The 2022 NBA draft is finally here.
37 days have passed since the NBA Draft Lottery, and Thursday night marks a pivotal night for the future of the Oklahoma City Thunder. The Thunder own three top-34 picks at No. 2, No. 12 and No. 34, with the second pick marking the highest the Thunder have drafted since 2009.
Numerous reports indicate that Gonzaga forward Chet Holmgren will likely go No. 2 in the draft to the Thunder, so let’s take a look at four other things to watch out for during the four-hour-long-plus event.
1. What happens with pick No. 12?
The Thunder owns another lottery pick at No. 12, giving the team a second chance at drafting a highly-coveted prospect.
However, reports indicate the Thunder will be aggressive in attempting to move up in the draft.
To do that, the Thunder would almost certainly have to involve the No. 12 pick in any trade package. Some candidates for a potential trade include the Portland Trail Blazers, who have pick No. 7, and the New Orleans Pelicans at No. 8. Both teams are seeking to compete for a playoff spot next season and are in the market for win-now players.
If the Thunder are to move up, it would likely be for someone like Purdue guard Jaden Ivey or Kentucky guard Shaedon Sharpe, the latter being a more realistic option while the former is expected to go in the top five. Sharpe’s draft projections have been all over the place recently, as the once projected top-five pick is now expected to land somewhere in the 6-12 range.
The Thunder could see if Sharpe falls to 12, but that could be risky. As Presti alluded to during his exit interview following the end of last season, there will be a roster crunch soon and one of the ways to clear some roster space and rotation minutes is to package players and picks together in trades.
2. What happens with Lu Dort?
In terms of Thunder players who could realistically be dealt on Thursday, Lu Dort is at the top of the list. The 23-year-old guard only has one year remaining on his current deal and could enter unrestricted free agency next summer if a new contract is not agreed upon.
Dort is eligible for a contract next season as large as four years for $60 million. But considering the Thunder will want as little salary as possible for the anticipated 2023 CBA negotiations between the owners and NBA Player’s Associations, the team might wait out on handing lofty contracts. The only large contract it has on the payroll is Shai Gilgeous-Alexander’s impending extension.
Dort has shown flashes as a solid perimeter defender who can shoot from the perimeter, but the Thunder might prefer spending their resources on other players and bringing in a younger, cheaper player like Sharpe who has a higher ceiling.
If the Thunder draft Holmgren and someone like Baylor forward Jeremy Sochan, it’s hard to see Dort being on the team long term.
The Thunder have until next summer to make a decision on Dort, but Thursday night brings one of the few days that the team can maximize his trade value.
3. What can the Thunder do with the No. 34 pick?
There are plenty of possibilities with this pick.
While the Thunder could select someone, trading away the No. 30 pick last week decreases the need for that. Bringing in three rookies is a lot easier than bringing in four.
The Thunder could also put whoever the team drafts at this spot in the G League with the Oklahoma City Blue for the majority of next season and only call that player up when necessary.
Another possibility is signing the No. 34 pick onto the empty two-way spot on the roster, which would allow them to appear in 50 games next season on a very cheap salary while not counting against the 15-man roster.
Lastly, the Thunder could trade away the pick for a future pick.
4. What do the Thunder do with Vasilije Micic?
Former EuroLeague MVP Vasilije Micic has been reported to have serious interest in joining the NBA next season.
The Thunder acquired Micic’s draft rights in the 2020 Al Horford trade with the Philadelphia 76ers, who drafted him 52nd overall in the second round of the 2014 NBA draft.
Throughout the years, Micic has been reported to have interest in making the jump to the NBA but has never made the decision. However, the 28-year-old will likely never see a playing time on a Thunder team that’s looking to play younger players.
That doesn’t not mean Micic has no trade value. It’s been reported that several playoff teams are interested in Micic as a backup guard. Considering his accolades, Micic is talented enough to earn rotation minutes with playoff contenders.