Ranking something serious: The Thunder’s first-round picks from other teams

Ranking something serious: The Thunder’s first-round picks from other teams

This is for those who love rankings, keep forgetting what picks OKC owns, or both.

Jon Hamm

By Jon Hamm

| Oct 31, 2023, 12:00pm CDT

Jon Hamm

By Jon Hamm

Oct 31, 2023, 12:00pm CDT

In case you were unaware, the Oklahoma City Thunder hold a bunch of future first-round picks. That’s accurate, but today’s NBA gets cute with traded draft picks. Teams are swapping picks like stock traders on a trading floor.

A new way to think about this collection of assets is “draft capital.” It’s not enough to just own a certain team’s pick in a specific year. What matters is how the future pick is positioned. 

For example, in the second October trade involving OKC and James Harden, the Thunder just swapped the least favorable of its 2026 first rounders for a pick swap with the Clippers in 2027. In a previous trade, OKC sent the least favorable of its 2024 first round picks to Denver in exchange for a Nuggets pick several years in the future.

See how the status of these picks can get easily blended?

Allow me to channel my inner Todd Lisenbee and rank these draft assets in order of value. I’ll leave the silly stuff to him (bald coaches, Knights, high school mascots). 

This list, however, is very serious. I wrote this with gravitas. Don’t mistake this piece as the work of David Muir. It’s mine, I promise.

It’s also a handy list for Thunder fans that will be updated periodically. These picks are like stocks whose value will rise and fall. Perhaps even added to, subtracted from, or altered.

(Note that the Thunder’s own first-round picks are not listed here.)

9. 2024 Clippers first (unprotected): The Thunder acquired this pick from the LA Clippers as part of the 2019 Paul George/Shai Gilgeous-Alexander trade. This trade is going to come up a lot.

This pick may already be spoken for. As mentioned above, OKC will send its least favorable first-round pick in 2024 to Denver. Could be their own pick or one from the Clippers, Jazz, or Rockets. It’s reasonable to think this Clippers pick will be the pick that goes, and it’ll likely be a selection in the 20s. Something to monitor this season. It’d be wacky if OKC finished with a better record than the Clips and conveyed its own pick instead.

8. 2026 Rockets first (protected 1-4 in 2026, otherwise Houston conveys a second-round pick in 2026): The Thunder acquired this pick in the 2019 swap of Russell Westbrook and Chris Paul.

The Rockets rebuild has been rocky, but they are not lacking for talent. The team made aggressive moves in free agency in the hopes of yanking itself out of the muck. Head coach Ime Udoka should eventually give the team much needed structure. It’s more likely that this pick falls outside the lottery than in the top-10 in three years.

7. 2025 Heat first (protected 1-14 in 2025, unprotected in 2026): A common theme here is that several of these picks were part of the 2019 Paul George trade. This is also one of them. The Clippers acquired this pick from Miami in a prior deal before sending it to OKC, and the Thunder amended the terms of this pick in a later trade with Miami.

Jimmy Butler will be 36 years old in 2025. Miami leans heavily on a pipeline of undrafted free agents developed through their G-League franchise in luxurious Sioux Falls, South Dakota. The Heat have whiffed lately on big name trade targets. Pat Riley is 1.57 times older than Adrien Brody. That could all lead to a break in the production line at some point. But Miami is a destination market, and destination markets can turn things around in a single offseason. The Heat could momentarily stumble and cough up a nice selection, but it’s dicey.

6 . 2024 Jazz first (protected 1-10 in 2024, 1-10 in 2025, 1-8 in 2026, or else no pick is owed): The Thunder acquired this pick from the Jazz in 2021 in exchange for taking on the contract of Derrick Favors.

See the above note about a pick going to Denver. If this is the pick Denver gets, then Utah fans will be elated because they had a terrific season. But that seems far-fetched. This pick projects as a mid-first round pick when it does convey, which seems more likely than the Jazz hitting the gutters for three straight seasons and owing nothing. Pencil in 2025 as a likely delivery date.

T – 5. 2027 Nuggets first (protected 1-5 in 2027, 1-5 in 2028, 1-5 in 2029, otherwise Denver conveys a 2029 second-round pick) AND 2029 Nuggets first (protected 1-5 in 2029, 1-5 in 2030, otherwise Denver conveys a 2030 second-round pick)

The Thunder acquired Denver’s 2027 pick in 2022 in exchange for taking on the contract of JaMychal Green. The 2029 pick was acquired in a 2023 trade that sent near-term picks — including that 2024 pick I keep mentioning — to Denver in exchange for this distant selection.

We’ll call these two Denver picks a tie. The defending NBA Champions have been firmly in the playoffs every year since 2018. Nikola Jokic is entering his ninth season and will be 32 in the year 2027. The Nuggets are set up to be very good for some time, but can they sustain that success consistently for four more years? Or longer? Could a bored Jokic pull a Michael Jordan and change sports at the age of 30? That’s why OKC placed strategic bets on these picks, but also the Nuggets could be in the midst of a Spurs-like run of excellence.

3. 2025 76ers first (protected 1-6 in 2025, 1-4 in 2026, 1-4 in 2027, otherwise Philly will convey a 2027 second-round pick): The Thunder acquired this pick in 2020 largely as payment to absorb the contract of Al Horford.

In 2020, Philly had a pair of All-Stars in 26-year-old Joel Embiid and 24-year-old Ben Simmons. Three years and three Eastern Conference Semifinals exits later, the Sixers are split like the Liberty Bell. Simmons refused to play for Philly any longer so he was traded for James Harden, who called Daryl Morey a liar in public and forced his way to the Clippers. Like the “guy checking out girl meme,” rivals have shifted their sights away from Giannis Antetokounmpo and towards Embiid. Can the Sixers possibly hold this all together for four more years? Doubtful. This pick looks awfully pretty right now.

2. 2024 Rockets first (protected 1-4 in 2024, otherwise Houston will send second-round picks in 2024 and 2025): The Thunder also acquired this pick in the 2019 swap of Russell Westbrook and Chris Paul.

See the comments about Houston above. The Rockets have had a bottom-3 record in the league for three straight seasons. They would very much like to not be there any longer. The jury is out on how quickly Udoka can right the ship, if it can even be righted. Dillon Brooks and Fred VanVleet are veteran free agent additions who love to shoot, but with the accuracy of a Stormtrooper. The current outlook on this pick is quite bright, a likely top-10 pick assuming the Rockets don’t get lucky in the lottery.

T – 1. 2025 Clippers first round pick swap: Take a wild guess how OKC acquired this pick.

T – 1. 2026 Clippers first (unprotected): Take another wild guess how OKC acquired this pick.

T – 1. 2027 Clippers first round pick swap: See details above.

Here they are. Prized possessions. The Ark of the Covenant. A high-quality copy of Amazing Fantasy #15. The Honus Wagner baseball card that didn’t get crimped in a bicycle spoke (kids, ask your parents to explain it). These two picks, in back-to-back-to-back seasons, could be golden. Granted, the Clippers are in LA so the prior disclaimer about destination markets applies. But the Clips need to make radical changes in the next three seasons to remain upright. Paul George is currently 33 years old; Kawhi Leonard is 32. Both are slightly brittle and want contract extensions. LA just willingly traded for the never-happy 34-year-old Harden. Treat these picks like the Faberge Egg from Ocean’s Twelve and protect them with a laser grid. These picks have big-time potential like the future child of Taylor Swift and Travis Kelce.

Have any comments? Strenuous disagreements? Email me at [email protected] with your thoughts.

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