A good draft model for the Sixers: The Thunder

Thunder guard Russell Westbrook yells as an official signals that time has run out in overtime in Game 4 of an opening-round NBA basketball playoff series against the Memphis Grizzlies Saturday, April 26, 2014, in Memphis, Tenn. Oklahoma City won 92-89. (Mark Humphrey/AP)
Thunder guard Russell Westbrook yells as an official signals that time has run out in overtime in Game 4 of an opening-round NBA basketball playoff series against the Memphis Grizzlies Saturday, April 26, 2014, in Memphis, Tenn. Oklahoma City won 92-89. (Mark Humphrey/AP)
Posted: June 24, 2014

If you want to know how the 76ers are looking to build their team, the Oklahoma City Thunder are a perfect example.

Oklahoma City has one of the NBA's elite franchises, averaging 54 wins over the last five seasons. Even that's a bit misleading because of the strike-shortened 2011-12 season. The Thunder finished 47-19 that season and advanced to the NBA Finals.

But heading into the 2008 draft, the franchise had countless similarities to the present-day Sixers. (At the time, the Thunder were the Seattle SuperSonics before they relocated to Oklahoma City for the 2008-09 season.)

The Sonics tanked their way to the second-worst record (20-62) in the league during the 2007-08 campaign. The Sixers tanked their way to the second-worst record (19-63) this past season.

Seattle had the rookie of the year in Kevin Durant. The Sixers have the rookie of the year in Michael Carter-Williams.

The Sonics had two first-round picks - fourth and 24th overall - and four second-round selections. The Sixers have two first-round picks - third and 10th overall - and five second-round selections.

The Sixers can only hope that the similarities don't stop there.

The bold decisions that Seattle general manager Sam Presti made in the 2008 and 2009 drafts, combined with Durant's dominance, have a lot to do with the team's success.

"I know what goes on behind the scenes, the class and meticulous paying attention to all of the small details," said Sixers coach Brett Brown, a good friend of Presti's. "What the public would see is the growth of a small program, because of the winning and losing. I think it's all-encompassing . . .

"You start to look at this program [and] you like to be like them."

Presti's decision to draft Russell Westbrook with the fourth pick was a shocker.

Back then, Westbrook was a defensive-minded sophomore guard out of UCLA. He was an unproven floor leader who primarily played shooting guard during his two seasons in college.

The Sonics picked him over then Stanford center Brook Lopez, UCLA center Kevin Love, Indiana guard Eric Gordon and Arizona guard Jerryl Bayless.

"It doesn't make sense," college basketball analyst Dick Vitale said at the time. "Seattle will look back on this and realize they made a big, big mistake. Love would have been fantastic for them."

The Sonics used their second pick on Serge Ibaka, then an 18-year-old forward/center from Congo. Ibaka, who played the previous season in Spain, remained overseas for one more season.

Seattle traded its No. 32 and No. 46 picks in the second round to the Detroit Pistons for the rights to D.J. White, a forward out of Indiana who was taken 29th overall. The team then selected California center DeVon Hardin (50th pick) and grabbed Kansas center Sasha Kaun (56th) before trading him to the Cleveland Cavaliers for cash.

The Thunder passed on Spanish point guard Ricky Rubio to select James Harden out of Arizona State with the third pick of the next year's draft. Rubio was widely considered the best prospect behind former Oklahoma forward Blake Griffin, who went first to the Los Angeles Clippers.

At the time, critics said Harden wasn't a great athlete. They also wondered if he could attack the basket from the right and defend on the NBA level.

Defense is still one of Harden's weaknesses. However, he was the first-team all-NBA selection for the Houston Rockets this season. Harden also played in the last two NBA All-Star Games. The Thunder traded him to the Rockets before the start of the 2012-13 campaign.

But before his departure, he, Westbrook and Ibaka proved to be stellar draft picks.

Ibaka led the NBA in blocked shots in the 2011-12 and 2012-13 seasons and was named to the last three all-defensive teams.

Westbrook played in three consecutive All-Star Games (2011-2013) and garnered all-NBA second-team honors during that time.

After working out more than 100 prospects, the Sixers hope to duplicate the Thunder's draft-day success on Thursday.

They are also content with struggling again next season, as Oklahoma City did during Westbrook's rookie campaign. That would enable them to get their version of Harden, another high lottery pick.

The hope is to acquire enough assets to become a contender in three to five seasons. The Thunder reached the postseason in Harden's first season and reached the Finals two seasons after that.

"This is one of the main [franchises] that sort of become a natural association, given the Kevin Durant Ping-Pong ball and the growth of the program," said Brown, whose team is in the midst of reshuffling the roster. "I think Nick [Collison] is the only other carryover from those Seattle days.

"When you start looking at the attrition of the program, and how it was sort of cleansed and weeded out and you look at what they have, it's a really obvious example of what we aspire to grow to."


kpompey@phillynews.com

@PompeyOnSixers

www.inquirer.com/deepsixer

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