The Oklahoma City Thunder are in one of the most unique predicaments of any team in the NBA. Selecting 2nd and 12th overall in the 2022 NBA draft, OKC owns a historically large collection of draft picks for many years down the line as a result of making numerous trades with other teams. In fact, they’re the only team with two lottery (top 14) picks in the 2022 NBA Draft, as a result of owning the Los Angeles Clippers first round pick from the 2019 trade in which they sent Paul George to LA.
In addition to their abundance of draft capital, they have a strong nucleus of young players in place already: Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Josh Giddey, Tre Mann, and Luguentz Dort. The combination of having a strong young core on top of having premium draft capital to add to that core for several years to come is extremely rare.
With what they already have in place, the question is often raised: What should they do with all of their draft picks?
Some believe that Oklahoma City should continue to tank for years to come in order to maximize the amount of talent they have on rookie contracts through the draft, while others suggest that they should package their picks for established players and stars in order to help them compete for a playoff spot in the immediate future.
What they should do with their future picks is largely dependent on how they continue to build and develop their young core, and the next step in that process is making the correct picks with the 2nd and 12th overall selections that will push the franchise in a competitive direction.
The 2nd overall pick in particular determines what path the franchise will prioritize in its current stage of the rebuild. The pick made at number two will have a direct impact on the picks made at 12, 34, future selections, and offseason acquisitions.
Here are the pathways the Oklahoma City Thunder should consider traveling down with the 2nd overall pick.
Option 1: Select Chet Holmgren – Center, Gonzaga University
Through 58 games played prior to the All-Star Break in 2021-22, the Oklahoma City Thunder boasted one of the eight best defenses in the NBA, having a defensive rating of 108.6. They can look to improve on that side of the basketball by drafting the class’ best defender, Chet Holmgren.
Standing at 7’0” with a 7’6” wingspan, Holmgren is a versatile defender who offers elite pick-and-roll coverage and rim protection. Many are concerned with his slim frame, as he only weighs 194 lbs, but he more than makes up for it with his ability to handle physical play on the inside while also having a great sense of timing when it comes to deterring shots and knowing how to properly use his length defensively.
Offensively, Holmgren isn’t a dynamic creator (yet…), but he will provide very high level complimentary skills next to Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Josh Giddey. In college, Holmgren shot 39% from three-point range on 3.3 attempts per game, proving that he’s a very good shooter who can provide floor spacing. On top of that, Holmgren also proved to be an elite finisher at the rim, as he shot 80/100 (80%) on shots at the rim in the half court, placing him in the 99th percentile (via Synergy).
Another great game from Chet Holmgren against San Francisco. Ended with a season-high 22 points (7-10 FG, 2-4 3PT) to go along with 8 REB, 2 AST, and 4 BLK
Chet showed it all, including defense, shooting, attacking closeouts, finishing through contact & even showed roll gravity pic.twitter.com/CrEbBBmvuZ
— Zach Milner (@ZachMilner13) January 24, 2022
Holmgren is a monster in transition who will either take it to the rack and likely finish aggressively or he will display his quick processing and deliver passes up the court to open teammates. His connective passing will also help create the best opportunity for the offense to score in half court sets.
Chet Holmgren was a transition cheat code for Gonzaga last year. Often times he was the one who set them up for transition opportunities with his elite rim defense and he was so phenomenal at capitalizing against unset defenses as a scorer and passer. pic.twitter.com/iuthbmWCNW
— Pranav Sriraman (@PranavSriraman) June 21, 2022
In Oklahoma City, he will have plenty of time to develop his self-creation skills on offense while providing an elite anchor for their promising defense. He will also not be burdened with carrying much of a load on offense as he can play off of SGA and Giddey’s creation ability, which is huge for a young player coming into the league.
If the Orlando Magic opt not to select Holmgren with the first overall pick, the Thunder should be very intrigued with the possibility of adding him to their young core.
Option 2: Select Paolo Banchero – Forward, Duke University
The Oklahoma City Thunder have had an absolutely abysmal offense over the past two seasons. In 2020-21, they had an offensive rating of 102.8, which ranked dead last in the league. The next season in 2021-22, they had an offensive rating of 103.8, which again ranked dead last in the league. Outside of Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, nobody else on Oklahoma City’s roster has been able to consistently create their own shots and convert on those attempts while consistently being able to create advantages by bending defenses.
This is what makes Paolo Banchero such an intriguing option for the Thunder with the 2nd pick.
Banchero is a physical freak. Standing at 6’10” and weighing 250lbs, Banchero is able to get to the rim with ease both with and without the ball in his hands as a result of his unique size, body control, and understanding of positioning as a result of his fantastic footwork and fluid handle that puts defenders in a bind. Everytime he barrels his way towards the rim, he draws multiple defenders as he’s so hard to contain with just one body when he has an opportunity to score close to the basket.
As a result of this, Banchero is able to manipulate defenses by leveraging his rim pressure into making high level reads and getting higher quality shots for his teammates who can punish weaker coverage off of the created advantage. On top of knowing how to properly manipulate different coverages, Banchero is great at pushing the pace and quickly processing different circumstances and is almost always making the right read in order to maximize an offensive possession.
While everyone knows Paolo Banchero is a talented shotmaker, it's important to look for what other areas he can possibly have an impact on the game, just in case his shot isn't falling
Here's a video I put together showing some of Paolo's passing so far this year pic.twitter.com/y2alB3I8Br
— Zach Milner (@ZachMilner13) January 1, 2022
In addition to being a high level playmaker, Banchero is arguably the best scorer this draft has to offer. Although his percentages shooting the ball from distance aren’t stellar (33.8% from three on 3.3 attempts, 72.9% FT on 4.8% attempts), there are clear indicators that he can be a good shooter in the future as a result of his sound mechanics and very good mid range shooting. On top of that, Banchero is comfortable playing off of creation as a cutter or creating shots for himself off the dribble at all three levels.
Potential Top Pick, Paolo Banchero:
🏀47.8 | 33.3 | 73.4 shooting splits
— No Ceilings (@NoCeilingsNBA) March 28, 2022
If the Orlando Magic opt not to select Paolo Banchero with the first overall pick, drafting Paolo Banchero could give the Oklahoma City Thunder two elite offensive creators (the other being Shai Gilgeous-Alexander) that punish defenses in a multitude of different ways. It will be nearly impossible to game plan against them, taking their offense from the league’s worst units, to one of the best in a matter of a couple of years as the roster around them continues to fill out.
What path should they travel?:
There is honestly no correct answer regarding what decision the Thunder should make with the 2nd overall pick on draft night between Paolo Banchero and Chet Holmgren. They could select either one of the class’ two best prospects, and come away satisfied with the result.
If the Orlando Magic decide to take one of them before they’re on the clock, that just makes the decision all that much easier to make.
Once they choose a path to travel down, it comes down to how they can surround their selection with the requisite help in order to maximize their talent. Both Chet Holmgren and Paolo Banchero can easily find success in the NBA, but they will achieve it in different ways that will require different forms of development.