Thunder rack up lottery picks in 2022 NBA draft

By Michael Kinney

OKLAHOMA CITY– The last time Oklahoma City Thunder had the No. 2 pick in the NBA draft, they were technically a completely different franchise. The Seattle Supersonics chose Kevin Durant in the 2007 NBA draft, a year before making the move to Oklahoma City.

That pick kicked off a run of all-star picks, conference titles and one appearance in the NBA Finals.

The Thunder had the No. 2 pick heading into the 2022 draft. While it was hard to imagine Oklahoma City would find a player of the same talent level and skills as Durant, the fan base had high hopes they would at least snag a player who could help end the two years of tanking they have had to endure.

It is way too early for those questions to be answered, but Oklahoma City feels they found their man with Chet Holmgren out of Gonzaga.

“It’s a mix of emotions, probably a thousand emotions, all good ones,” Holmgren said. “I don’t really have words to describe them, but I’m so blessed and grateful to be able to be here. I’m ready to compete. I’m ready to go play.”

At 7-0 foot, 195 pounds, Holmgren averaged 14.1 points and 9.9. boards as a freshman with the Zags. He also collected almost two assists and four blocks to go along with shooting 60 percent from the field. That includes shooting 41 of 105 from 3-point range.

Holmgren sees his skill set fitting right in with what the Thunder want to do.

“On offense, OKC plays a very five-out style of basketball,” Holmgren said. “There’s a lot of space, especially in the paint to get to the basket or draw two defenders or drive and kick, find guys who are open. A lot more space, and it opens up.”

From the outside, Holmgren seems to fit a mold of player the Thunder have acquired in the last two to three years. His long, lanky, slight frame is similar to Josh Giddy, Darius Bazley, AleksejPokusevski and ShaiGilgeous-Alexander.

Most draft analysts rated Holmgren as the No. 1 overall player in the draft. However, Jabari Smith out of Auburn seemed to be a lock to be the No. 1 pick.

However, when the Orlando Magic surprised almost everyone when they took Duke’s Paolo Banchero with the first pick, that left Oklahoma with its choice of either Holmgren or Smith.

According to reports, the Thunder never flinched on taking Holmgren. He was the player General Manager Sam Presti had been eying from the start and pulled the trigger when it was time.

“We thought he was the person for Oklahoma City,” Presti said. “He was the person for the Thunder. We’re really excited about the chance to add him.”

Smith didn’t have to wait long to hear his name called. The 6-10, 220-pound forward was taken by the Houston Rockets with the No. 3 selection.

As a freshman Smith posted 17 points, 7.4 rebounds, two assists and one black for Auburn. He shot only 42 percent from the field, which was significantly lower than Holmgren’s numbers.  

“With Chet, the size that you have with the ball handling, the passing, decision making at that size, you don’t see too often,” said Will Dawkins, Vice President of Basketball Operations. “But he’s also a two-way player and can protect the rim and defend, and he’s a guy who’s going to come in here and compete. He’s unselfish. He’s going to compete with his teammates. He’s sacrificed to be on a good team, and kind of did that willingly going in as one of the top players in high school. Wanted to join a good team and be about winning, and those are some of the things that really appeal to you when you talk about Chet the game.”

But it is Holmgren’s defensive prowess that stood out to most. His 117 blocked shots tied the Gonzaga single-season record.

“On defense, I can use my length and my quickness to cover a lot of ground and take up space,” Holmgren said. “There’s more space to take up, obviously, but I feel like I can still take up a great deal of space on defense, both vertically and horizontally, sliding my feet as well as protecting the rim.”

Another lottery pick agrees with Holmgren’s assessment.

“He’s a gamechanger on defense,” Banchero said of Holmgren. “I had a couple of layups that usually, against anybody else, I would score or it would be a dunk. But because Chet is down there, I wasn’t able to finish like that. That is just an example of how he changes the game.”

Holmgren’s selection was just the first in a big haul for the Thunder. They entered the night with two lottery selections and ended it with three picks.

Oklahoma City traded three future first-round picks to the New York Knicks for their No. 11 pick, which was used on Ousmane Dieng.

Dieng, 19, played last season with the New Zealand Breakers. He averaged 8.9 points and 3.2 rebounds.

“I’m just excited to be part of the NBA,” Dieng said. “OKC is a young team. They have some French guys over there, so that will be cool.”

The Thunder were back on the board with the No. 12 selection, which they used on guard Jalen Williams out of Santa Clara.

“I try not to ugly cry when you hear your name get called,” Williams said. “It’s kind of a surreal moment and it’s hard to really put into words.”

As a junior Williams was an All-WCC First Team selection. He averaged 18.0 points, 4.4 rebounds and 4.2 assists in 34.8 minutes per game.

But like Holmgren, Williams looks at what he can add defensively to the Thunder.

“I think just defensive fire,” Williams said. “I think everybody can score the ball. I think just being able to be versatile on defense, as well, and bring that competitive spirit into that gym.”

After trading away the No. 30 pick, Peyton Watson, to Denver, the Thunder selected Arkansas product Jaylin Williams with the 34th pick in the second round to close out Oklahoma City’s draft night/

The franchise ended up with four picks in the top 34 selections. Unlike the past two years, it looks like all of these selections could be seen as part of the foundation for what the Thunder hope is a return to prominence.

“This is, I think, the first time we can honestly say that we’re going to have some continuity and we’re going to continue to layer on to that, and that’s key to sustainability,” Presti said, “which is obviously our goal over the course of time.”

Story & Photo: Michael Kinney Media

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