Thunderous Beginnings - Who Should the Oklahoma City Thunder Target in the 2017 NBA Draft?


With less than two weeks to go the Oklahoma City Thunder will look to try and fix some problems, the team suffered during the 2016-17 NBA season with the 21st overall pick in the draft. The two major problems the Thunder suffered last season were the lack of three-point shooting, both starting and off the bench, and the problem finding a backup for superstar guard Russell Westbrook. There are five players, three that are obvious choices for Oklahoma City and two that are sleeper prospects, that the team should consider come draft night.

1) Luke Kennard - SG, Duke University - 19.5 Points, 5.1 Rebounds, 2.5 Assists

As mentioned before Oklahoma City ranked dead last in three-point shooting during the regular season. The most obvious and likely choice for the Thunder to address this problem is Duke shooting guard Luke Kennard.

Kennard would be able to immediately come in and contribute to a Thunder squad that was one of the worst at three-point shooting this season, finishing ranked dead last. Shooting at a 43.8% clip beyond the arc this season for Duke, Kennard was able to showcase his ability throughout the season to get open for easy jump shots. This ability would translate well to the NBA with Oklahoma City as Russell Westbrook would have a reliable option to pass to and Kennard would open up driving lanes for Westbrook and Oladipo both.

The biggest knock on Kennard's game is his lack of size and athleticism. With a wingspan that is shorter than him at 6'5", Kennard has a hard time trying to contain opposing wings and the problem will only be compounded at the next level. The former Blue Devil also does not often attack the rim and draw fouls due to the fact that he prefers to take easier jump shots. Despite his flaws, Kennard also showcased a hard work ethic that will help him work past these problems as well. Coupled with the fact that he was a player without any ego and helped keep a very disruptive Duke team together the past two seasons, Oklahoma City could be selecting a great basketball player.

NBA Comparison: Jeff Hornacek

2) Donovan Mitchell - SG, The University of Louisville - 15.6 Points, 4.9 Rebounds, 2.7 Assists

Staying in the ACC, if Donovan Mitchell is available at #21 for the Oklahoma City Thunder come draft night; the team will be sprinting to get the selection in.

Cut from a similar cloth to both Russell Westbrook and Victor Oladipo, Donovan Mitchell is an athletic freak that could serve as a third option if Oklahoma City elects to go small or can serve as a primary ball handler when Westbrook sits. The biggest praise of the former Cardinal's game is his defensive ability. In his last collegiate season, Mitchell was able to defend point guards, shooting guards and even small forwards as well. Viewed as a future lockdown defender in the NBA, the Oklahoma City Thunder would be hard pressed to pass on a prospect that has so much untapped potential in Mitchell.

Out of the two biggest flaws as a player, one Mitchell cannot control and one is steadily improving. The biggest knock on Mitchell is his height at 6'2" which makes him pretty undersized for the shooting guard position. His other biggest knock is the fact that he only shot 35.4% from beyond the arc this season and there are much better shooters throughout the 2017 NBA Draft. But, Mitchell has and will continue to improve his three-point shooting ability as he made a huge jump from his freshman year average of 25.0% to what he finished his college career with.

The height concerns and lack of three-point ability are what is a real fear to NBA teams when it comes to Mitchell and he may slide to Oklahoma City at #21 where they would be foolish to pass him up.

NBA Comparison: Norman Powell

3) Frank Jackson - PG, Duke University - 10.9 Points, 2.5 Rebounds, 1.7 Assists

The Oklahoma City Thunder, despite finishing sixth in the Western Conference and a strong MVP-caliber season by Russell Westbrook, were severely held back by the team's inability to convert from beyond the arc and had problems backing up Westbrook, with or without Cameron Payne on the roster. If many other top prospects are off the board by the time the team picks in the 2017 NBA Draft, the team should take a hard look at Duke point guard Frank Jackson.

