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NBA Rumors: Five Things the OKC Thunder Need to Win a Title

    Rich [email protected]@RichKurtzman Senior Analyst IAugust 3, 2010

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    Report: OKC Rebuffed in Attempt to Land No. 1 Pick

    If the Oklahoma City Thunder aren’t able to trade up to the top pick ahead of Thursday night’s NBA Draft, it won’t be due to a lack of trying.

    Bleacher Report’s Jonathan Wasserman reported on Twitter that Sam Presti “made a legitimate offer for (the top pick) that the Pistons turned down.”

    The report came just after ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported that Detroit still isn’t “fully there yet” on taking Cade Cunningham with the top pick.

    Wojnarowski said that the discussions around the top pick were centered on Cunningham, as well as former USC center Evan Mobley and G League Ignite product Jalen Green.

    Trading all the way to the top of the draft is rare, but it was even more unlikely any team was going to be able to entice the Pistons to trade back given the talent pool, especially at the top, of the 2021 draft class.

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    But if any team were going to be able to make the move, it would be Presti and the Thunder, who own 36 picks over the next six years.

    There are still plenty of options for OKC to trade up, however, even if they stand pat and pick at No. 6. They might try to package the 16th and 18th picks, along with a pick early the second round (Presti owns two at picks 34 and 36) to reach back into the back end of the top 10 and add another high-end lottery prospect to the roster in Oklahoma City.

    Regardless, there’s still plenty of wheeling and dealing to be done before the NBA Draft tips off on Thursday night. 

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    Breaking Down What OKC Thunder Must Do to Win an NBA Title Next Year

    Maybe James Harden thought he was playing a different sport during the 2012 NBA Finals.

    Apparently, at Arizona State, they teach players that you play basketball until you get to the finals. Then, it switches gears and football is the soup du jour. At least, that's what I'm assuming based on this picture. 

    All kidding aside, Harden was completely ineffective against the Miami Heat after absolutely tearing apart everyone else in the playoffs. The Thunder needed him to dominate off the bench, but he was dominated by the moment. 

    This was never more true than at the end of Game 4. He received a pass but looked off a wide-open shot. Then, he failed to pass to a wide open Kevin Durant before forcing a shot that had no choice but to clank off the rim. He looked terrified—beard and all. 

    Harden scored in single-digits four times during the regular season. Through the first three series of the postseason, he never did and instead upped his averages each time the pressure went up a notch. 

    However, after averaging 18.5 points per game against the San Antonio Spurs, Harden averaged only 12.4 in the finals. That average is boosted by 21 and 19 performances, the latter coming in the Game 5 blowout. 

    Harden can't afford to score five, nine and eight points during the biggest games of the season. For a player that gives off such an aura of confidence, he has to actually back it up.


    Thunder Trade Rumors: OKC in Talks with All 5 Teams Above It in 2021 NBA Draft

    Zach Beeker/NBAE via Getty Images

    The Oklahoma City Thunder are reportedly "active in trade talks" with an eye toward moving up from the No. 6 overall pick in the 2021 NBA draft on Thursday night.

    Kevin O'Connor of The Ringer reported OKC is "engaging with all five teams ahead of them" on the hope of landing either Cade Cunningham, Evan Mobley or Scottie Barnes, three of the class' top prospects.

    The Thunder are in a unique spot. They were tied for the NBA's fourth-worst record during the 2020-21 season at 22-50, which ended to a five-year playoff streak, but they have enough pieces to make a quick turnaround.

    They acquired Kemba Walker from the Boston Celtics to serve as a veteran leader for a promising young core that includes Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Luguentz Dort and Darius Bazley, among others.

    So getting one of the draft class' instant-impact players—Cunningham, Mobley and Barnes all qualify—would give OKC a chance to see some real progress in 2021-22.

    There's a little drop-off once you get outside the top five, though. Players such as Jonathan Kuminga and James Bouknight still possess ample upside, but what type of role they'll play as rookies is tougher to project.

    Oklahoma City does have the assets to make a rock-solid offer to move up. Along with the No. 6 pick, it also owns Nos. 16 and 18 in the first round along with three selections in the second round. So a team inside the top five that's willing to bet on the class' impressive depth could get quite a haul from the Thunder.

    General manager Sam Presti explained Tuesday their draft decisions will be driven by finding players who can "thrive in your organization." He told reporters: 

    "We always try to move up. If we're 60, we want to be 59. If we're 59, we want to be 58. We're always looking to move and find ways, but I wouldn't say we're doing that blindly. We have to always assess what's the value proposition, what is it that we are willing to do and where are we willing to get to."

