October 16th, 2020 is a holiday for hoop junkies. The COVID-19-delayed NBA Draft takes place that day, injecting fans with newfound hope and excitement for the upcoming season.
My beloved Oklahoma City Thunder will have completed their first season of the post-Kevin Durant-Russell Westbrook era, and general manager Sam Presti will have his first shot at finding the organization’s future stars.
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is the team’s only cornerstone at this point. With the versatility he offers, Presti should draft the best player available.
If the season ended today, the Thunder would have the 25th pick in the draft (via the Jerami Grant trade), losing their own top-20 protected pick to the Philadelphia 76ers. If they finish outside of the league’s top-10 records, Presti can expend both picks.
Finding a star at 25 is asking a lot, but the 2020 draft has the potential to produce a handful of plus role players. Below you’ll find my top (realistic) choices and a few pieces of entertainment that got me through my week.
Kira Lewis Jr, 6’3″ Guard – Alabama, Sophomore | 18.5 PPG, 4.8 RPG, 5.2 APG, 1.8 SPG
Lewis looks like a Dennis Schröder clone, just add two more inches. The pluses in his game are elite speed, shot-creation, pick-and-roll potential, and peskiness on defense. Lewis shot 36.2% from three and 79.3% from the line in his two-year Bama career. Those splits bode well for his future.
Lewis projects as a mid-first round pick, but if he falls to OKC, they’d be foolish not to draft him. He would be an excellent insurance policy if they can’t re-sign Schröder to a team-friendly deal in the summer of ’21.
Patrick Williams, 6’8″ Forward – Florida State, Freshman | 9.2 PPG, 4.0 RPG, 1.0 APG, 1.0 SPG, 1.0 BPG
The size and strength of Williams are similar to that of PJ Tucker and Marcus Morris. In one season in Tallahassee, Williams shot 83.9% from the line and showed an ability to finish strong at the rim and knock down midrange jumpers off the dribble.
Williams routinely got burned against speedy guards, but his sturdiness and shot blocking prowess (thanks to a 6’11” wingspan) should allow him to defend larger opponents and make highlight plays. If Billy Donovan wanted to double-down on his uber-small lineup (CP3, SGA, Schröder, Gallo, and Steven Adams), I think Williams could play the 5.
Saddiq Bey, 6’8″ Wing – Villanova, Sophomore | 16.1 PPG, 45.1 FG3%, 5.8 3PA
After showcasing an ability to cover opposing teams’ best guards, Bey projects as a ready-made 3-and-D wing in The Association. Immediate playing time as a rookie is likely due to his ability to cover the 1-4 — and because Jay Wright churns out solid role players.
OKC has been forced to rely on the inconsistent shooting of Thabo Sefolosha, Andre Roberson, and Terrance Ferguson for far too long. Bey can be the wing Thunder fans have yearned for over the past decade.
Leandro Bolmaro, 6’7″ Guard – FC Barcelona B | 14.9 PPG, 3.6 APG, 1.8 SPG
Bouncing back and forth between Barcelona’s first and second teams, Leandro Bolmaro has displayed outstanding playmaking and feel for the game. His change-of-pace off the bounce and passing ability could make him a devastating secondary ball handler next to Shai Gilgeous-Alexander.
The only real knock on the young Argentine’s game is his jumper — he shot just over 27% from downtown this past season. If Bolmaro develops a consistent three-point shot, he could play a Joe Ingles-style role on any team in the NBA. He’s got the sauce on tape.
Jalen Smith, 6’10” Big – Maryland, Sophomore | 15.5 PPG, 10.5 RPG, 2.4 BPG, 36.8% FG3%
Rec specs, outside shooting, and ferocious shot-blocking. The Maryland big man brings a lot to the table. When you break down Smith’s strengths, it makes you wonder why he’s slotted as a late-first round pick.
He can get exposed on the perimeter, but outside of that, he does all the things you want from a modern big man. Smith can screen-and-roll, pick-and-pop, run the floor, protect the rim, and rebound at a high rate. To maximize his NBA potential, Smith needs to get stronger and work on his passing.
A coffee table essential: Mamba Mentality: How I Play by Kobe Bryant
Every basketball fan needs a copy of this book. Broken into two sections, “Process” and “Craft”, the late Kobe Bryant shares the behaviors and figures in his life that helped shape his legendary career. Kobe gave every ounce of himself to the game of basketball and was destined to pack lifetimes of work into his post-playing career. The photographs from Andrew Bernstein also provide a heavy dose of nostalgia.
An article to read: “Michael Jordan Has Not Left The Building” by Wright Thompson in ESPN The Magazine
I included this piece to compare and contrast Michael Jordan and Kobe. Their presence, intensity, and relentlessness to be great were practically identical, yet their lives after basketball are glaringly different. Although the article is a few years old, Wright Thompson captures how Michael lives in the past, watching game after game comparing himself to modern-day NBA players. MJ’s desire to get back onto the court comes off as an unhealthy obsession. Kobe moved on, instead channeling all his energy into his family, business ventures, and creative work.
A parting quote: “A man who is not courageous enough to take risks will never accomplish anything in life.” – Muhammad Ali