The Thunder currently find themselves 5th in the Western Conference heading into seeding games. Following a magical run that started in late December, the Thunder have emerged as a dark horse candidate for a deep playoff run, anchored by a top-5 MVP candidate in Chris Paul, potential Sixth Man of the Year Dennis Schröder, and a blossoming superstar in Shai Gilgeous-Alexander.
Despite the incredible run and historically good play in the clutch, this offseason will be full of questions.
What happens with Chris Paul?
Do the Thunder let Gallinari walk? Maybe a sign and trade?
The list goes on-and-on, but for a team on the verge of a rebuild, perhaps the most important question is: What type of talent will Sam Presti be looking to add in the upcoming NBA Draft?
While this year’s draft class appears weak, there are a handful of players that could thrive as key role players in the NBA. Below I discuss five of them we could see in a Thunder jersey next season.
Jahmi’us Ramsey | 6-4 guard| 19, Freshman | Texas Tech
Stats: 15PPG, 4RPG, 2.2APG, 44.2 FG%, 42.6 3P%, 64.1 FT%
If the Thunder decide to trade CP3 or Schroder this offseason, I would be shocked if they did not add a guard through the draft. Jahmi’us Ramsey could be the perfect fit for an SGA-led offense due to his impressive floor-spacing ability. Ramsey, the BIG 12 Freshman of the Year, shot an astounding 33-88 (37.5%) on catch-and-shoot opportunities. As seen in the clip below, Ramsey has a very fluid shooting motion off the pass that will translate very well to the NBA.
While it’s clear Ramsey is capable of shooting at a high clip, his free-throw percentage is worrisome, sitting at just 64%. However, the main causes for concern with Ramsey are shot selection and defense.
As the young star for a Texas Tech team that lacked offense, Ramsey could afford to fire up wild shots, but in the NBA his trigger-happy style of play will not fly. I’m a firm believer that in the right system he will cherish his role and be a deadly offensive weapon. That leaves his defense to be concerned about. Although Jahmi’us showed some flashes defensively in his freshman season, he tends to get caught ball watching. If Ramsey consistently produces the defensive effort shown below, his offensive prowess will more than make-up for any additional shortcomings.
Overall, I am a fan of Ramsey and I think it would be refreshing to see Presti draft a proven shooter rather than a rim-running wing. I’d argue that Ramsey has a higher ceiling than former Texas Tech stars, Jarrett Culver and Zhaire Smith. I don’t know if Ramsey will ever get to a high enough level defensively to be considered a 3-and-D player but I am confident he will at least provide a scoring boost off the bench for whatever team ends up drafting him. Maybe we will see Ramsey splashing some 3s in the Peake next season.
Jaden McDaniels | 6-10 Wing | 19, Freshman | Washington
Stats: 13PPG, 5.8RPG, 2.1APG, 1.4BPG, 40.5 FG%, 33.9 3P%, 76.3 FT%
Jaden McDaniels epitomizes what Presti has looked for over the years, a lengthy wing who can handle the ball but is very unproven offensively. Whoever drafts McDaniels will need patience in order to develop him into a solid NBA player. The Thunder have a myriad of future picks so they might just be willing to take a risk on McDaniels.
The freshman out of Washington has an abundance of raw talent and could be the steal of the draft if utilized correctly. He is a solid player in transition and loves to take pull-up jumpers, oftentimes forcing them. McDaniels has a good looking shot but has yet to back it up with results. When he’s hot he plays like a lottery pick (shown below) but when he’s cold he is borderline unplayable.
There are a few causes for concern with McDaniels and they all stem from his poor decision-making on the court. He loves to force the pull-up jumper even when he has a lane to the rim. Perhaps the most frightening stat from his freshman season lies in his foul trouble. McDaniels fouled out of 8 games and picked up at least 4 fouls in 15 games. The constant foul trouble and poor shot selection led to McDaniels losing his starting role for the Huskies. In order for McDaniels to find a solid role in the NBA he needs to let the game come to him and stop forcing the highlight play.
I am not very high on Jaden McDaniels as the addition of a tall, lengthy, ball-handling forward could stunt the growth of Darius Bazley. Hopefully, Sam Presti will resist the urge of drafting another wing and bring in the new era with a different draft mentality.
Jalen Smith |6-10 Big | 20, Sophomore | Maryland
Stats: 15.5PPG, 10.5RPG, 2.4BPG, 53.8 FG%, 36.8 3P%, 75 FT%
Nerlens Noel has thrived in the new OKC system and provided a huge boost off the bench. Offensively, Noel has been a beast in the pick-and-roll, and defensively he is constantly altering shots. Noel’s impressive season has him in line for a pretty nice contract this offseason, so the Thunder will need to find a replacement if they aren’t willing to pay him.
