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Should the Thunder trade down?

by Darnell Mayberry Published: June 14, 2013

On Thursday, I floated a trade idea for the Thunder.

The idea: Oklahoma City sends the 12th pick to Atlanta in exchange for the Hawks’ 17th and 18th overall selections.

The scenario was met with a combination of confusion and criticism. Not surprising. Trading down is never sexy. But in some cases it can be smart. Very smart. I think this could be one of those instances, and here’s why.

Most have deemed this year’s draft to be weak. I disagree with that. Aside from the fact that we hear that same sentiment virtually every year, I actually think there is some really good talent available. But of that talent, there are very few standouts and possibly even zero stars. For that reason, this year’s 14th pick might be just as good as the fourth pick. So for the Thunder, chances are the 12th pick won’t be much better — if at all — than the 17th and 18th selections.

Trading back only five slots and acquiring an back-to-back selections is a great way to maximize your asset and add even more talent to an already stacked roster. I have no idea if the Hawks would pull the trigger on that deal. But if I’m the Thunder I’d even be willing to give up the 29th pick as well to sweeten the pot and make it happen. Maybe the Hawks are in love with someone who’s there at 12. Maybe not. But I’d certainly make the call to find out.

Before going any further, I must say that this deal is contingent on how the draft plays out. If for some strange reason Anthony Bennett or Victor Oladipo (or whoever that can’t-miss player is in the Thunder’s eyes) is still on the board at 12, all bets are off. If not, proceed as planned.

I’ll list the rest of my argument in easier-to-read bullet points.

  • In Chad Ford’s latest mock draft on espn.com, he has the Thunder taking Pittsburgh center Steven Adams at No. 12. He then has the Hawks selecting French big man Rudy Gobert and San Diego State swingman Jamaal Franklin. Which of those two drafts would you prefer?
  • The website nbadraft.net also has the Thunder taking Adams at 12. Their current mock has the Hawks taking UCLA guard Shabazz Muhammed and Duke center Mason Plumlee at 17 and 18. Again, advantage Hawks.
  • Steven Adams might be the next Andrew Bogut for all we know. Or he could be a bust. If the potential of the players are considered roughly the same, I’d rather take my chance on two players panning out than one. I don’t think that’s a tough decision or logic that’s hard to comprehend.
  • Who else could the Thunder take at 12? Cody Zeller? Kentavious Caldwell-Pope? Michael Carter-Williams? Who knows? But are any of them that much better than the duo than can be had at 17 and 18? Again, I don’t think they are.
  • The cost differential is minimal. Yes, the Thunder is dangerously close to the tax threshold. But that doesn’t mean OKC couldn’t draft two players at 17 and 18. The difference in salary between the 12th pick and both the 17th and 18th picks is about an additional $1 million. With the Thunder expected to let Kevin Martin walk and be spectators in free agency, as well as the tax threshold projected to increase, that $1 million doesn’t appear to be enough to push the Thunder into the tax. If the tax level doesn’t rise as projected, the Thunder could always let Daniel Orton or, dare I say, DeAndre Liggins, walk to free up the necessary room.
  • Keep in mind, the Thunder doesn’t have to sign both players. One could be a draft-and-stash prospect. That could keep critical coin off the budget but still get another young player in the pipeline.
  • Oklahoma City can never have too many prospects. Never. I know it’s painful to watch the current crop of youngsters ride the pine, but they are the lifeblood of the franchise’s future success. As great as Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant are, they’re going to need help. Surrounding them with young talent is how the Thunder will endure both the test of time and salary cap constraints.
  • The Thunder doesn’t have as many young guys as you think. Jeremy Lamb and Perry Jones III, sure. But Reggie Jackson has graduated from that group. He’ll likely be the sixth man next year. Orton and Liggins (exhale) are expendable. Definitely upgradable.
  • It’s never too soon to think about replacing the replacements. I mentioned this a few weeks back, but Jackson, because of financial reasons, could be a goner sooner rather than later. Gobbling up prospects while you can is just smart management. It’s being proactive rather than reactive.
  • When is the Thunder going to have the luxury of another top 20 pick? Could be a long time from now. This gives OKC the chance at two this year. Two that, in case you don’t get it by now, could be just as good as the 12th pick.
  • As for that 29th pick, even if Atlanta wouldn’t demand it that doesn’t mean the Thunder has to use it to bring someone in next year. That’s important to understand. There’s all sorts of ways to use that pick. The draft-and-stash is the most popular method. And there might be plenty of worthy candidates. But just look at what the Thunder is doing with Tibor Pleiss. Since being selected three years ago, Pleiss hasn’t cost the Thunder a thing and is being paid by someone else to develop for Oklahoma City. The Thunder also could trade the pick for a future pick, or, probably least likely of the options, sell the selection for cash.
  • Slightly off point but still draft related since I’m on it and am constantly asked. The only scenario in which I see the Thunder trading up is if Anthony Bennett slips past the fifth pick. Can’t see the Thunder parting with any combination of picks and Lamb or Jones to move up for anyone in this year’s draft. C.J. McCollum is a wild card who the Thunder might have interest in. But he very well could slip to 12 on draft night for all we know.
  • Lastly, to illustrate my point let’s take a moment to look at history. Here are the 12th, 17th and 18th picks of the past five drafts.
    2012
    12. Jeremy Lamb
    17. Tyler Zeller
    18. Terrence Jones

    2011
    12. Alec Burks
    17. Iman Shumpert
    18. Chris Singleton

    2010
    12. Xavier Henry
    17. Kevin Seraphin
    18. Eric Bledsoe

    2009
    12. Gerald Henderson
    17. Jrue Joliday
    18. Ty Lawson

    2008
    12. Jason Thompson
    17. Roy Hibbert
    18. JaVale McGee

  • The jury is still out on 2012, of course. But from 2008 to 2011, every 17th and 18th selection has had a better career to this point than that year’s 12th pick.
  • Obviously, that’s a small sample size. The draft, of course, is not a science. There are years that pattern is flipped. In 2007, for example, Thaddeus Young went 12th while Sean Williams and Marco Belinelli went 17th and 18th, respectively. Then there are years when nothing good happens in those slots. Like in 2006 when Hilton Armstrong went 12th, Shawne Williams went 17th and Oleksiy Pecherov went 18th.
  • But in 2005, Yaroslav Korolev went 12th while Danny Granger was picked 17th and Gerald Green was taken 18th. In 2004, old friend Robert Swift went 12th while Josh Smith went 17th and J.R. Smith went 18th. And in 2004, Nick Collison was picked 12th while David West was selected 18th.
  • If I’m the Thunder, I sit back and see what plays out on draft night. If nobody falls, I’m picking up the phone and calling Atlanta.

-DM-

by Darnell Mayberry
OKC Thunder Senior Reporter
Darnell Mayberry grew up in Langston, Okla. and is now in his third stint in the Sooner state. After a year and a half at Bishop McGuinness High, he finished his prep years in Falls Church, Va., before graduating from Norfolk State University in...
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