If the Thunder were to select the former Blue Devil, the team would immediately find their backup point guard after trying to plug the hole when they shipped Reggie Jackson to Detroit because of his overinflated ego. In Frank Jackson, Oklahoma City would be able to get a serviceable guard to come off the bench and help cure the three-point shooting woes with Jackson shooting at a 39.5% clip from beyond the arc this season. Unlike his fellow teammate in Duke, Kennard Jackson has also shown an ability to attack the rim and draw fouls as well, shooting on average 2.8 free throws a game while at Duke.

The biggest knock on Jackson's game is the lack of creating plays for his teammates. Coming into Duke University he was viewed as a point guard who played more as a scoring guard throughout the season. If Billy Donovan is able to help develop the young guard into more of a playmaker, Oklahoma City will be set at their backup point guard spot for the foreseeable future.

NBA Comparison: Cory Joseph

4) Derrick White - PG, University of Colorado - 18.1 Points, 4.1 Rebounds, 4.4 Assists

A sleeper in the 2017 NBA Draft, Colorado point guard Derrick White would be a Colo-radical pick for the Oklahoma City Thunder at #21. A relatively unknown player until this year, White played Division II basketball before coming to the University of Colorado his senior year where he starred for the team.

As mentioned before Oklahoma City struggled throughout the season trying to find a player to properly back up Russell Westbrook. In comes Derrick White who can do a little bit of everything offensively with averages of 68% at the rim, 44% on two-point jumpers, 40% from three-point range and 81% at the free throw line. He can also help on the defensive side of the ball where he averaged 1.4 blocks and 1.2 steals per game as well. Besides his outstanding offense and solid defense White is also a willing and able playmaker and due to his side, he can defend both point guards and shooting guards.

Despite all the accolades to his game after one season at Colorado, there are some concerns with Derrick White as well. One of which is his age, where he will be 23 years old when the 2017-18 NBA season begins. Some teams may also be wary of the fact that he played Division II basketball for the majority of his collegiate career. Despite these flaws, the Thunder would get a player who could immediately contribute for the Thunder in White.

NBA Comparison: Malcom Brogdon

5) Semi Ojeleye - SF, Southern Methodist University - 19.0 Points, 6.9 Rebounds, 1.5 Assists

Rounding out the five possible choices for the Oklahoma City Thunder at #21 in the 2017 NBA Draft is small forward Semi Ojeleye of SMU. The former Mustang is a sleeper pick who could come into Oklahoma City and immediately contribute, whether starting or off the bench for the team.

After barely playing during his first two seasons at Duke, Ojeleye transferred to SMU and shot up draft boards after his junior season. If the Thunder were to draft the former Mustang, they would find an offensive dynamo who can not only score with ease at the rim but also do damage from beyond the arc after shooting 42.4% from three-point range this past season. He can also be slotted as a small-ball four for the Thunder as well and serve as a solid second or third option in Oklahoma City's offense.

Despite being able to do it all on the offensive side of the ball, Ojeleye will have a hard time defensively in the NBA due to his tweener size. He also lacks experience guarding traditional wings due to his in-conference competition while at SMU. In time he shows the potential to become a solid defensive player as there is an undersized power forward in the Bay Area that is a defensive stud that Ojeleye has drawn comparisons to. Do not be surprised if Semi Ojeleye is Oklahoma City's selection at 21 in the NBA Draft.

NBA Comparison: Diet Draymond Green

After an outstanding season from Russell Westbrook, the Oklahoma City Thunder must continue to acquire talent around him to help push the team past another first round exit. The series against the Houston Rockets in the playoffs exposed a major problem that Oklahoma City suffers when it comes to their supporting cast and the 2017 NBA Draft will be a good place to address it. The draft this year is deep with point guards and they could land their backup guard of the future in either Frank Jackson out of Duke University or Derrick White from Colorado. They could also address the team's lack of three-point shooting by selecting either Luke Kennard or Jackson, both Duke teammates or build towards the future with prospects like Donovan Mitchell out of Louisville or Semi Ojeleye of SMU.

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