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Clark Matthews’ 2023 NBA Draft Recap

9:56 AM EDT on June 23, 2023

Draft night is over and after using two picks, there are now three new Thunder players. While the addition of Cason Wallace from Kentucky, Keyontae Johnson from Kansas State, and the contract of Davis Bertans are the headlines, there was actually a lot of intrigue involving OKC beyond that.


The Thunder night actually started at pick seven when the Indiana Pacers were on the clock to make their pick. A “Woj bomb” disrupted the event as ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski tweeted out the news that the pick had been traded. In the first trade of the night, the Washington Wizards—whose decision making has recently been taken over by Michael Winger, a Sam Presti acolyte – moved up a single spot to select French professional Bilal Coulibaly.

Perhaps you read that last sentence and fail to see how that is a Thunder transaction. Technically, it was not. That said, the impetus of that trade was to keep Oklahoma City from making the trade first. For weeks, there have been rumblings that Presti was enamored with Coulibaly, including reports that he had personally traveled to Paris during the heart of draft workout season to meet with the athletic wing while he was playing in the French league finals series.

Meanwhile, the Wizards had been heavily linked to Arkansas guard Anthony Black who had just been drafted at number six by the Orlando Magic. Winger, who is intimately aware of how Presti operates, found that the Pacers were open to trading their pick just ahead of his selection at eight. And whether he was stung by losing out on Black or truly were all in on Coulibaly, the specter of OKC swooping in ahead of him forced him to act.

Did the Thunder really want Coulibaly? I think they did. In my preview article, I made it clear he seemed like a player whose scouting report reads like an erotic novel for Presti. Of course, if he was not trying to move up for Coulibaly, even better. It means he’s living rent-free in the head of another GM and forced him to make an ill-advised decision.


Another trade happened a few picks later. This time it was the Thunder moving up in the draft.

In Bertans, the Thunder have a very tall (6’10”), very overpaid shooter. The Latvian acquired the bag after being a force off the bench for the 2019/2020 Wizards, scoring 15.4 points per game on 43% shooting. Once he got the bigger paycheck, his playing time fell off a cliff. Statistically, it is hard to figure out why.

While his per-game numbers dipped in line with the change in floor burn, his per-minute numbers are essentially unchanged. He hucks up a three-pointer once every three minutes, making around 40% of them. Even his advanced stats are pretty consistent. He could be a reclamation project for the Thunder if Coach Daigneault chooses to use him.


Now for the star of the show, the Thunder’s lottery pick: Cason Wallace.

For the Thunder fans who had their hearts set on the team taking a center, this was a disappointment. I was not one of those fans, so this pick was great for me. While Wallace was not at the top of my list of players, I do like what he brings to the team.

A 6’4” 19-year-old with a 6’9” wingspan, defensive tenacity is Wallace's elite skill. He has big, quick hands that fluster opposing ball handlers and good fundamentals to lock them down. Because of that wingspan and strong frame, he is capable of defending players much bigger than himself. He kind of reminds me of Sacramento’s Davion Mitchell, but with more upside.

On the offensive end, Wallace will not take away from the team. He shot 34% from three as a freshman at Kentucky, a number that fell precipitously at the end of the year when he struggled with a shoulder injury. Meanwhile, he displayed a willingness to get and keep the ball moving through the offense. On a Kentucky team that lacked any kind of floor spacing, he still finished 60% of his shots near the basket.

Unlike previous Thunder picks, do not expect Wallace to spend any time with the G-League Blue. The combo guard should be plug-and-play off the bench for the team from opening night. His presence will relieve pressure on Lu Dort to chase the opposing team’s best perimeter player all night (or for six fouls, whichever comes first), and could possibly make Dort expendable down the line.

I have questions about why the Thunder traded up to take Wallace. Did they have intelligence that the Magic were going to take him at 11? Or perhaps Dallas was considering him to provide the perimeter defense they gave up in the Kyrie trade? Did they actually make the deal to get Bertans? Was it a panic move because they failed to get Coulibaly and didn’t want to lose the next player on their big board? Regardless, Wallace should be a valuable player going forward.


A player often clamored for by Thunder fans was Duke big man Dereck Lively II, the player selected with the pick the Mavericks received in the trade. The appeal of Lively was that he is a defensive big man with great size at 7’1”. An anonymous league executive told The Athletic that Lively could be another Tyson Chandler…or Willie Cauley-Stein, two really good comps for what his skill set will bring to the NBA.

Here’s the thing: even if Lively were to reach his ceiling, a player like Tyson Chandler is not getting much playing time with this iteration of the Oklahoma City Thunder. He just isn’t. A player like that is gumming up the offense and limiting the switchability of their defense. Lively’s value to OKC would have been essentially as an end-of-the-bench situational sub for when his team was getting killed by the small number of teams that still employ a beefy front line. His role would have been the same as what Moses Brown did. That is not the kind of player a team expends a lottery pick on.

For me, there were two players available at ten whose names I would have preferred. Kansas’ Gradey Dick (eventually taken by Toronto at 13). My visions of him drilling open three-pointers on kick-out passes from Shai, and back cutting for open dunks on passes from Giddey will remain fantasies. Kobe Bufkin of Michigan, now Atlanta (15), was equal to Cason Wallace in my mind, but I favored Bufkin’s more diverse offensive skill set.

It will not take me long to get over my disappointment.

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