkill. But the big man was a fascinating ballplayer, one who possessed defensive skills the Thunder sorely lacked back then.
Opinions varied on Thabeet, but everyone, it seemed, had one. One person I work closely with who shall remain nameless even remixed The Go-Go’s 80s hit “We got the beat” by circling the office crooning “Don’t draft Thabeet, don’t draft Thabeet, don’t draft Thabeeeeet. Don’t draft Thabeet.” The guy was just a polarizing player. But he had so much size, so much potential.
The Thunder was enamored with Thabeet and, clearly, still is to this day.
A rummage through our archives, however, tells an interesting story about Thabeet and the Thunder, both then and now.
June 9, 2006: From a summer diary by Blake Griffin during his days on the AAU circuit:
On the toughest guy he’s gone up against: “I played a 7-3 guy from Houston, Hasheem Thabeet. He’s going to UConn. He was harder to guard than score on. He made me feel small. It’s like a totally different game. But he was easier to go around.”
Imagine that. Six years ago, Blake Griffin found it hard to guard Thabeet. Sort of amazing to think about today, isn’t it? As for that last line, well, I guess some things never change.
April 18, 2009: This was a blurb about the Thunder’s top five options in the 2009 draft if OKC lost the upcoming draft lottery and a chance at Blake Griffin:
3) Hasheem Thabeet: Defensive monster. Still, the Thunder should be wary of the UConn big man with the franchise’s history of drafting 7-foot busts.
Funny how the second part still applies. Of note, the No. 1 option, according to whoever did this — I couldn’t find a name. It might have been me — was Ricky Rubio. The No. 2 option was James Harden. Four was DeMar DeRozan, and five was Jordan Hill.
May 19, 2009: Before playoff basketball arrived, this was the second most exciting day in Thunder history. The only day that ranked ahead of it was the day Clay Bennett stepped in front of a podium at the Skirvin Hotel and declared “We made it” in reference to the franchise purchased by a group of Oklahoma businessmen but supposedly was intended to stay in Seattle. This was the day we found out whether the Thunder would win the No. 1 overall pick in the draft lottery and the right to draft Griffin, the consensus top selection:
A few fans said they don’t follow the NBA closely but will watch to see where Griffin winds up. “If there’s nothing else on TV, and I remember it’s on, I might flip to it,” said Leah Housley. “I think I’m one of the few people in Oklahoma who doesn’t want Blake Griffin. “Sure, he’ll help whatever team he goes to… But I think our real need is a big center. I’d love to get Hasheem Thabeet.”
Leah, if you’re out there, we forgive you.
May 20, 2009: This was written by our man Berry Tramel:
If the 7-foot-3 Thabeet is another Samuel Dalembert, the 76ers’ athletic center, I’ll take that, too. Both will drive you bananas on offense, but if Thabeet can defend the basket like Dalembert can, that will improve this team quickly. Interior defense is priority A for the Thunder.
I really just included this for all the Kendrick Perkins haters. The next time you rip Perkins for what he can’t do, think back to how bad the Thunder’s interior defense used to be and then pipe down about Perk.
May 20, 2009: A look at possible picks by Mike Baldwin provided a scouting report:
Closer look: Look for most mock drafts to have the Thunder selecting the 7-foot-3 UConn intimidator. Thabeet has a large wing span and could provide the rebounding and shot-blocking defensive presence the Thunder sorely lacks inside. But he’s far from a slam dunk. The Tanzania native still has much to learn. He has poor hands, is a sub-par offensive player and could have difficulty with the pick and roll. Some scouts question his basketball IQ and whether he can consistently play hard.
Whomever Mr. Baldwin spoke with deserves a raise.
May 21, 2009: This is from one of the many stories I did on Thabeet. For this piece, I enlisted the help of DraftExpress.com president Jonathan Givony, who reported a day earlier that the Thunder had spent more time scouting Thabeet than any other team:
“When it comes to workmanlike research and just being meticulous and thorough, I don’t think there is a better GM in the NBA than Sam Presti,” said Givony. “So if anybody is capable of getting to the bottom of who Thabeet is, what his potential is, what he brings to the table, how he fits on a team, I honestly think he’s No. 1 in that regard.”
Wonder what Presti now knows that the rest of the basketball world doesn’t. In spite of all of Thabeet’s shortcomings, it feels like there’s something, doesn’t it? Even more, I wonder what Presti would have done had the Grizzlies not taken Thabeet. Think about that in a larger context. It’s possible that Presti dodged two career-threatening bullets in three drafts, first with Portland taking Greg Oden and allowing Kevin Durant to fall in his lap and then with Memphis taking Thabeet and making it possible for James Harden to be alongside Durant and Russell Westbrook. Imagine what Presti’s reputation would be if he was the GM who missed on both of those picks, which, even though both were big men, could have been completely possible considering Oden’s injury problems.
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