As you are all probably aware, the Thunder were blessed at this year’s lottery coming up with the second pick. With most of the focus on that pick (maybe rightfully so), it is easy to forget that the Thunder received another pick in the lottery at number 12. Though this pick did not jump into the top 4 like some fans had hoped for, there are plenty of great prospects available to help round out the Thunder roster going into next season and beyond.
Size and shooting on the wings as well as a true center/lob threat should be the Thunder’s biggest needs coming into this draft. The 2nd pick will determine which one of these player types the Thunder target at 12 but following are some players that the Thunder should look to target at 12 that fit these needs.
Malaki Branham – Ohio State
Branham is a name that has shot up mock drafts late into the college season for good reason. He is a 6’5 wing out of Ohio State that is a smart and capable defender. Coming into the draft at 19 is also a big plus for Branham, as he will be one of the younger prospects available. He also has tremendous offensive upside. Branham shot 42% from beyond the arc in college and 50% from the field overall while averaging 13.7 points per game. He only got better as the college season went on. In the month of February and onwards he averaged 17.6 points per game and shot 43% from three point range. Branham is not only a spot up shooter but he can create his own shots in the mid range effectively and finishes at the rim at an exceptional rate (around 70%). He is a true three-level scorer that the Thunder can utilize to round out their lineup.
Though there may be some overlap between him and Lu Dort as both are smaller wings, Branham could be a great threat off the bench until he is ready to take the starting spot. He perfectly fits the mold that Sam Presti and Mark Daigneault have been going for as they want creators on the court at all times. Malaki Branham can create for himself easily when on the court and having him out there will take good pressure of off Shai and Josh Giddey whether he is acting as a spot up shooter or cutter. When the team’s offense is breaking down and not working smoothly he can also take over possessions for himself to right the ship.
Tari Eason – LSU
Tari Eason is a bigger wing that has made a name for himself on the defensive end. The 20 year old averaged over a block per game and almost two steals per game in his sophomore season at LSU. He’s very active in passing lanes and has the skills and strength to be a great on ball defender. Eason also has the athleticism to get rejections at the rim consistently.
Offensively, his game certainly has some gaps that need improvement. Although he averaged 17 points per game in his last season at LSU, most of that came from transition opportunities or easy looks. He doesn’t have the tools for self creation yet in the NBA, so he will probably be coming in as a 3&D wing that is not very responsible for putting the ball on the floor. Regarding his shot, Tari Eason has shown some potential that he can become a reliable shooter in his time in college. He shot 36% from 3 on 2.4 attempts per game in his last year at LSU. His unorthodox shot mechanics could use some refinement to help his consistency, though.
Eason’s fit with Oklahoma City will come down to his shot forming at a high and consistent level. Josh Giddey and Shai need people on the wings that can knockdown shots in order to relieve pressure from their drives. Defensively, though, he fits right into the Thunders active and physical style of defense that was displayed last season.
Ochai Agbaji – Kansas
The senior from Kansas feels like a good option to play it safe here at the 12th pick. There is widespread belief that Agbaji can be a productive role player in this league for many years to come. His upside may be lower than other prospects, though, as Agbaji is already 22 years old. Despite this, he has improved greatly every year in college and there is no reason to believe he will not continue this path in the NBA despite being 2-3 years older than most desired prospects.
Offensively, Ochai Agbaji has all the tools to become a desired role player. He averaged about 19 points per game and shot 40% from three in his senior year at Kansas. His jump shot mechanics look sound and seem like they will transfer to the next level in the NBA. He probably won’t be asked to self-create at the NBA level, but he did show some improvement there in his senior year. Working on this part of his game could give him some more unpredictability to his offensive game and make him harder to guard. Defensively, he can hold his own. Maybe the biggest indictment in his game is he doesn’t do any one thing at an exceptional level, but he is a well-rounded role player that the Thunder certainly need more of at the moment.
Jalen Duren – Memphis
Okay… this one may be a little bit of a reach, but one can hope. Most mocks have Duren going in the top 10, but if he were somehow able to fall to the Thunder at 12 it would seem like a perfect match, especially if Chet Holgrem is not available at the second pick. Duren is simply a beast physically. The 18 (!!) year old center out of Memphis is 6’11 with a 7’5 wingspan and can jump out of the gym. He also has great speed to help him stay with smaller guards and run in transition, both skills that will be crucial in the NBA. One downside to Duren is his limited offensive game outside of lobs/pick and roll. He doesn’t have the skills necessary to be a post up threat in the NBA and also has not shown anything that projects he can be a mid-range/3 point shooter in the league. His offensive output was also hindered by Memphis’ weak guard play, which is something to keep note of as he transitions to the NBA with much superior guard play.
Nonetheless, he would be a great addition to the Thunder. Giving Giddey and Shai a lob threat is very important and Duren may be the best in the business very soon as he can leap like not many others can. Defensively, his athleticism will allow him to be a great last line of defense behind point of attack defenders like Lu Dort, as Duren also averaged over 2 blocks per game in college.
Mark Williams – Duke
Mark Williams is the other traditional center that could go to the Thunder in this range. He pretty much poses all of the same upside that Duren does while being about 2 years older than Duren. Williams is an exceptional defender that can even defend complex actions with ease, something not incredibly common with centers out of college.
He was surrounded by much superior talent than Duren was, however, so he also got easier looks in the offense despite having less opportunities. He averaged 11 points and 2.8 blocks per game at Duke last season and can certainly be an effective roller/rim runner for Shai and Giddey.
Jeremy Sochan – Baylor
Unlike the last two centers in this list, Sochan is anything but traditional. Many have compared him to Draymond Green in that he is a smaller center/power forward that thrives on smarts and positioning. Sochan is incredibly switchable on defense and has the motor to defend an opponent’s best player for long stretches.
The worries with Sochan mostly come on the offensive end of the floor. He was not a very consistent 3pt shooter in college at 29%, doesn’t have the skill to create his own offense, and isn’t athletic or skilled enough to be an elite roller/cutter. He can finish when he gets looks right around the hoop but I’m not sure if that will translate with better interior defenders in the NBA. He is, however, a willing and smart playmaker on offense which could be useful for any team looking for play connectors.
He also shot a pretty abysmal 59% from the free throw line in college. Being that the free throw line is usually a good indicator of someone’s game being able to stretch out to 3pt land, this is not a great sign.
His fit with the Thunder seems questionable as well. He is only 6’9 so doesn’t have the height to match up with the bigger centers in the league, something the Thunder seriously missed last season. He isn’t athletic enough to be an effective lob threat for Shai and Giddey, who need some more vertical spacing to help their offense open up. Despite this, he is a fiery player and hard worker on defense and teams are always looking for culture guys to stick with them for long periods of time.,
There are certainly other players to target in the 12th range, but in my opinion these are the ones that make the most sense for the Thunder to look at. If Sam Presti wants to take a swing on a more raw prospect with upside potential, someone like Dyson Daniels or Ousmane Dieng is also a very real possibility at 12. No matter who is picked, they will certainly be given great opportunity next season as the rebuild enters its next stages and the Thunder look to enter back into the league’s spotlight.