    Ultimately, the Thunder are in a no-lose situation with six picks in a strong draft. If they stand pat, they'll have a lot of talent that can grow together over the next handful of years. If they use some of those picks to trade up, they'll land another cornerstone to accelerate the rebuild.

    Their assets and numerous options on how to handle the situation make them one of the most interesting teams to watch heading into Thursday night.


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    Bleacher Report calls Darius Bazley underrated, says Thunder should explore his limits

    With how much the Oklahoma City Thunder have put on the plate of Darius Bazley, Bleacher Report Dan Favale is ready to name him the most underrated player on the team.

    Favale created this list with one player on every NBA team, and he went with Bazley for the Thunder.

    The forward has handles. He can get to the basket or shoot a jumper. He has been assigned to tough defensive matchups. Bazley does it all. Maybe not all particularly well, but he has been assigned to everything. Favale wrote:

    “Darius Bazley’s game is overwhelmingly incomplete, particularly on offense, but it includes flashes of everything.”

    Bazley became a larger focus of the OKC offense in the latter half of last season after Shai Gilgeous-Alexander took the bench due to a foot injury.

    From April 14 through May 11, he averaged 18.8 points, 7.0 rebounds and 2.4 assists.

    Awesome numbers. But low efficiency.

    “Bazely has turned in a true shooting percentage below 50 through each of his first two seasons. Even the scoring onslaught, he went on to close the year didn’t include the cleanest splits. His lows remain low.”

    At the end of the 2019-20 season, Bazley looked like one of the three pieces of OKC’s future, alongside Lu Dort and Gilgeous-Alexander. He’s still being tested, but he’s going to be a starter at either a forward position or center.

    That positional versatility is part of why the Thunder like him.

    “No one, including in Oklahoma City, should know what to make of Bazley’s offense. That’s part of the appeal. He toes the line of wing and big, and the on-ball experimentation should pay off even more when the Thunder give him more runway with which to work.”

    “…Maybe everything, on both sides of the floor, will eventually come together. Maybe it won’t. The extent to which Bazley keeps exploring his limits is worth appreciating either way.”

    Georgios Kalaitzakis vs Oklahoma City Thunder - NBA Pre Season

    Bleacher Report proposes win-now Bradley Beal trade for Thunder

    Bleacher Report thinks the Oklahoma City Thunder could fast-forward their rebuild with a trade for a star player nearing the end of his contract.

    Writer Greg Swartz proposed a trade idea for every non-playoff team. In the article, he wrote the Thunder could trade for Washington Wizards guard Bradley Beal.

    His idea: 

    Thunder receive: Bradley Beal

    Wizards receive: Forward Aleksej Pokusevski, guard Theo Maledon, 2021 first-round pick (top-3 protected), 2022 first-round pick (via Phoenix Suns, top-12 protected)

    As much as the Thunder organization has preached patience and an unwillingness to take shortcuts for the rebuild, it’s hard to imagine Oklahoma City says no to this trade.

    Pairing Beal with Shai Gilgeous-Alexander would create one of the best backcourts in the league. It would be 50 points nightly from the pair, and Beal would take offensive pressure off Gilgeous-Alexander, which would allow the young guard to exert more energy on defense, too.

    Swartz wrote:

    The Thunder have perhaps the brightest future of any franchise, given the amount of young talent on the roster and the incredible collection of draft picks owed to them.

    If Beal finally asks out of Washington, why shouldn’t the Thunder go for him?

    It’s much more likely the Wizards hang up the phone.

    Maledon is a nice young guard, but there’s minimal excitement about him outside Oklahoma City. He was a starter for OKC, but would likely have been a No. 2 or No. 3 point guard for a decent-to-good team. His potential is unclear.

    Pokusevski has a sky-high upside, but the Wizards would have to be certain he’s a star in the making to make him the centerpiece of a trade.

    And he would be the centerpiece. The Thunder’s pick has a 34% of landing in the top three (which would allow OKC to keep it). There’s a 47.5% chance it ends up as No. 6 or 7, the point in the draft at which there appears to be a steep drop-off of talent from the top five prospects. That would give Washington less than a 20% chance of ending up with pick 4 or 5.

    The Suns’ 2022 first-round pick, meanwhile, will likely be in the mid- to late-20s.

