Using the Draft Strategically

By Nick Gallo | Thunder Basketball Writer

It takes years of continuous scouting, hours of workouts and intense interviews, but in the build up to one special day, the Thunder tries to get the best possible evaluation on all of the players available in the NBA Draft. Then, after that enormous amount of time and energy spent, the most important qualities it can display are restraint and commitment to the grand plan.

Every off-season, all 30 teams get a free chance to improve their team with the NBA Draft. Whether that opportunity is executed upon by selecting players or the draft picks are used as assets for another purpose, Thunder General Manager Sam Presti and his staff are acutely aware of all of the potential benefits, ramifications and outcomes of each strategic decision that they can make.

As the Thunder and the other 29 teams head into Thursday night’s 2014 NBA Draft, Presti will be charged with the responsibility of planning for every imaginable scenario and then making the correct decisions when confronted with each ensuing reality. Whether that decision-making results in the Thunder selecting players with its draft picks or trading them, Presti and his staff have options and flexibility as they try to find the best way to enhance the roster heading into the 2014-15 season.

“We have to figure out where the value is,” Presti said. “We have to figure out how to best utilize those tools to improve the team now or in the future.”

“My job is to calculate how to get the best out of the team so that the coaches have as many options as possible to build the deepest team and put players on the floor who are going to grow throughout the season and probably throughout the years,” Presti explained.

With the 21st and 29th selections in this draft, the Thunder have two first-rounders at its disposal to use as essential assets, regardless of how they are deployed. Over the years, the Thunder’s drafting prowess and ability to use the draft to its advantage have paid major dividends for the franchise. On the current roster, Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, Serge Ibaka, Nick Collison, Reggie Jackson, Steven Adams, Perry Jones, Andre Roberson and Grant Jerrett were all either drafted directly by the Thunder or acquired by the team on draft night.

While Durant and Westbrook were notably selected at number two and number four overall in their respective drafts, the Thunder has also had success drafting late in the first round, where both of its selections land this season. Ibaka and Jackson were both selected at number 24 in 2008 and 2011, while the Thunder selected Jones at number 28 in 2012 and acquired Roberson after he was selected at number 26 in 2013. The key over the years for the Thunder has been that players selected in the draft, regardless of position, have been continually cultivated into increasingly productive all-around players by the coaches, trainers and staff with the work put in at the INTEGRIS Health Thunder Development Center.

“We feel really good that when you draft a player you can develop them within your organizational culture, can build habits and develop them in relation to your system and your current makeup of your team,” Presti said. “So the draft has been something that we’ve looked at as an important part of our organizational building but also our cultural building.”

With two draft picks waiting on the board and hundreds of available players that have been assessed and analyzed for months, it would be easy to get emotional or excited about the selection opportunities on Thursday night. For the Thunder, however, it is essential to stay with the formula that has worked over the past six seasons, which is to pragmatically find the best possible value to take advantage of the two assets it has in its pocket.

The Thunder never rules out any possibility, whether it be trading up, trading out or standing pat, which makes draft night so intriguing every year in Oklahoma City. Regardless of what Presti and company decide to do, they know that being discriminating in their acquisition of a player or another asset is critical to continuing to build the culture that has been fostered in Oklahoma City since the team arrived. On Thursday night, the Thunder will be sure to make the decisions that most effectively contribute to the vision of sustained success while augmenting the core of highly talented and extremely competitive players currently in place.

“I think there’s a big difference between picking a player and selecting a player,” Presti explained. “And when you’re picking, you’re picking from not necessarily things that you want. Selecting, to me, is when you’re selecting something from a pool that you value. And we want to be in a position to select.”

“We want to be in a position where we can add to the team without subtracting,” Presti said.