For both parties, the draft night pairing of Spanish sharpshooter Alex Abrines and the Thunder couldn't have been a better fit.
OKC, with limited roster spots and two first-round picks already in tow, snatched up the rights to one of the premier international players, a 19-year-old, 6-foot-6 two-guard who will groom his skills in Europe's premier hoops league the next few seasons.
And Abrines got exactly what he wanted, linking up with an organization known for its international research/development and, more importantly, securing the unbinding financial regulations that come with being a second-round pick.
“He's not locked in to the NBA rookie salary scale in the first round, which is exactly what his people wanted,” ESPN international hoops expert Fran Fraschilla said. “So now he stays in Spain until he's ready, until both parties think he's ready, and then when he does come over and his stock is really high, then he gets to sign a bigger contract than if he was 29th or 30th (overall).”
But that remains the lingering question. When will this talented youngster, both personally and professionally, feel prepared enough to make the jump? And will it coincide with a time the Thunder want and need him?
There's draft and stash tales to both extremes. Some of the league's brightest young stars (Marc Gasol, Serge Ibaka, Ricky Rubio) came over in the past decade, while plenty of others (ever heard of Fran Vasquez, Milas Vujanic or Malik Badiane?) serve as a wasted pick, never making it to the states.
But the OKC brass, careful and calculated, seem to like the winning situation in which Abrines currently resides.
Last season, as the pup on traditional Spanish power Barcelona Regal, Abrines only averaged 3.9 points in 10 minutes per game.
“(He) gets very little time on Barcelona's team, because outside of the NBA, it might be one of the two best teams in the world,” Fraschilla said on draft night.
But he had some big performances, including a 21-point breakout against Macabbi Tel Aviv, and gained useful experience playing deep into the playoffs for a team that has reached the Spanish ACB League Finals seven straight seasons.
“And he's earned his way onto the floor there in some pretty pivotal games at a very young age,” Oklahoma City general manager Sam Presti said of Abrines. “I think that our international group did a very good job identifying him very early in the process.”
Known for that pure shooting stroke, Abrines has also impressed Presti with his competitiveness. Many of his teammates, longtime professionals, have raved about his practice habits to the Thunder GM.
When he comes to OKC — if he comes to OKC — the Thunder will likely have to work out a buyout with Barcelona. But in the meantime, the Thunder seems content watching its young talent blossom overseas.
“He's someone who we're going to work with and figure out what his time frame is,” Presti said. “But to be able to add a player who shoots the ball like that, plays against top-level competition in Europe at a young age, we like investing in that.”