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Peace, Love and Thunderstanding: Don’t Be a Clark Matthews

Going into the draft night in 2009, the NBA sources I trusted most were telling me that the draft class contained two players who could transform a franchise. The first was Blake Griffin, the Oklahoma City kid who starred for the Sooners for two seasons, who was a lock to go first overall to the Clippers. Ricky Rubio was the other.

I had a huge (draft) crush on Rubio that season. The Spanish national had started playing for the best team in Spain at 16 and started at point guard for the national team in the 2008 Olympics. I was convinced he was going to revolutionize the sport the way Pete Maravich did and I wanted him to do it while passing the ball to Kevin Durant. Unfortunately, in a draft that had two impact players, the Thunder had the third pick.

Then, rumors started filtering out that the owner of the Memphis Grizzlies was mandating that the team select UConn giant, and future Thunder bench warmer, Hasheem Thabeet at pick two. At the same time, Thunder news sources were circulating reports that OKC had hired a big-time Spanish lawyer to negotiate a buyout with Rubio's Euroleage team. The stars seemed to be aligning for me.

Except, when OKC was on the clock, the name that ended up being called was not Ricky Rubio. It was James Harden. If Patrick edits this post, you may read some excerpts from my live draft journal that night. Personally, I cannot bring myself to go back and read it. I do remember being very angry. I do remember making predictions that the team would rue that day. I said some not nice things about Sam Presti. Generally, my night was ruined.

Editor's Note – Patrick delivers:

Where to start, this [Harden] pick was awful.  I always thought Sam Presti was smarter than making a choice based on team need when a special player was available.  James Harden could be good, but I don’t ever see him being more than a middling NBA starter.  He reminds me a lot of Kirk Snyder, except not as athletic.

A lot of people talk about how Harden’s a great shooter, but his three point shooting in college was approximately the same as Snyders, and the weakness listed by ESPN:  “Needs to work on mid-range shooting.”  Are you kidding me?  Also, did I forget to mention that the first thing Stuart Scott brought up about him after the pick was that Harden has struggled with asthma his entire life?  The last time a player had a condition like that and was taken at #3, it was diabetic Adam Morrison...

I’ll get over this eventually, but I lost a lot of respect for Sam Presti tonight.

History has not been kind to my hot takes. Rubio has become a decent NBA point guard, but in no way has he been revolutionary. Every now and then he will make a pass that seems to defy the laws of physics, but rarely does it impact winning for whatever team he is playing on. Harden, though, has changed the game. He helped the Thunder reach the NBA Finals, then dominated the narrative of the Thunder's golden generation when he was traded to Houston and subsequently became a perennial MVP candidate. His style of play was so unstoppable that the league had to change the rules of officiating to make him less effective.

I never enjoyed Harden the way I should have. The initial disappointment persisted like a cancer that hindered my ability to relish what Harden did for OKC. And this is a lesson I hope Thunder fans can learn from as the team makes their picks in the 2022 draft.

It is common to become enamored with draft prospects. Rubio wasn't my first draft crush and he certainly was not my last. This year, I have hitched my wagon to Gonzaga's Chet Holmgren. Barring a scenario where the Orlando Magic select him at number one, he will be available when OKC picks second. I will probably hold my breath and hope to hear Holmgren's name. If it's Paolo Banchero, Jaden Ivey, or even an announcement of a trade-down, I will definitely be disappointed. This time, though, I intend to temper my response by remembering I don't know as much as the Thunder front office.

No team does more scouting work than OKC. The front office understands that the draft is the most efficient way for the team to bring in elite talent, and the Thunder's rebuild blueprint enacted after the trades of Paul George and Russell Westbrook doubled-down on that philosophy.

If they don't take Holmgren -- or if they do take Holmgren and you are one of those fans who is certain Chet will be a bust -- realize that regardless of how many subreddits you follow, podcasts you listen to, or articles you read, Sam Presti has more information. Him and his minions will have diagnosed hundreds of hours of footage of each prospect, worked them out in person, and talked to the player personally. Historically, he has not missed with top-5 picks and has generally been strong on picks in the "lottery." The only top-5 pick he has made that has not won an MVP was Jeff Green who he took at five, three picks after he had selected Kevin Durant in the 2007 draft.

So, enjoy the night and I hope your draft crush is on the team tomorrow as the next MVP who plays for the Thunder.


For More TLO Thunder Draft Coverage:

Lost Ogle Show with Tyler Parker of the Ringer

The Case for Chet Holmgren

The Case for Jabari Smith, Jr.

The Case for Paolo Banchero

"Outside the Box" picks

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