Four questions for four writers, examining some of the potential prospects the Thunder front office potentially had its eye on this March:
1. Name a prospect Thunder fans should keep an eye on at the Final Four this weekend.
Darnell Mayberry (beat writer) - Connecticut point guard Shabazz Napier. He’s got the pedigree and he’ll have the right university on his degree. It’s something about those UConn Huskies that Sam Presti just can’t pass up. Napier is not the biggest or most athletic at his position. Far from it. But he finds ways to get the job done, especially in big moments. With Derek Fisher set to retire at season’s end, as well as Reggie Jackson facing a cloudy future, the Thunder could target depth at the lead guard spot.
Anthony Slater (beat writer) - For the sake of some diversity on this panel, I’ll stray away from Shabazz Napier. Give me Patric Young, the bruising power forward from Florida. He’s currently 35th on Chad Ford’s big board and should be available whenever the Thunder pick. He doesn’t project as an elite player at the next level and his offensive game is limited. But he’s a large interior body, relentless on the glass and would seem to fit into a winning culture. Maybe it’s the school, but I see him having a Udonis Haslem type career. The Thunder would gladly take that late in the first round. Just check out this play:
Berry Tramel (columnist) - Shabazz Napier. The UConn point guard has been the tournament’s best player. Good shooter, good playmaker. Veteran. The Thunder could be in the market for a point guard, depending on what happens with Reggie Jackson’s contract. And in case you haven’t noticed, the Thunder loves itself come Connecticut.
Mike Sherman (sports editor) - How about UConn point guard Shabazz Napier? Best player left in the field (sorry Julius Randle). Trained by ex-Thunder reserve and Minister of Culture Kevin Ollie. A hedge against Reggie Jackson going the way of restricted free agency.
2. Name a realistic Thunder target that impressed you during this college season.
Mayberry - Kentucky point guard Andrew Harrison. I can’t stress enough how much I love this kid’s attitude and ability. He’s got incredible size (6-5) for his position and great strength and athleticism. Best of all, he’s got heart. His will to win will blow you away (he’s playing through a bum elbow he banged up against Kansas State). He can be mistake prone, but the polish will come. He’s got a ton of things you just can’t teach.
Slater - I’m intrigued by Kyle Anderson from UCLA. He’s a 6-foot-9 guard that averaged 14 points, nine rebounds and six assists in a solid Pac-12 this season. As a 20-year-old who lacks NBA strength, he’d probably be a bit of a project for a year or two. But he’s super skilled and could learn behind Kevin Durant, the shining example of why Anderson’s lanky and versatile game is so intriguing. Plus he’s already friends with Russell Westbrook, which can’t hurt. OKC would be wise to snatch him if he’s there with that Dallas pick in the early 20′s.
Tramel - Montrezel Harrell. The Louisville big man improved dramatically in his sophomore season, from 5.6 to 14.0 points a game. He averaged 8.4 rebounds and shot 60 percent from the field. Harrell is 6-foot-8, 230 pounds. He blocked some shots. Played within himself. If the Thunder is looking for a guy to eventually replace Nick Collison (Collison has one year left on his contract), Harrell could be the guy. He figures to go somewhere around 20th.
Sherman - Michigan State power forward Adreian Payne was my previous favorite player in the tournament, but he wore down in the second half Sunday against UConn. Big guys who can shoot, are tough and smart are scarce. According to a couple suggestions I’ve seen he’d have to fall a bit to reach the Thunder.
3. What is the Thunder’s biggest need in the draft?
Mayberry - Biggest? Probably a big man. Nick Collison will be 34 next season and is already average a career low in minutes. Kendrick Perkins will be on the final year of his contract next season. Steven Adams and Hasheem Thabeet are serviceable. But the Thunder needs to start thinking about acquiring another rugged rebounder and low-post defender. I say OKC’s biggest need is a big man.
Slater - Their biggest need is to get the best player available, whatever position. If it’s a point guard or power forward, all the better, as those seem to be the areas where playing time is most likely to open up. But we’ve all watched the Thunder this season. Scott Brooks has developed such a fluid rotation. Three point guards in this lineup, four players over 6-foot-10 in the next. The roster is so versatile and able to fit players in so many different holes. So come draft day, the job is to just add another weapon to Brooks’ already flexible arsenal.
Tramel - I would say point guard or power forward. Jackson can sign a contract extension this summer, but he might not. Collison’s contract is up after one more year, and while Saint Nick has been fabulous, he can’t last forever. If a center fell from the sky, I would urge the Thunder to grab him, but otherwise, point guard or power forward.
Sherman - When you don’t have a pressing need you have all kinds of flexibility, which is where the Thunder stands. With Derek Fisher planning retirement and pondering coaching and Caron Butler unsigned beyond this year, I’d say bench scoring and toughness rate high, but good luck finding that in the draft. I’m guessing Sam Presti will go with the best-available strategy, unless he deals one or both first-round picks for a veteran to fill the likely Fisher void.