After 2021 Draft Lottery, Thunder Will Pick at 6, 16, 18, 34, 36 and 55
About 90 minutes before the 2021 NBA Draft Lottery was held, Thunder General Manager and Executive Vice President Sam Presti made it clear that he wasn’t interested in the pomp and circumstance around the made-for-television event. While the lottery is a fun and engaging moment that fans should anticipate with excitement, for the Thunder’s long-term planning the most important part was simply finding out the results.
“Nothing really changes for us other than gaining clarity,” said Presti at his pre-lottery press conference. “It really puts us in position to start thinking and being creative and having conversations with other teams and having conversations with agents.”
After the ping pong balls bounced on Tuesday night, the Thunder’s own pick landed at number 6 overall. Based on outstanding protected draft picks that were owed to the Thunder in trades, the organization also secured the number 18 overall pick from the Miami Heat, meaning that the Thunder will be on the clock at 6, 16, 18, 34, 36 and 55 in the upcoming 2021 NBA Draft on July 29. The Thunder’s unparalleled six selections are the most for any team in this year’s draft, account for 10 percent of the total available picks for all NBA teams and are six chances for Thunder fans to celebrate the arrival of a newcomer.
“We have to remember that the role of luck and the role of chance is not a singular thing,” Presti also said before the lottery. “The luck favors the persistent. So, if we continue to put ourselves in position to make good decisions and think long term about the best interests of the franchise, we're going to have some good fortune.”
“What we do control is how we respond and how we react, which I think will do a great job of,” Presti added. “We have a lot of things to work with at the draft and also in the future and my hope is that we'll continue to make strong, sound decisions.”
Over the next five weeks leading up to the draft, the Thunder will watch player workouts, conduct countless interviews and work back through scouting reports gathered from its staff who are stationed across the country and the globe. Presti will work the phones with other teams and agents to assess every possibility to enhance the team.
With the plethora of draft picks the Thunder has moving forward – a whopping 18 first rounders over the next seven drafts – Presti and the front office have immense flexibility. Even if the Thunder makes no moves, it will have the chance to add six young men to the organization that will all have the ability to make an impact on the trajectory of the team.
“We're so distributed throughout the draft that we're going to have a look at a lot of different players, just because of where we're picking in the second or picking in the first, we're covering a lot of territory that way,” Presti noted. “You're talking about adding a lot of young talent into the NBA and that talent never goes 1-2-3-4-5-6-7.”
This week also features the NBA Draft Combine, which is being held in Chicago. That’s where Presti was during the lottery, as was Thunder Pro Scout and GM of the Oklahoma City Blue, Nazr Mohammed, who represented the organization virtually during the ESPN broadcast of the lottery. Mohammed is a perfect example of a person who has helped shape the Thunder into what it is today – a first-class player and mentor who was a part of three Thunder seasons, including a trip to the NBA Finals and two runs to the Western Conference Finals.
Now, Mohammed is in a leadership role within the organization, and on a night where the Thunder learned more about an important aspect of its future planning it is fitting that a mainstay of the team’s culture was front and center.
“We draft people, we don't draft players,” Presti said. “That's one of the reasons why I think we've had success over the last 13 years is because the type of people that that come in the door every day allow you to withstand the challenges that come with trying to strive to be the best version of yourself.”
Tuesday’s draft lottery and July’s NBA Draft are just two of the hundreds of touchpoints for improvement the Thunder organization will have this year. While they’re important, it is what happens in between those moments and afterward that will determine the arc of the organization. Developing people as both members of the organization and as players, keeping them healthy and putting them in positions to succeed with complementary forces around them are daily tasks, and are equally as crucial as the bounce of a ping pong ball or the order of a set of envelopes.
“You stick to your principles, you stick to your values, you think in the best interests of the organization long term,” Presti said. “In our case we're really focused on building a sustainably great team in Oklahoma City. I think good things will happen, and I think we should be optimistic about that and continue to be forward facing with that respect.”