Among the last 15 first round draft picks for the Oklahoma City Thunder (and Seattle SuperSonics) have been three of the five best players in the NBA including the 2014 Most Valuable Player and most likely this year’s Most Valuable Player and this year’s MVP runner-up. Obviously they have done a pretty good job at selecting talent. Unfortunately the Thunder have been unable to turn those three superstars, and a few other very solid choices, into any NBA titles. One reason might be because they drafted some players whose talents overlapped a bit too much. That is also the reason that they have lost two of those three superstars via trade and free agency. In looking back, there were probably some unconventional choices that could have been made which would have brought in players that fit with their superstars a little bit better. Here are the past 15 Thunder picks and who they should have selected instead.
15 Domantas Sabonis (2016)
Original Pick: Domantas Sabonis
The latest first round pick for the Oklahoma City Thunder came before they had lost Kevin Durant to Golden State so the selection was made with retaining their star in mind. They got the pick from the Magic in the trade that sent Serge Ibaka to Orlando. Obviously it did not help them hold onto Durant and if they would have known he was going to be gone, they may have chosen a little differently. On the other hand, there were not a lot of other impactful players who came after the 11th overall pick. One possibility based on his potential to be something special would be Skal Labissière who was drafted by the Phoenix Suns and sent to the Sacramento Kings. The best choice was probably the one they made however. Domantas Sabonis is the son of Hall of Famer Arvydas Sabonis, and if he can have a fraction of the career of his father, he will be a very good player in the NBA. Sabonis the younger is already a starter for the Thunder and with his varied skill set he should be a solid player for many years to come.
14 Rondae Hollis-Jefferson (2015)
Original Pick: Cameron Payne
After being named the Ohio Valley Conference Player of the Year in 2015, the Oklahoma City Thunder drafted Cameron Payne with the 14th overall pick in the 2015 NBA Draft out of Murray State. Payne played just over one season in Oklahoma City, averaging just over five points per game, before being traded to the Bulls at this year’s trade deadline. There were not a lot of other great options after the 14th pick in 2015 but the Thunder might have done better if they had gone for defense on the wings. One player that may have helped with that is Rondae Hollis-Jefferson who had been named to the Pac-12 All-Defensive team in 2015. Jefferson was taken a few picks later by the Brooklyn Nets where he has averaged over seven points and over five rebounds per game.
13 Clint Capela (2014)
Original Pick: Mitch McGary
After an exciting NCAA tournament in 2013 where he helped lead the Wolverines to the Final Four before losing in the championship game to Louisville, Mitch McGary’s stock shot up and he began to be considered as a first round draft pick. He chose to stick around Ann Arbor but declared for the draft in 2014 and was selected by the Thunder with the 21st overall pick. McGary only lasted two seasons with the Thunder playing less than 35 games each year before being waived in 2016. One option who turned out better than McGary has been Clint Capela who was taken four spots later by the Houston Rockets. Capela has developed into a key piece of the Rockets incredible offense and could have fit well into the Thunder’s as well.
12 Nikola Jokic (2014)
Original Pick: Josh Huestis
The Thunder also had the 29th overall pick in 2014 and selected Josh Huestis with it. Huestis has played in six games with the Thunder in three years, spending most of his time in the D-League. With plenty of wings in house, if Oklahoma City wanted a big man who could do a lot more however, a better choice would have been Nikola Jokic who was selected in the second round by the Denver Nuggets. Although he spent one more year in Europe after being drafted, he earned All Rookie team honors when he finally arrived in the NBA. After the Nuggets traded fellow big man Jusuf Nurkic away recently, Jokic has established himself as a legitimate star with the Denver Nuggets, becoming a triple double machine over the past few months.
11 Steven Adams (2013)
Original Pick: Steven Adams
When they drafted him in 2013 with the 12th overall pick in the NBA Draft, nobody thought he would become the second best player on the team. One reason he has become that is simply because Kevin Durant and Serge Ibaka are gone, but one could argue Adams was becoming more valuable than Ibaka by the end of the 2016 playoffs. Now that only Russell Westbrook remains, Adams is certainly the second most important player if not second best. If they were to re-draft it would be tempting to grab Giannis Antetokounmpo who went three picks later and looks like he could develop into a Greek version of Kevin Durant-lite. It is an interesting thing to consider if Giannis would have fit with Durant and Westbrook, or if he would have been able to slip into Durant’s spot after he left. There is also the possibility that with less time on the court with the ball in his hand, he would have not developed as well as he has. Ultimately, the best bet for the Thunder, and Giannis, would be for them to stick with Steven Adams.
