The Thunder took 7-footer Steven Adams with their first pick of the NBA draft Thursday night. Then they massaged a trade with Golden State to get wild card Andre Roberson with the No. 26 pick.
One pick is considered a safe one. The other goes down as a reach.
I like the reach.
A decade ago, even two decades ago, when the NBA was filled with back-to-the-basket centers — mandatory for success in the league — the Adams pick would have to be considered a good one. These days, a center is a luxury, not a necessity.
The Thunder made the Finals two seasons ago with nearly no production from the center position. This year, they won 60 games and were the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference, well on their way to making it back to the Finals before Russell Westbrook’s knee gave out and Oklahoma City lost in the Western semifinals in five games to Memphis.
Steven Adams, an unproven center from Pittsburgh, is the real reach. He won’t be able to contribute this season. Chances are, Adams goes the way of Cole Aldrich, Byron Mullens, even Robert Swift, if you want to go back down broken memory lane of Thunder/Sonics picks of the recent past. So what you have going into the season is the same lineup as a year ago, only with a wasted pick at No. 12.
Meanwhile, with Roberson, the Thunder get highlight-reel potential — a guy who can score, rebound, play defense and become the kind of player the San Antonio Spurs featured during their playoff run, culminating with great performances from Danny Green and Gary Neal in the Finals against Miami.
While Roberson, out of Colorado, was projected to go somewhere in the second round, obviously there’s something there the Thunder like. When it comes to drafting anyone but centers, I like the Thunder’s record. There’s Westbrook and James Harden. There’s Reggie Jackson and Kevin Durant.
It took a bit of cash and the No. 29 pick to land Roberson, a sensational defensive player (Pac-12 Conference Defensive Player of the Year). It took no imagination to take Adams, who averaged 7.2 points and 6.3 rebounds, numbers that are shockingly low for a player who is described by draft scouts as high-energy and athletic.
But unless the Thunder are going to change their offensive style, Adams does Oklahoma City almost no good other than providing a body at the 7-foot level. The Thunder will run, put the ball in Westbrook’s hands, let Durant do his thing and hope someone else can provide enough points and become enough of a threat that the floor opens up even more for the two All-Stars.
What we learned last season is that Oklahoma City needs a third option. It used to be James Harden. It became Jackson. It could be Roberson. He averaged double figure points and rebounds a season ago.
No clue if the 19-year-old Alex Abrines, who the Thunder picked up in the second round with the No. 32 pick, will be able to do much this season or in the future.
The rumors were there that the Thunder would make a big move on Thursday. It didn’t happen. And will any of the three players the Thunder picked up move the interest meter? Probably not. But who in the draft this year would have done that for you?
It wasn’t deep. It wasn’t interesting. A No. 12 pick wasn’t exactly the most desirable of positions in which to be sitting. It takes creativity to pull off some success in this year’s draft.
Taking Adams isn’t a good example. Taking a long shot on Roberson is.