By Sam Agnitsch
For those of you not familiar or just indifferent with our D-league affiliate, do yourself a favor, watch. Not only have the Thunder been pioneers in the rapidly developing farm system, but they’ve been downright innovators. Not just with slick moves like the Josh Huestis contract but utilizing the league as a whole to develop young talent, paying dividends on the Blue court as well as the Thunder court. The Blue have been wildly successful this season, with an 18-9 record and winning 10 of the last 12 games behind a solid roster that features several players we should be seeing in the NBA sooner rather than later. Let’s take a look at what Presti has up his sleeve for next season.
Dakari Johnson (7’0 255 lbs. Kentucky)
Dakari is a traditional center in every sense of the word, which has unfortunately become a dirty one in today’s small ball-centric style of play. The bottom line is he’s a paint dominating throwback, picture a 7-foot Perkins with some offensive polish and a jump shot. Not considered a great athlete, what Johnson lacks in athleticism he makes up for with solid paint defense, consistently forcing opposing centers to catch entry passes outside the paint and providing just enough foot speed to do a serviceable job in pick and roll defense. Offensively Johnson continues to elevate his game from last season putting in totals of 18 ppg, 8 rpg, 1.6 bpg, and 2.6 apg. Using a variety of inside post moves, including a well-oiled hook shot, around the rim is where he thrives but can even step out and hit from 15-18 feet. So what gives? How did such a talented prospect fall all the way to the Thunder? The truth is playing at a powerhouse like Kentucky with three future lottery picks (Towns, Cauley-Stein, Lyles) playing ahead of you makes it easy to be hidden in plain sight, not to mention how raw the one and done was coming out. If this were 1992 Dakari would already be in the league, but until teams feel confident enough he can expand his defensive range outside the paint, he’ll continue to rule the d-league.
2017 prediction- 16th man, splits time in D-League/suit patrol for Thunder
With Nick Collison’s possible retirement as well as potential roster moves, a spot looks to be within reach, but unless another body gets cleared out of the front court log jam it’ll be difficult.
Josh Huestis (6’7” 230lbs. Stanford)
I’m not really sure if Josh counts, but seeing as how the only time we see him at the ‘Peake is in a suit, I say it does. It’s a name we’ve been hearing ever since the Thunder got crafty with his 1st round contract in 2014, and a name some of you (most of you) hope replaces a certain Andre Roberson. Huestis is basically a project “3 and D” guy, outstanding physical athlete and wing defender with size to match up against most elite guards. Downside? Just like his competition, Huestis is still in the process of developing a jump shot. He is by no means anywhere near Roberson’s level defensively yet, but his shot shows infinitely more promise and is infinitely less disturbing to look at. He’s improved year by year and averaging a career high 36% beyond the arc this year to go with 14 ppg.
2017 prediction-Makes Thunder Roster
2017 will be the make or break year for Huestis to end his NBA/D-League limbo. With Roberson’s contract situation looming and how much Presti loves rookie deal bargains, If the Thunder are confident Josh is ready to step up to the plate defensively every night he could make a serious jump.
Daniel Hamilton (6’6” 197 lbs. UConn)
The draft night move that went completely under the radar after the Serge trade, The Thunder essentially bought the 56th pick from the Nuggets and took the tweener project from Connecticut. I don’t say this lightly but this kid could be one of Presti’s masterpieces. After falling in the draft, mostly out of concerns about what position he’d play, the Thunder took advantage and has experimented with Hamilton at point/combo guard. Good move. Thought of as a project (even by D-League standards) Daniel has thrived in the role, showcasing an advanced array of ball-handling, shooting and passing skills as well as a surprising understanding of the position on his way to averaging 14 points, 8 rebounds, 4.5 assists per game, not to mention shooting 36% from deep. He has also recorded his first career triple-double (yawn) and has flirted with adding to that total on multiple occasions. The keyword here is still potential but with this vast amount of versatility and improvement so soon, how can you not get excited?
2017 prediction-Back to the D-League
I’m not confident in this prediction at all, mainly because when I watch Hamilton play I keep thinking of Ibaka. All we heard with Serge was “a few years away” and “super project” until he showed up at the Blue/White game and emasculated everyone. I don’t think Hamilton can have that sort of impact next season but I wouldn’t be shocked if he steals a roster spot and makes a few players expendable in the process (cough…Payne…cough).