10 Allen Crabbe (2013)
Original Pick: Archie Goodwin/Andre Roberson
Although they drafted Archie Goodwin with the 29th overall pick in the 2013 NBA Draft, they traded him right away to Golden State for Andre Roberson who was the guy they wanted. Roberson is an important part of the Thunder although he is somewhat one dimensional. He is a great wing defender and is usually put on the opponent’s biggest offensive threat. Unfortunately he does not provide much of anything on the offensive end himself. His poor shooting means defenders can sag off of him and clog the line, mucking up the Thunder offense. There were two other players who could have been better choices than Roberson. If they wanted to go for rim protection, they could have taken Rudy Gobert who went with the very next pick to the Nuggets. A better choice might have been Allen Crabbe though, who has developed into one of the best three point shooters in the league at over 40% for his career.
9 Draymond Green (2012)
Original Pick: Perry Jones
After two years starring at Baylor, Perry Jones was selected by the Oklahoma City Thunder with the 28th overall pick in the 2012 NBA Draft. He has been with the Thunder for three years but has spent a lot of time in the D-League and has been slow to develop into what they had hoped, averaging less than four points per game in his career. The obvious choice to re-draft would be Draymond Green who went in the second round to the Golden State Warriors. With his ability to defend all five positions, Green would have been very useful to the Thunder. It would also mean he would not have been blocking Durant and Westbrook’s path to the NBA Finals in the past few years. Most importantly, choosing Draymond Green would have saved Steven Adams a LOT of pain and suffering.
8 Jimmy Butler (2011)
Original Pick: Reggie Jackson
Selecting a point guard that needs the ball is probably not the best idea when you already have James Harden and Russell Westbrook on your team. Nevertheless, the Oklahoma City Thunder chose Reggie Jackson with their first round pick in the 2011 NBA Draft. Jackson was not bad, but he was somewhat redundant and more importantly, he did not get along with the rest of the team which made him even less useful, and which lead to his eventual trade to the Pistons in 2015. There are two players who would have been better choices for the Thunder in 2011, which could have fit the team in slightly different ways. One was Chandler Parsons who could have given the Thunder a three point threat to create spacing for their stars. The better choice would probably be Jimmy Butler however. Butler is known as a scorer now but early on he was acclaimed as a defensive stopper. With the offensive weapons the Thunder had, Butler’s defense would have been very useful and the fact that he developed a great offensive game as well would have made him a wonderful addition.
7 Eric Bledsoe (2010)
Original Pick: Eric Bledsoe
Although they traded him for a future first rounder, Eric Bledsoe was probably the best player available when the Thunder selected him with the 18th overall pick in the 2010 NBA Draft. That said, he still would have been a poor choice for them as adding yet another point guard would have been a waste of a draft pick. On the other hand, there were not a lot of great players who came after number 18 in 2010. If they had kept Bledsoe they may have been able to juice his trade value with playing time, but that would be difficult with Westbrook and Harden in the way. If they would have thrown the 18th pick in with the two others first rounders they traded for the 11th pick they may have been able to move up further and get DeMarcus Cousins or Paul George. Ultimately they probably made the best decision by swapping him for a future first rounder.
6 Hassan Whiteside (2010)
Original Pick: Cole Aldrich
With their second, of three, first round picks in 2010 The Thunder selected Craig Brakin with the 21st overall pick. With their third pick at number 26 they took Quincy Pondexter. Both selections were traded for the 11th overall pick from the New Orleans Hornets, Cole Aldrich. Since Aldrich was the guy they ended up acquiring, he is the guy that they should re-draft for. If they really had a chance to do it over, they should have traded up two more spots so they could have had Gordon Hayward or Paul George who went right before Aldrich at nine and ten. Barring that, there were not a lot of other easy choices. One player who could have fit well was Hassan Whiteside. Of course Whiteside took a circuitous route to the NBA, with D-League and international stints, as well as injuries and off the court issues that kept him from the NBA. If the Thunder could have weathered that, and Whiteside became in Oklahoma City, what he is with the Heat now, he could have given the Thunder three (almost) seven footers that could play all over the court.
