Sam Presti was up to his old draft night tricks again Thursday, selecting players no one expected, making picks that landed with a collective thud in Oklahoma City.
How many times have we seen this?
How many times have we realized he was right?
On a night when the Thunder had only two late first-round draft picks, there were lots of theories about what the Thunder would do. Draft at No. 21, but trade No. 29. Draft the first, and stash the second. Package the picks, and move up. Package the picks, and move down.
Presti’s answer: none of the above.
The Thunder general manager selected Michigan power forward Mitch McGary with the 21st pick, then took Stanford small forward Josh Huestis with the 29th pick. And while there were rumblings late Thursday night that the Thunder might do a trade with the Hornets for point guard Semaj Christon, all indications at this point are that the Thunder plans to have at least two players with guaranteed first-round contracts coming out of draft night.
It caused a lot of head scratching, especially because Presti made both picks when sexier options remained on the board. McGary went ahead of the likes of Shabazz Napier, Jordan Adams and P.J. Hairston. After Napier was drafted by the Hornets then traded to the Heat, LeBron James tweeted that Napier was his favorite player in the draft.
Then after Presti took Huestis, the Spurs drafted Kyle Anderson with the very next pick. Anderson was a guy that the Thunder worked out a couple times, and since every guy the Spurs take seems to turn to gold, that seems like a pick that sure to haunt the Thunder.
But maybe not.
Who among us thought Russell Westbrook would be worth the No. 4 pick back in 2008? Or Serge Ibaka would become a star when he was taken at No. 24 that same year? Or James Harden would become a star worthy of wailing and gnashing of teeth when he was taken No. 3 in 2009? Or Reggie Jackson would become the next guy that Thunder fans are worried about losing when he was drafted No. 24 in 2011? Or Steven Adams would be the center of the future when he was drafted No. 12 last year?
I mean, really think about the moment you heard those players’ names announced as the Thunder’s picks. No way you were fired up about every one of them.
But now, you struggle to think of them wearing anything other than Thunder blue.
Why couldn’t the same be true of McGary and Huestis?
No doubt there are questions about these picks. That’s allowable. McGary, for example, is a big man who’s had back problems. That alone is reason to raise a red flag. But he’s also a guy who failed an NCAA drug test and faced a one-year suspension.
Doesn’t exactly sound like a guy with that Thunder DNA.
But if you watched the 6-foot-10, 255-pound McGary when he was healthy as a freshman at Michigan, he was reminiscent of a guy beloved by the Thunder. He was a young Nick Collison.
Now, will he become Collison 2.0? Or will he be another Cole Aldrich?
Every Presti move on draft night isn’t gold, after all.
He didn’t get a spot-up shooter that this team could so desperately use. Derek Fisher is gone. Thabo Sefolosha and Caron Butler seem sure to follow. And that leaves Jeremy Lamb and … crickets. Another guy who can fill it up from outside would’ve been good.
Maybe that guy is coming in free agency. Maybe a trade is already in the works. But the draft is where the Thunder has built, where it has established its core as well as its complementary parts, where it has acquired other pieces like future picks that could be packaged later. The draft is where Sam Presti has been at his best.
But maybe he was again Thursday night.
Time will tell what comes of McGary and Huestis, of course, but just remember the track record that Presti has on draft night. There have been way more stars than busts, way more reasons to trust than doubt.
Just because a Presti pick hits with a thud on draft night doesn’t mean it’s going to be a clunker.
Jenni Carlson: Jenni can be reached at 475-4125. Like her at facebook.com/JenniCarlsonOK, follow her at twitter.com/jennicarlson_ok or view her personality page at newsok.com/jennicarlson.