NBA

Hasheem Thabeet or Bust for OKC Thunder

Connecticut Huskies center Hasheem Thabeet

Hasheem Thabeet Photo Credit: Icon SMI

With the third pick in the 2009 NBA Draft, the Oklahoma City Thunder select…

Who?

After Blake Griffin is taken first overall by the Los Angeles Clippers (sorry, Blake), the two next highest-rated prospects left on the board will be 18-year-old Spanish PG phenom Ricky Rubio and 7-3 shot-blocking menace Hasheem Thabeet of Connecticut. The Memphis Grizzlies pick second, and at this point it’s up in the air as to which of these two they’ll take.

With Mike Conley Jr. showing marked improvement in the second half of last season, there may not be a great need for Rubio; God knows they could use Thabeet’s size. But, then, the Grizz still don’t seem overly attached to Conley, and could use the opportunity to finally send him to Portland in a trade that’s made too much sense for too long, then pin their PG hopes on Rubio.

They’d also be doing the Thunder a big favor, allowing OKC to jump on Thabeet and finally complete their core of young up-and-comers that features Kevin Durant, Jeff Green, and Russell Westbrook. A rebounding, shot-blocking, defensive presence in the middle is one area this team still sorely lacks for–the 22-year-old Thabeet would fill this role immediately and likely step into the starting lineup from Day 1. The Thunder already tried to fill this gap by trading for Tyson Chandler, but were scared off by health concerns.

Maybe that was a blessing in disguise.

In his third collegiate season, Thabeet led his Huskies to the Final Four in averaging 13.6 points, 10.8 boards, and 4.2 blocks per in 36 games. The native Tanzanian didn’t even pick up a basketball until he was 15, which means that even at 22–a bit old by some standards when it comes to the draft–there’s still plenty of room for improvement, especially on offense. Lucky for the Thunder, offense is one aspect of Thabeet’s game they can afford to wait on.

He seems like a perfect fit. Rubio, on the other hand, does not. If Thabeet goes to Memphis, GM Sam Presti should have a backup plan–a pre-arranged trade–ready to execute immediately.

Why Hasheem Thabeet or a trade should be the Thunder’s only options after the break…

That’s not a knock on Rubio. I’m sure he’ll be a fine player. I’m just not sold on the idea of moving the 6-3 Westbrook to shooting guard; if the Thunder aren’t confident that ETB favorite Thabo Sefolosha can step into that starting role, and feel they need to immediately upgrade the SG position, they should do so via a trade for a proven veteran, using that #3 pick as the main bait.

The Thunder don’t need another young project like Rubio promises to be running the show; they’ve reached somewhat of a saturation point when it comes to youngsters. And while Westbrook had some ups and downs during his rookie season, they were mostly ups, and he’ll only improve upon his impressive freshman campaign that saw per-game averages of 15.3 points, 5.3 assists, 4.9 boards, and 1.3 steals. There’s also this guy.

Here’s a thought: how about calling Detroit Pistons GM Joe Dumars, who’s open to trading just about anybody on his roster not named Rodney Stuckey, and talking about Richard Hamilton? Hamilton is exactly the kind of All-Star caliber talent with a proven track record of winning that could have a positive influence on the young Thunder team, not to mention help them win some games. At 31 years old, the well-conditioned Hamilton still has a good 4 years left in him; if Ray Allen can still do it at 34, Hamilton can at 35.

A package of Hamilton, Jason Maxiell, and the Pistons’ first second-round pick (35th overall) for a player (Robert Swift?) and the third-overall pick–a pick which the Pistons would use on Rubio, shifting Stuckey over to Hamilton’s vacated spot at SG–might make sense for both teams.

Of course, that’s just one possible trade scenario. But when it comes down to the words that come out of David Stern’s smug little mouth on June 25, here’s what Oklahoma City Thunder fans should be hoping for:

“With the third pick in the 2009 NBA Draft, the Oklahoma City Thunder select Hasheem Thabeet from the University of Connecticut.”

OR

“We have a trade.”

Related Reading:
Welcome Back, Shaun Patrick Livingston
Russell Westbrook Giveth, and Russell Westbrook Taketh Away
Thabo Sefolosha Moseys Down to Oklahoma
Kevin Durant is Doing Just Fine at Forward

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