2019 Post-Draft Q&A with Sam Presti
At the start of the 2019 NBA Draft, the Thunder owned one pick, the number 21 overall selection – a first rounder. As fans of the NBA know, draft night is always one that features many transactions, most of which are not eligible to be acknowledged publicly by teams until July 6 when the league deems them official.
As a result, Thunder Executive Vice President and General Manager Sam Presti spent his post-draft press conference covering a variety of topics regarding the draft process in general, the Thunder offseason and his vision of the future for the organization. Below is an abbreviated Q&A that took place just after the draft ended:
Presti’s opening statement: “I'm not allowed to talk about potential transactions that could take place later on in the summer, in the event you make a trade or you're involved in a trade. Anybody that's involved in the draft day trade can't talk about the trade until that trade is consummated. I'll have to be pretty vague on some of the things that we talk about.”
On the challenge of evaluating players when they take unconventional routes to the NBA: “We had a situation like that. (2017 1st Round Pick Terrance) Ferguson was an interesting one for us. Obviously he was kind of removed to a degree.* Sometimes that can alter the way you look at the evaluation. Sometimes a lack of information can be a helpful thing relative to where a player might be projected or not.”
*editor’s note: Ferguson skipped college and played one season in Australia with the Adelaide 36ers before declaring for the NBA Draft.
On what the team looks for in the draft: “The way we've always approached the draft is we're always looking to create value for the organization and get the most value from the opportunities we have to pick. We’ve also shown at different points in time to try to take a long view, give yourself the most opportunity for the most success. But every one of these is different. We try to just go off the board, take the next player that's there.”
On getting to know these players as people during the interview process: “It's basically just trying to understand where each individual person is on their own personal journey, how they see themselves, what inspires them, what makes them tick. One of the things that's important is I think it's not just picking players, it's understanding where the fits can be organizationally, how you might be able to enhance the development of that particular player. In order to do that, you have to understand the mindset of that player, their history, their story, if that assimilates well with organizationally where you want to be.”
“I'm always blown away by - I guess I would call them kids - that we get to meet through this process. Some really, really great interviews and touching stories, real insightful things. That's one thing about this, you really can't go into it with any bias. You really have to judge for yourself, your own experience of the person. A big part of the draft is not seeing things for what they are but seeing things for what they potentially can be. In order to do that, you have to understand your own context as to what environment the player is coming into, if they'll thrive in that environment.”
On addressing needs in the draft: “If you look at the history of the draft, in the 20s, there's a 40% chance or so that you can get a bench player in those areas most of the time, let alone someone that you're going to draft that's going to come in and play major minutes on a team like ours.”
“I wish I could tell you there's a real science to it. We're really just trying to shift the odds, trying to find players that can play in the NBA for more than a couple years. Obviously the higher up in the draft you are, the more likely that is. When you're back in the 20s, the odds are dwindling at that point.”
On his outlook for the season: “We have a tremendous opportunity in front of us as a team because of the continuity that we do have. When you look across the league right now, I don't know what the percentage is of the league that are free agents, but it's a large percentage of them*. We’re returning our core players that are under contract. I feel like that group of guys has a chance to be really good. There's certain points in time, ways that you can get better. Tonight was one part of that. There will be several others going forward.”
*[editor’s note: There are 215 restricted or unrestricted free agents who were on an NBA roster last season]
On there being openings on the coaching staff: “Obviously we've had some change there. We're really happy for the guys that have moved on. They got great opportunities. We want to be as supportive as we can in those situations… At the same time that opens up opportunity for some change on the existing group. (Head Coach) Billy (Donovan) is talking to a lot of different people. I think it's great, he's being really methodical about how he goes about how he wants to fill the group out.”
On Paul George’s off-season shoulder surgeries: “There were no surprises or anything of that nature. Timeline-wise we're going to update you when we get around camp. I think we'll have a better feel for that. Predicting that far out right now, I think we're better served having the most information possible, then we'll give you the best feel we can at that point in time. But he's doing well. He's going to make a full recovery.”
On Andre Roberson’s knee rehab: “He continues to make progress. We've taken a real conservative approach toward the end of the season knowing we'd have this period of time in the off-season to kind of build up some momentum. He's doing well, training down in Texas. He has a good group of people with him. Our guys and girls are in and out monitoring that. Some video clips of him the other day that were really impressive. I just think he's itching to get back out on the court.”
Up next for the Thunder this offseason are the NBA Awards on Monday, June 24 on TNT. Paul George is a finalist for both MVP and Defensive Player of the Year.
After that, the Thunder’s Summer League team will practice before heading out to Las Vegas to take part in the NBA’s annual competition for the young, up-and-coming players to hone their crafts and showcase their talents. Summer League begins on July 5 and runs through July 15.
Check back here at okcthunder.com for full coverage of the Thunder this offseason!