    The reason this price isn’t as high as it should be for a player of Beal’s stature is he has only two years left on his contract and one of them is a player option.

    Washington must decide whether the team is going to run it back with Beal (and Russell Westbrook) or maximize the return on the two with Beal’s contract nearing its end and Westbrook posting a phenomenal end to the 2020-21 season.

    On the flip side, Oklahoma City would need to evaluate if it’s worth the risk of losing him after one season. In the last four years, Washington has missed the playoffs twice and not gotten out of the first round the other two times. Beal might prefer to go to a contender than run it back with the Thunder if he were to come to OKC.


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    OKC Thunder Got Another Draft Steal with Steven Adams

    Steven Adams has been a pleasant surprise for the OKC Thunder.
    Steven Adams has been a pleasant surprise for the OKC Thunder.Layne Murdoch Jr./Getty Images

    The Oklahoma City Thunder aren't a big-market team that can lure high-priced free agents, so they have to rely on the draft to build their roster. Luckily, their general manager Sam Presti has been phenomenal on draft nights. After three weeks of the season, it looks like he's added to his impressive resume with the selection of Steven Adams in the 2013 NBA Draft.

    Kevin Durant, Jeff Green, Russell Westbrook, Serge Ibaka, James Harden and Reggie Jackson.

    Those are some of the picks that have panned out for the Oklahoma City Thunder, and Steven Adams is poised to be added to that list.

    When the Pittsburgh product went off the board at the end of the lottery, many liked the fit with the Thunder but wondered when he would actually begin to contribute.

    Many experts had labeled him as a raw project with high upside. Nine games into his NBA career, he's showing that his upside isn't so far into the future, and he's exceeded everybody's expectations—even those of his teammates.

    It's only been three weeks, but Adams looks like one of the steals of the draft.

    There is still a lot of room for development and he has experienced some growing pains along the way, but Adams is already the best center on the roster.

    For a pick that was expected to only make a contribution in the future, he's become a valuable member of the rotation and a big part of the Thunder's playoff goals.

    Two-way big men are a rare commodity in the NBA, and Adams can develop into that diamond in the rough. He has shown off a soft touch around the rim, the ability to run the floor well and good hands, which allow him to make tough catches and finish plays at the basket.

    His offensive game will grow, but he's already a much better scorer than Kendrick Perkins. He looks more polished than Perkins, and the metrics from SynergySports support that notion.

    Steven Adams vs. Kendrick Perkins Points Per Play (PPP)
    Kendrick Perkins0.250.440.801.00
    Steven Adams1.

    He's not yet a player that head coach Scott Brooks will call plays for, but Adams has been effective in transition and working off the playmaking abilities of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook.

    Furthermore, he hasn't turned the ball over, which is usually a concern for rookies. He's only averaging 0.4 turnovers per game compared to 1.6 for Perkins despite playing similar minutes.

    According to SynergySports, only 6.7 percent of Adams' plays end in a turnover, while that number jumps to 32.4 percent for Perkins.

    What he does on the offensive end is a nice bonus for the Thunder, but the important thing for their future is how good he has looked on defense and on the glass.

    When opponents try to post Adams up, they're shooting 28.6 percent from the floor and scoring 0.6 points per possession. Defense is Perkins' forte, but he's allowing 50 percent shooting and 1.14 points per possession on post ups.

    It's not just the numbers either, as Adams passes the eye test. He's been physical and active on defense, giving the Thunder a spark on numerous occasions.

    Additionally, Adams has been a good rebounder—especially in traffic. According to, he's grabbing 68.1 percent of contested rebound opportunities, which is the third-best mark in the league for players averaging over 10 minutes per game.

    His combination of scoring ability and rebounding led to an impressive outing against the Detroit Pistons when he recorded the first double-double from an OKC center in one-and-a-half years.

    It's still very early in his career, but all the signs from Adams have been extremely promising. He hasn't had the minutes to put up impressive numbers like some of the other members of his draft class, but he's looked like one of the best rookies in this young NBA season.

    He's already averaging more minutes than Perkins, so hopefully Coach Brooks will give him more opportunities to build chemistry with his teammates.

    We won't be able to properly evaluate the draft class for another few years, but Adams could easily be the best player to come out of this draft.

    An athletic 7-footer who is a physical presence in the paint on both sides of the floor?

    He might not just be the steal of the draft. He could be the piece that gets OKC over the hump. 

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