It’s no secret the Thunder tanked this season. The organization knew that no matter what the team would not be competitive, so they decided to purposefully tanked. Many Thunder fans were strongly against the team tanking the latter half of the season away.
But, the entire reason the Thunder did tank is almost here. The NBA Draft lottery is on June 22nd at 7:30pm. The Thunder have several ways this draft can go for them. They may even be the most interesting team heading into the draft lottery.
Most teams in the lottery, especially those in the middle and back of the pack, don’t have much going for them. They just hope their draft pick doesn’t fall back, and see if it could maybe jump a couple of spots. These team’s odds to win the lottery are extremely small. For example, the 12th best odds Spurs have a 1.7 percent chance of landing the number one overall pick. Thus, the Spurs expectation for the draft should be very low. The teams with much higher odds, usually in the top 5 or 6, have a lot more to look out for. For teams that have top 5 odds, the draft lottery is incredibly important. Moving back one slot may mean that you can miss out on a generational player. It causes a lot of stress for the organization and the fanbase. This year the Thunder can have two potential top 5 picks, which means that the draft lottery is more important to them than nearly anyone.
But what exactly should Thunder fans be looking for heading into the draft lottery? What would an ideal, and a not so ideal, lottery look like for them? Well, let’s look through it.
Let’s start with the potential picks the Thunder have. They will have their own pick, with the 4th best odds, for starters. But the other picks are harder to explain. Through the trades dealing Russell Westbrook and Paul George during the 2019 offseason, the Thunder were able to have the best 2 out of the Thunder’s, Heat’s, and Rockets’ 2021 first round draft picks. That should sound great with the Rockets having the worst record in the league this year after trading James Harden, but the protections owed on that pick swap make it interesting. The swap is top 4 protected, entailing that if the pick is in the top 4, the Rockets keep it.
The pick they know they will have at bare minimum is Miami’s 18th overall pick. Since Miami made the playoffs this year their pick will stay at 18 and cannot change via the lottery. If Oklahoma City does not get the Rockets’ pick, then they will still have their own and Miami’s. Oklahoma City could have also had Golden State’s top 21 protected first round pick from the Kelly Oubre trade this offseason, but since the Warriors didn’t have a good enough record, they will instead get Minnsota’s second round pick.
Now to get into the lottery picks. With the Thunder’s pick, we won’t have to worry about protections like with the Rockets’ pick, which we’ll get into later. The Thunder ended the regular season with the 4th worst record in the NBA, which means they have the 4th best odds to get the number one overall pick. As it stands, the Thunder have a 11.5% chance of winning the lottery, and a 45.1% chance of being in the top 4. The furthest the Thunder can slide back to is 8, and they have a 27.1% chance to end up with the 6th pick, which is the highest. The Thunder will be watching their pick intently as they could end up nearly anywhere. The organization would surely hope to get a high draft pick after tanking half the season.
Another pick that we touched on earlier that Thunder fan’s should look at as closely as their own on draft night is Houston’s this year. As said earlier, the swap owed is top 4 protected, meaning that if the pick is outside of the top 4, the Thunder get the pick. Since Houston has the best odds for the number 1 pick, the furthest they can fall is 5. The odds that they do end up with the 5th pick is 47.9%. So essentially, it’s essentially a coinflip on if the Thunder can steal a top 5 pick from Houston and potentially have two top 5 picks. The overall best case scenario is for Houston’s pick to end up at 5, and the Thunder to win the lottery and get the first pick. If that were to be the case, we would no longer get Miami’s pick at 18. That would then go to the Rockets. Again, the Thunder will get the best two of the three eligible picks, meaning that Houston’s pick has to be out of the top 4 for the Thunder to be eligible to get it.
To briefly run through the Thunder’s worst case scenario: the Rocket’s pick would fall in between 1-4, meaning it would be protected and go to Houston. Then, the Thunder’s own pick would have to fall back to the furthest spot possible, which would be 8. The Thunder would then overall be left with picks 8 and 18. That’s a very different, and a much less desirable situation than the much coveted picks of 1 and 5. It shows how much variation this draft can have for the long term plan of this franchise. To stay positive, let’s talk about what getting 2 top picks would mean for Oklahoma City.
Besides how incredible it would be for the franchise to get two top 5 picks in a loaded draft, it’ll also stop the tanking. Our young core would surely be solidified and the Thunder would surely look to be competitive again with plentiful picks still coming. As a small market team, getting talent through the draft is nearly the only way the Thunder can get talent at all. It’s incredibly important to do well at the lottery, as that could shape the enjoyment of Thunder fans for years to come. If we end up with 1 & 5, then we could talk ourselves into the playoffs next year, but 8 & 18 could mean more tanking.
A lot rides on this draft. This is where we’ll see if hoarding these picks pays off, and how the next generation of Thunder basketball will unfold.