By Nick Gallo | Broadcast Reporter and Digital Editor | okcthunder.com
- Date: Thursday, June 23,
- Time: 7 p.m. CT
- TV: ABC/ESPN
When their names are announced at the NBA Draft, newly drafted players bolt up from their seats, hug their families, their agent and their friends, then briskly walk toward the stage for their moment of glory, sealing their entry point into the world’s very best basketball league. There’s a moment before that for OKC draftees, however, that should be a massive point of pride – putting on a hat that says "Thunder" right across it.
It’s one thing to evaluate incoming NBA players based on talent. It’s another to tap into their personality, character and fit with the team and city. For the Thunder, Thursday night’s 2022 NBA Draft (7 p.m. CT, ABC/ESPN), will be the culmination of the thousands of tireless hours the front office has spent in its scouting process to find the right people to bring to Oklahoma.
While one process concludes, it will also be just the very start of the rookies’ journeys to actualization as professionals. So, it will be just as important to the Thunder to select players who can carve out a successful career in the NBA as it will to find those players who can and want to thrive in a Thunder jersey.
“Every player that comes into the NBA is going to be excited on draft night, whatever team they go to,” Thunder Executive Vice President and General Manager Sam Presti said back in May before the lottery. “We want people that really will be excited and want to be with the Thunder.”
“The most important thing is we've got to find somebody that fits our program and really can connect with what we're trying to do and that we also can connect with them,” Presti added. “What I would like some of these players to say is ‘Oklahoma City gets me’.”
Opportunity and circumstance are fate-altering factors in the NBA, and so often the assumed hierarchy of players with the most talent at the draft time looks very different five years down the line. One team might value a prospect higher or lower based on their specific needs, their timeline and their current roster makeup or playstyle. As a result, the Thunder uses its own internal prospect rating system, one that isn’t based on external narratives, but rather the information that can be gleaned through a variety of its internal sources, including film study, pre-draft workouts and interviews with the draftees themselves.
“We've got a great group of scouts. They're grinding all the time, and they care so much about the team and getting the right people,” said Presti, at his end of season media availability in April.
“Our rating systems and our rankings are never consensus-oriented,” added Presti, who noted that the Thunder’s internal grading continues to change nearly all the way up to draft night. “What we think and how we have players grouped or rated, I would actually be disappointed if it was consensus-oriented because I want us to have a very independent thought on how we look at players.”
The Thunder has multiple selections in the 2022 draft, including two lottery picks at numbers 2 and 12 overall, with the opportunity to bring in a new class of vibrant young talent to begin building chemistry with a slew of returning players. Having picks high in the draft is no guarantee of landing stars or even long-time NBA starters, but the Thunder has positioned itself with a war chest of assets to provide the best chance of landing talent that can remain in Oklahoma City for an extended period of time. Those players most often are only available high in the draft, but there are countless examples of diamonds in the rough whose hard work after being selected coincide with the opportunity and environment they’re afforded.
“I'm always an optimist on the draft,” Presti said. “Historically you can go look at the history of the draft; there's always really good players in every single draft. They never go one, two, three, four, five, six, seven. In fact, it’s very rare that that happens. They're sprayed out throughout the 60 picks, and it's our job to try to shift the odds the best and see if we can find somebody that's going to help our team for a long time.”
Over the past decade and a half in Oklahoma City, the Thunder and Presti have shown a willingness to get creative and to utilize draft assets to move up, move back or move out for a future asset in order to prioritize the organization’s long-term health over all else. That philosophy of assessing value and then executing remains the same regardless of exactly which picks the Thunder has heading into a given draft.
“Draft picks are currency in the NBA,” said Presti. “They're valuable in the sense that they can be used in a lot of different ways.”
Each player the Thunder selects will have their life-altering night – from the phone call telling them that they’re headed to Oklahoma City to their walk across the Barclays Center stage in Brooklyn to their post-draft celebrations with their loved ones. But once they hop on a plane to head west to Oklahoma, their focus will be all business – about leaning into the Thunder’s player development program, buying into the team’s vision and play style and becoming a member of their new community.
The Thunder front office has been diligently identifying which players will have that feeling as they board the flight, so that once they hit the practice court at the Thunder ION next week, everyone is aligned with one goal in mind.
“You want to be a place that people feel like their players can get better,” said Presti. “We just have to be able to make the best decisions with whatever information we have. I feel confident that we'll do that.”