Jalen Smith is the perfect guy to step in and fill that void. Smith offers a different threat to the P-n-R because he is great on catch and shoot opportunities. The sophomore out of Maryland has a very fluid shot and it shows in his 36.8% mark from behind the arc. A pick and roll game with SGA could be lethal thanks to Smith’s pick and pop ability (shown below).
Jalen Smith is a well-rounded player, but he has a few aspect of his game that will need to improve in the NBA. Smith has a lot of touch around the rim but he tends to force shots in the post. Playing with high-level guards could really open up that game for him and take some pressure off his post-ups. Throughout his Maryland career Smith was a step slow on his rotations and close outs and needs to sharpen that area of his game for the NBA.
The potential departure of Noel opens up a spot for the Thunder to add a big man and Smith’s game could translate extremely well to the modern-day NBA. Having a big who can space the floor on pick and rolls or spot up shoot from the wings will open the paint more for Shai’s beloved scoop shot. Adding a floor spacer at the center position would be a great move for this Thunder team, so keep your eye on Jalen Smith as we get closer to the draft.
Nico Mannion | 6-4 guard |19, Freshman| Arizona
Stats: 14PPG, 5.3APG, 2.5RPG, 39.2 FG%, 32.7 3P%, 79.7 FT%
Earlier, I mentioned the Thunder might look to draft a guard to man the back court with SGA. Nico Mannion could be a nice compliment to Shai for years to come.
Despite a tough freshman season at Arizona, I am still a believer in Mannion. Armed with great court vision and impressive touch around the rim, Nico has all the tools necessary to become a solid NBA player. Defensively, Mannion has quick feet that allow him to be a pest and draw a decent amount of charges. Last season Mannion showed off his incredible ability to score around the rim using his potent floater. The floater was Nico’s go-to shot in college and he got it to fall on defenders of all sizes.
Although the floater is a high difficulty shot and often results in a lower field goal percentage, it is vital to Mannion’s success as a small-statured guard.
The main concerns around Mannion’s game are his size and strength along with his shot selection. I am less concerned with his shot selection because he was the main source of offense for Arizona and that put him in some tough spots. However, his strength will need to improve at the next level. Adding more muscle will allow for Nico to get to the rim instead of forcing floaters over 7-footers. Additionally, he will have to continue to fine-tune his stroke from deep to expand his offense to new heights.
A tough freshman season has people low on Mannion heading into the draft but the potential is there. With a pick in the mid-20s, I have no problem with drafting a high IQ, high ceiling player. I can already envision a back-court duo driven by Shai’s majestic scoop shots and Nico’s jaw-dropping floaters.
Saddiq Bey |6-8 wing | 21, Sophomore | Villanova
Stats: 16PPG, 2.4APG, 4.7RPG, 47.4 FG%, 45.1 3P%, 77 FT%
With a new era of Thunder basketball approaching, Presti will surely be looking for a talented wing who can score. Saddiq Bey might be the most underrated player in this draft and would certainly be just that if he fell to OKC.
Villanova has quietly been producing solid role players over the past few years and Bey is no exception. The consistency Bey displayed at Villanova makes him one of the safest picks in this class. Saddiq shot an astonishing 45% from deep on 5.5 attempts per game. In addition to his elite shooting, Bey also showed the ability to guard positions 1 through 4. That defensive ability makes him a huge weapon in the small ball revelation the NBA is seeing today.
There aren’t many weaknesses to Bey’s game but the biggest knock on him is quickness. He plays an old man style of basketball so he rarely blows past his defenders. I think Bey can mask a lot of his lack of speed by getting stronger. Adding strength will allow Saddiq to power through defenders on drives and rebound at a higher level. The good thing for Bey is he has proven to be a solid scorer without elite level speed or strength.
At the very least, Bey should be an extremely solid role player in the NBA. At his peak I could see him becoming a more offensive-minded PJ Tucker, allowing his team to create mismatches with small-ball lineups. I would be shocked if Bey fell all the way to the Thunder but with so many future picks maybe Presti will take shot on moving up to grab the sophomore out of Villanova.
This offseason could go in so many different directions, which makes an unpredictable Presti even harder to predict. With a new era on the horizon, Presti will evaluate all his options heading into the draft.
No matter what, whatever Sam decides to do on draft night he will have my full support. It is hard to dispute his track record when it comes to evaluating young talent. I’m excited to see what the future holds for the Thunder, and I can’t wait to see what tricks Presti has up his sleeve to shock the NBA world once more.