The Thunder got stuck with the No. 12 pick in the draft. There was every reason to believe this would be a much-higher pick, especially when Toronto got off to such a terrible start. But in the name of silver linings, here are a few things to digest:
* At least this will help save the Thunder some money. The 12th pick in the draft will make approximately $2 million next season. The No. 5 pick, for example, will make about $3.2 million. Every little bit helps.
* Oklahoma City has an amazing history with No. 12 overall picks. Here are the guys who were picked No. 12 in the last 20 years – Nick Collison, Jeremy Lamb, Robert Swift, Etan Thomas and Hilton Armstrong, all of whom played for the Thunder or the Hornets. Plus Xavier Henry, who went to high school in OKC (Putnam City).
* Here are the No. 12 overall picks of the last 20 years, grouped by quality. Stars: none. Solid pros: Collison, Gerald Henderson, Jason Thompson, Thaddeus Young. Journeymen: Vladimir Radmanovic, Vitaly Potapenko, Austin Croshere, George Lynch. Unproven: Lamb. Promising: Alec Burks. Disappointing: Henry, Thomas, Michael Doleac, Melvin Ely, Cherokee Parks, Khalid Reeves. Bust: Alex Radjovic, Armstrong, Yaroslav Korolev, Swift.
So you can find ballplayers at No. 12. Most teams don’t. Let’s see; 20 years, four solid pros and four journeymen. But that’s not the slot’s problem. That’s mostly a scouting problem. And here’s why:
* You can get good players deeper in the draft. Let’s look at the 2008 draft. Here are the top five picks:
1. Derrick Rose, Chicago; 2. Michael Beasley, Miami; 3. O.J. Mayo, Memphis (via immediate trade with Minnesota); 4. Russell Westbrook, OKC; 5. Kevin Love, Minnesota (via immediate trade with Memphis).
So the Bulls, Thunder and Timberwolves hit home runs. The Heat and Grizzlies made dubious decisions – yet are in the conference finals five years later. Memphis is in the West finals despite whiffing on two top-five picks – the Grizzlies also took Hasheem Thabeet No. 2 overall just a year later.
The next five picks: 6. Danilo Gallinari, New York; 7. Eric Gordon, Clippers; 8. Joe Alexander, Milwaukee; 9. D.J. Augustin, Charlotte; 10. Brook Lopez, New Jersey.
Gallinari is an excellent player who was packed to Denver in the Carmelo Anthony deal. Gordon can’t seem to find contentment. Alexander was a bust. More on Augustin in a moment. Lopez is a star. Again, the Nets, picking 10th, found an all-star center.
The next five picks: 11. Jerryd Bayless, Indiana; 12. Jason Thompson, Sacramento; 13. Brandon Rush, Indiana (via trade with Portland); 14. Anthony Randolph, Golden State; 15. Robin Lopez, Phoenix.
Bayless is a journeyman but a decent off-the-bench scorer. Thompson is a decent big man. Rush can’t stay healthy but can play some. Randolph wasn’t a bust. Lopez isn’t as good as his brother but is a solid center. So there was some value 11-15.
OK, 16-20: 16. Marreese Speights, Philadelphia; 17. Roy Hibbert, Indiana; 18. JaVale McGee, Washington; 19. J.J. Hickson, Cleveland; 20. Alexis Ajinca, Charlotte.
Are you kidding me? Speights is a solid backup center, then came three starting (or virtual starters, Denver does some funky things with McGee) centers. And then the total bust of Ajinca. So quick review. Through 20 picks, there have been what? Two busts and a couple of dubious picks. And the Bobcats had one of the busts (Ajinca) and one of the dubious (Augustin). No wonder Charlotte stinks. And it gets worse.
Now, 21-25: 21. Ryan Anderson, New Jersey; 22. Courtney Lee, Orlando; 23. Kosta Koufos, Utah; 24. Serge Ibaka, OKC; 25. Nicolas Batum, Portland (via trade with Houston). Let’s see. A great offensive player in Anderson, a solid rotational guard in Lee, a starting center (with the Denver caveat) in Koufos, Ibaka you know about and an excellent all-around player in Batum. That’s picking 21-25, and everyone got a ballplayer.
OK, 26-30: 26. George Hill, San Antonio; 27. Darrell Arthur, Memphis (via trade with New Orleans); 28. Donte’ Greene, Houston (via trade with Memphis); 29. D.J. White, OKC (via trade with Detroit); 30. J.R. Giddens, Boston.
Hill is a starting point guard on a conference finalist. Arthur is the first big man off the bench for a conference finalists. This draft didn’t run out of gas until the 28th pick, unless you were Charlotte or Milwaukee. And even after the first round, there were hits.
The Timberwolves got Nikola Pekovic No. 31. The Heat got Mario Chalmers No. 34. The Clippers got DeAndre Jordan at No. 35. The Bulls (via a trade) got Omer Asik at No. 36. The Bucks got Luc Mbah a Moute at No. 37. The Suns (via trade) got Goran Dragic at No. 45.
So in 2008, there were tons of ballplayers take 12th or later.