NBA Draft week has finally arrived and the questions around what the Thunder will do Thursday night are as loud as ever. Will Oklahoma City trade up into the top 4? Do they trade back from 6? How many picks do they really make? While the possibilities are endless, the simplest question remains; who will Sam Presti select at 6? It appears the answer to this has gained some clarity with a flood of reports linking OKC to James Bouknight.
Bouknight validated the reports in his most recent interview, saying, “I’ve been talking to OKC a lot. I got dinner with Sam and other guys.” The UConn guard then dropped a quote that would surely thrill Thunder fans:
“Me and Shai in the backcourt, I feel like that can be a deadly young backcourt. Then you put Dort in there, I feel like that can be something special.”
The feeling is mutual. Let’s take a look at what Bouknight brings to the table.
James Bouknight | Connecticut | 20 Years Old | 6-5 Guard
Stats: 18.7 PPG, 5.7 RPG, 1.8 APG, 1.1 STL, 44.7 FG%, 29.3 3P%, 77.8 FT%
James Bouknight grew up in Brooklyn as a two-sport athlete, with baseball as his first passion. However, as he got older, he began to focus on basketball. A torn meniscus in high school impacted his recruiting as he ended up at UConn. Despite being under-recruited, Bouknight blossomed into a solid starter for the Huskies his freshman season. A strong ending to his freshman season led to NBA interest, so much so that Sam Presti reportedly inquired about him entering last year’s draft, per Jonathan Givony. Needless to say, the interest still remains a year later.
Above-average athleticism and a 6-8 wingspan instantly profile as strengths of Bouknight’s game. This combination allows him to finish virtually anything around the rim, converting 62.7% attempts at the rim last season. He sports a silky smooth floater in his arsenal, crucial to opening up more driving lanes. Bouknight excels at moving without the ball, leading to uncontested jumpers or ferocious put-back dunks, like the one below.
Furthermore, the 6-5 guard possesses a soft touch from virtually every spot on the court. Despite unimpressive percentages, Bouk’s pull-up/mid-range game projects well to the NBA. Much like Shai, he relies on change of speed to create open looks with the ability to stop on a dime. The next step for Bouknight is proving to be a consistent shooter from deep. Playing alongside high-level players should boost his percentages due to an increase in open looks.
Defensively, Bouknight holds the intangibles to be great. Throughout his time at UConn, he would often be tasked with stopping opposing stars late in games. The major question stems from inconsistencies in off-ball defense. When locked in, there is monstrous potential for his off-ball defense. Focus and effort will take Bouknight’s defense to the next level and could lead to more plays like the one below.
Before diving into the weaknesses, it is worth mentioning that the Huskies’ offense relied exclusively on Bouknight to score, which led to many tough situations. With that being said, Bouknight’s questionable shot selection is tough to defend. A large reason for the forced shots is his poor ability to read defenses and make necessary passes. Poor reads often led to heavily contested jumpers or baffling turnovers. Improving his court vision will help to open up perimeter shots and raise the percentage from deep.
Earlier I mentioned that Bouknight must find defensive consistency and that is most definitely the case. Improvement could come strictly from effort, leading to average-level defense. As a guard, you cannot afford to fall asleep off-ball, especially if you struggle to fight through screens. Bouknight could solve these problems by adding some muscle to his long frame. Due to defensive being more of an effort problem I don’t worry about it too much in the NBA. Look for Coach Daigneault to iron out any lingering issues rather quickly into the season.
Fit & Overview
At first glance, you would not expect Bouknight to be a Sam Presti, swing-for-the-fences type of player. Compared to Jonathan Kuminga, he seems like an ultra-conservative pick. Despite what many think, Bouknight is a risk offensively. Improving the deep ball and passing could turn Bouknight into a high-level starter, if not an offensive star. Clearly, Presti sees this potential if he is willing to take Bouknight 6th overall. While I am a Kuminga believer, his floor is much lower than Bouk’s, therefore I have no problem with the safer pick and slightly lower ceiling. Last season, Shai proved to be a more than capable point guard which fits perfectly alongside Bouknight’s game.
All things considered, I think OKC fans should be ecstatic if Bouknight throws on a Thunder hat Thursday night. Personally, I am higher on Kuminga based on superstar potential but I consider myself a Bouknight believer. A secondary scoring option that scores off the bounce with high-level shot creation is a fun way to break into a treasure trove of picks. Presti will do everything in his power to land a top-4 pick but if not Bouknight as the consolation prize is not too shabby. Regardless of what happens between now and Thursday night: In Presti We Trust.