Annual drafts often are about finding replacements, or at least trying. During Thursday night's NBA Draft, ever-meticulous Thunder general manager Sam Presti might have resorted to cloning.
Next season appears to be the last for 6-foot-10, 255-pound power forward Nick Collison, who will be 34 on opening day. The Thunder found a potential replacement in Michigan’s Mitch McGary, who also is listed at 6-foot-10, 255 pounds. Collison wears No. 4 with the Thunder and McGary wore No. 4 with the Wolverines. Both players are intelligent, unselfish, determined, fearless, resilient, persistent and – perhaps most important – willing to take a charge. They are power forwards ready to play center in a pinch.
Also likely to be departing is 6-foot-7, 222-pound unrestricted free agent Thabo Sefolosha, who became a full-time starter at shooting guard in his second game with OKC after being acquired from Chicago in a 2009 trade. Whether it was due to the lingering effects of a strained calf that caused him to miss 17 straight starts and sit out the entire month of March, the 30-year-old Sefolosha struggled mightily upon his return and was replaced for six postseason starts. Eerily similar in physical stature, Stanford’s Josh Huestis also stands 6-foot-7, is listed at 230 pounds and is blessed with a monstrously beneficial 7-foot-1 wingspan, the exact same width of Sefolosha’s.
In hopes of filling a void left by veteran guard and incoming New York Knicks coach Derek Fisher, the Thunder also acquired Xavier combo guard Semaj Christon, who was selected 55th overall by the Miami Heat, traded to the Charlotte Hornets and then acquired by OKC for cash considerations.
Prior to Thursday night’s draft, Presti explained his approach.
“I think there’s a big difference between picking a player and selecting a player,” Presti said. “And when you’re picking, you’re picking from not necessarily things that you want. Selecting, to me, is when you’re selecting something from a pool that you value. And we want to be in a position to select. We want to be in a position where we can add to the team without subtracting.”
Predictably, not everyone agreed with Presti’s choices on Thursday. Critics were surprised he chose to “select” McGary at No. 21 rather than at No. 29, and they were flat-out stunned Huestis was taken in the first round.
Despite his impressive track record on draft night, Presti frequently has been criticized the morning after.
Selecting Russell Westbrook at No. 4 and Serge Ibaka at No. 24 initially raised eyebrows in 2008, ditto for taking James Harden at No. 3 the following year. All three quickly proved their worth. Presti selected point guard Reggie Jackson at No. 24 in 2011, which has panned out nicely. The jury is still out on Perry Jones III, but getting him at No. 28 two years ago was considered a coup. Presti was ripped mercilessly for last year’s draft, which resulted in the arrival of center Steven Adams at No. 12, a second-team NBA All-Rookie selection who will battle for a starting position at age 21.
As the league’s youngest general manager in 2007, Presti’s first-ever pick with the franchise couldn’t have been more fortuitous.
Four-time NBA scoring champ and reigning most valuable player Kevin Durant was a gift from the Basketball Gods as the No. 2 selection to Greg Oden, an offering for which Presti, the franchise and the state of Oklahoma are eternally grateful.
Time will tell exactly how McGary and Huestis fare, but their clones certainly have been valuable.