Tramel: OKC Thunder wins the NBA Lottery by coming in No. 2 for 2022 draft

Berry Tramel
Oklahoman

Mark Tatum turned over the card, designating the fourth pick in the NBA Draft, and before he could say “Sacramento Kings,” the card revealed the purple crown. 

And the stock of the NBA’s No. 2 administrator skyrocketed on the Oklahoma Plains. Tatum now is a deputy (commissioner) on the order of Bass Reeves or Frank Eaton, Bat Masterson or Virgil Earp. 

Tatum brought the good tidings of great joy Tuesday night that the Thunder had won the lottery. 

Oh, not winning in the traditional sense. The Thunder’s luck ran out at the end, and the Orlando Magic was handed the No. 1 pick. But on a night when the Thunder desperately, gravely and exceedingly needed a top-3 pick, Tatum didn’t turn up the Thunder card until No. 2’s time had arrived. 

The Thunder rolled and the lightning struck. Two long years of tanking finally had paid off. OKC is in position to grab the kind of mega-talent that elevates an NBA team, especially a franchise without the trappings that attract free-agent stars. 

More:Five things you might have forgotten about 2021-22 Thunder season and what they could mean for OKC's future

People look at the draft lottery order Tuesday night after the 2022 NBA Draft Lottery at McCormick Place in Chicago.

What goes around comes around. A year ago, with the fourth-best lottery odds, the Thunder slipped to No. 6, though Josh Giddey was a fine consolation prize. This year, with the fourth-best lottery odds, the Thunder rose to No. 2. 

Gloom, despair and agony was the result of the 2021 lottery, when OKC had a 25 percent chance at two top-five picks and went home with none. Those emotions gave way to delight, glee and maybe even ecstasy to a Thunder fan base that knows these 2022 ping-pong balls exponentially speed up Sam Presti’s reposition/replenish/rebuild. 

Oh, the Thunder always could bust on the No. 2 pick. Lots of teams have done it. 

At No. 2, the Kings took Marvin Bagley in 2018, the Bucks took Jabari Parker in 2014, the Bobcats took Michael Kidd-Gilchrist in 2012, the Timberwolves took Derrick Williams in 2011, the 76ers took Evan Turner in 2010, the Grizzlies took Hasheem Thabeet in 2009, the Pistons took Darko Milicic in 2003, the Bulls took Jay Williams in 2002 and the Grizzlies took Stromile Swift in 2000. 

No all-stars on that list. Few full-time starters. 

I’m typing this very softly so you’ll hear it in a whisper, but there have been as many misses as hits at No. 2 this century. 

But now I’m back to banging the keys. Presti made none of those picks. In Sam We Trust, and Presti’s draft record is pristine when given lottery luck. Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden, and of that trio, only Durant was considered a sure shot. 

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“As we set out to reposition, replenish and ultimately rebuild our team, we knew that it would be a series of drafts,” Presti said a couple of hours before the lottery. “We didn't know where those draft picks would be, but this is our second, and it's a big night for us to just find out where it is we're going to be drafting from.” 

It’s a big night because the pick is among the top three. The Thunder needed in the top three because since Steven Adams was traded in November 2020 and Al Horford was shut down four months later, OKC has been hosting auditions for big men. Isaiah Roby, Moses Brown, Tony Bradley, Aleksej Pokusevski, Jeremiah Robinson-Earl, Derrick Favors, Olivier Sarr, Mamadi Diakite. The Thunder has been a halfway house with a turnstile for tall ballplayers trying to get in or stay in the NBA. 

Time to plant the flag with someone permanent. 

This draft has three rich big men prospects, particularly Auburn’s Jabari Smith (my favorite) and Gonzaga stringbean Chet Holmgren, but Duke’s Paolo Banchero is skilled and ripped at 6-foot-10. 

I’m good with any of the three and trust Presti to take whoever he wants after Orlando gets first choice. 

2022 NBA mock draft:With no clear-cut No. 1, who will be OKC Thunder's pick at No. 2?

“I think the No. 1 thing that we've learned is that no matter what happens in any scenario as an organization, we're never going to let a bad night drag us down,” Presti said. “We're going to just keep persisting. We're going to keep thinking. We're going to keep grinding.” 

Persistence is mandatory. Thinking is required. Grinding is preferred. 

But now the Thunder can do all that after a good night that lifts the spirits and the future of an organization, a night in which OKC won the lottery by coming in No. 2. 

Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at 405-760-8080 or at btramel@oklahoman.com. He can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including FM-98.1. Support his work and that of other Oklahoman journalists by purchasing a digital subscription today.