As the NBA Draft approaches Thursday night, one question looms large.
Can the Thunder do it again?
Armed with two selections in the bottom third of the first round, the 21st and 29th picks, can the Thunder again come away with a steal?
If anyone can do it, the Thunder seems to be that team. No team has had more success drafting in the 20s over the past six seasons than the Thunder, which over that span has acquired everything from stars to sixth men to promising sleepers.
In 2008, the franchise landed Serge Ibaka with the 24th pick.
In 2011, the Thunder selected Reggie Jackson with the 24th pick.
In 2012, OKC plucked Perry Jones III with the 28th pick.
In 2013, the Thunder moved up three spots and nabbed Andre Roberson with the 26th pick.
This year’s draft pool is widely considered to be the deepest in years, which should only help the Thunder secure another significant late-round selection.
Mock drafts don’t provide any more clarity on which direction the Thunder might go. But a sampling of some of the more popular projections show that there should be plenty of talent available by the time the Thunder is on the clock.
ESPN.com projects the Thunder will select UCLA power forward Ryan Anderson at No. 21 and UCLA shooting guard Jordan Adams at No. 29.
Draftexpress.com projects the Thunder will take Michigan State power forward Adreian Payne at No. 21 and Clemson small forward K.J. McDaniels at No. 29.
NBAdraft.net has penciled in Michigan forward Glenn Robinson III at No. 21 and Swiss big man Clint Capela at No. 29.
It’s all guesswork at this point.
In addition to those prospects, the Thunder could have its pick of players such as Connecticut’s Shabazz Napier, Syracuse’s Tyler Ennis, Wichita State’s Cleanthony Early and Duke’s Rodney Hood.
But should history hold the Thunder is likely to find some type of gem. Many teams have found players in the 20s, and every year quality players seem to slip.
Last year it was Gorgui Dieng (21), Mason Plumlee (22) and Tim Hardaway, Jr. (24).
In 2012, Jared Sullinger fell to 21 and Miles Plumlee dropped to 26.
In 2011, Kenneth Faried was taken 22nd.
In 2010, Quinicy Pondexter, Jordan Crawford and Greivis Vasquez went back-to-back-to-back at 26, 27 and 28.
The list goes on and on.
Taj Gibson was selected 26th in 2009, Nicolas Batum went 25th in 2008, Aaron Brooks, Arron Afflalo and Tiago Splitter went back-to-back-to-back at 26, 27 and 28 in 2007, Rajon Rondo (21) and Kyle Lowry (24) were late first-rounders in 2006.
Tony Parker was selected 28th in 2001.
There’s plenty of evidence that proves there is still great value in the back of the first round.
The talent is there every year. Now it’s simply a matter of what the Thunder wants.
And whether OKC can do it again.