5 Stephen Curry (2009)
Original Pick: James Harden
It seems impossible that a team would pass on drafting James Harden if they had a chance, considering he is one of the leading contenders for this year’s Most Valuable Player award. Then again, Oklahoma City already had the other contender for this year’s MVP on the roster. It also seems impossible that a team would trade away James Harden but they did of course do that. The reason for trading Harden, and the reason they might have chosen not to select Harden in the first place, are both a matter of considering how he fit with their other stars. His skills were slightly redundant. The only way one would consider choosing a different player in this case is if that player was really freaking good, and was a way better fit. Incidentally, there was someone who might have been both in Stephen Curry. Curry’s point guard skills do overlap with Westbrook, but his transcendent shooting ability is what makes him a better fit. With Westbrook driving the lane, Durant scoring at will, and Curry spotting up from deep, the Thunder offense would be relatively unstoppable so Curry is the only one you would ever consider drafting instead of Harden.
4 Taj Gibson (2009)
Original Pick: Rodrigue Beaubois
There were a few players who were still available when the Thunder had a chance to pick at number 25 that would have probably fit in better with the stars that OKC had at the time of the 2009 NBA Draft. They could have had Patrick Beverly and his intense competitiveness, or Danny Green who developed into a great 3-and-D player with the Spurs, or even DeMarre Carroll, but the best choice would have probably been Taj Gibson, who they finally got their hands on this year anyway. Gibson’s hard-nosed defensive passion could have been a great addition to the offensive firepower that the Thunder already enjoyed with their superstars. With Ibaka and Gibson patrolling the lane, the Thunder defense could have been almost as intimidating as their offense.
3 Kevin Love (2008)
Original Pick: Russell Westbrook
No. You do not choose someone other than Russell Westbrook with your fourth overall pick in the 2008 NBA Draft if you are the Oklahoma City Thunder (or the Seattle SuperSonics). You just don’t. But... If you absolutely have to make some sort of case for not taking Westbrook, well, maybe you can. The very next player to get drafted was Kevin Love who was taken by the Grizzlies and sent to the Timberwolves. Looking to the future, a team with James Harden running the point like he is now in Houston, with Kevin Durant being Kevin Durant, with Kevin Love grabbing rebounds, throwing outlet passes, and hitting threes, and Serge Ibaka defending the rim, well, that might just be a slightly better way to construct that team. With two ball dominant guards in Westbrook and Harden, and Durant as their best scorer, OKC had too much of the same good thing and they ended up having to deal Harden. If they switched out Love for Westbrook though, then when Harden drives the lane he can toss it out to three fantastic shooters in Durant, Love, and Serge Ibaka who developed into one of the best stretch 4s around. It would be like a turbo-charged version of Harden’s current Rockets offense. So maybe you do choose Love instead of Westbrook. Oh and one more thing, does Westbrook end up in Cleveland with LeBron in this scenario? Because that would be pretty sweet too.
2 Serge Ibaka (2008)
Original Pick: Serge Ibaka
Another key piece of the 2012 NBA Finals team was Serge Ibaka who was taken in the 2008 NBA Draft with the 24th overall pick. There were two more quality players who went later in DeAndre Jordan and Goran Dragic but neither would have fit that well with the Thunder. Dragic was yet another ball dominant guard and Jordan was like a slower version of Ibaka who had no range outside of 5 feet or so. It is pretty obvious that they made a great choice with Ibaka then. Although they traded him to the Orlando Magic, Ibaka had a very good seven years with Oklahoma City, averaging over 11 points and 2.5 blocks per game while developing into a stretch-4 who knocked down plenty of three pointers in big situations.
1 Kevin Durant (2007)
Original Pick: Kevin Durant
The only way you would consider drafting someone else over Kevin Durant is if Michael Jordan or LeBron James were still available, and even then you might be ok sticking with Durant. As the number two pick in the 2007 NBA Draft, it was the Portland Trailblazers who gifted the Seattle SuperSonics one of the greatest scorers in the NBA when they decided to go with Greg Oden with the first overall selection. Oden is of course out of the league, while Durant has one MVP Award, a finals appearance, a Rookie of the Year award, and eight All-Star game appearances. After narrowly missing the NBA Finals last year with the Oklahoma City Thunder, Durant decided that he would take the (seemingly) easier route back to the Finals by joining the Golden State Warriors. We shall see if he makes it but even though he is gone, he is the only choice the Thunder would ever make with their pick in 2007.