OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) The Thunder franchise has compiled an impressive list of draft-night success stories under general manager Sam Presti. Now, Oklahoma City has an additional weapon heading into Thursday’s event: new coach Billy Donovan’s extensive knowledge of college players.
Donovan led Florida to two national titles in 19 years as a head coach. Bradley Beal, Corey Brewer, Udonis Haslem, Al Horford, David Lee, Mike Miller, Joakim Noah, Chandler Parsons and Jason Williams are among his players who have excelled in the NBA. Donovan also has had three stints as a head coach in the USA Basketball program.
Now, he adds that eye for NBA-caliber talent and the benefit of having seen so many college players up close in recent years to the already formidable team of Presti and assistant general manager Troy Weaver as they prepare to make the 14th pick in Thursday’s draft.
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”I think for sure, any college coach that has experience with recruiting and USA Basketball is generally an asset for a team like ours in picking the draft,” Presti said. ”Certainly, we’re going to be having a lot of discussions (with Donovan) about the players. He’ll have a unique perspective on them.”
The most popular projections for the Thunder in mock drafts have been Kansas guard Kelly Oubre, Murray State guard Cameron Payne and Kentucky power forward Trey Lyles. Donovan’s experience will put him in a unique position to help any new player develop.
”I think the NBA is getting younger and younger,” Presti said. ”The vantage point and perspective and experience of dealing with today’s younger athletes, the pressures and the distractions that can come with being a young person in the industry of professional basketball – I think that’s a tremendous advantage or skill set to have.”
The Thunder did pretty well before Donovan was hired. Presti picked Kevin Durant No. 2 in 2007, Russell Westbrook No. 4 and Serge Ibaka No. 24 in 2008, James Harden No. 3 in 2009, Reggie Jackson No. 24 in 2011 and Steven Adams No. 12 in 2013. Durant is the 2014 MVP and a four-time scoring champion, Westbrook was the scoring champion and All-Star Game MVP this past season and Ibaka is a three-time member of the All-Defense first team and a two-time league blocks leader.
Perhaps Presti’s biggest coup has been Westbrook, who has gone from out-of-control athletic freak to one of the NBA’s elite players.
”I wish I could tell you that we saw that coming, but that’s not happening,” Presti said. ”He’s just a guy that’s driven, and we got really fortunate, as we have several other times with some of these guys, but I’m proud that they’re with us.”
Because the Thunder have a stacked roster, there are options regarding what to do with the pick. Presti has said the team could trade the pick or move up, and that he would ”have to consider everything.”
The Thunder gained the lottery pick, despite finishing with a 45-37 record, because they missed the playoffs in the loaded West. Expectations are high heading into next season because Durant, who played just 27 games last season because of foot and ankle injuries, and Ibaka, who missed the last month of the season with a knee injury, are expected to be healthy. If the Thunder keep the pick, it will be to simply add a complementary piece.
”This draft is an opportunity to maintain your ambition for building a deep team,” Presti said. ”Especially with the different limitations that come with the current collective bargaining agreement, and the advantages you have in terms of able to retain the players on those contracts, we’re pretty excited about where we sit.”
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