What Sam Presti's draft room was like as the OKC Thunder selected three international prospects
A smaller-than-normal group gathered in a conference room at the Thunder’s practice facility Wednesday night.
“We usually pack ourselves in there pretty deep,” Thunder general manager Sam Presti said. “I like to have the people that pound the pavement all year to be in the room and feel the room a little bit, and be accessible for questions or things like that.”
But with COVID-19 still surging, the 2020 NBA Draft was conducted virtually, and team war rooms were set up with safety in mind. The pandemic altered almost every aspect of the draft — fewer games to watch, abbreviated workout and interview sessions and limited travel, making it especially difficult to scout overseas prospects.
That didn’t deter the Thunder from selecting three international players with its three picks Wednesday.
First was 18-year-old Serbian forward Aleksej Pokusevski, whom the Thunder traded up to get with the 17th pick. The deal hasn’t been finalized, but the Thunder sent Ricky Rubio and the No. 25 and No. 28 picks to the Timberwolves for the No. 17 pick and forward James Johnson.
Oklahoma City drafted French point guard Theo Maledon with the 34th pick, as part of a trade with Philadelphia.
The Thunder selected Vit Krejci three picks later. Krejci, a point guard from the Czech Republic, was the Thunder’s final pick in the draft.
Presti, per NBA rules, could not discuss any of the three players during his press conference just after midnight Thursday morning. All were involved in trades that were not yet finalized.
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But Presti could speak in general terms about his international scouting experience, which dates back to his mid 20s when he worked for the Spurs.
Presti would call Spurs CEO R.C. Buford, and talk himself into staying in Europe for another week.
“I can see Boris Diaw and I can see Beno Udrih,” Presti remembers thinking. “Before I knew it I’d be over there for like a month plus and just bouncing around from place to place. It’s really an unbelievable life experience.
“Going to watch the Under-16 B Division in Bulgaria, that used to be like heaven to me when I was coming up scouting … Obviously those (tournaments) have been halted as a result of everything going on in the world. I do think that it’s a new day in so many ways.”
Several screens were set up Wednesday in the Thunder’s draft room. More like draft rooms.
There were seven people in the conference room, five in what Presti called the bullpen and a few more in the theater.
Everyone was connected through a Zoom call.
“So they could see everything that was happening with us and we could see them,” Presti said. “And they just were muted so that it wasn’t like a million people talking at the same time.”
Not all of the Thunder’s front office personnel made the trip to Oklahoma City. Longtime Thunder scout Massimo Biasin followed the draft from Italy.
“Gosh, I can’t imagine what time of night it was for him actually now that I think about it,” Presti said. “He did get kind of quiet in the second round …”
The Thunder had a projector set up in the conference room, displaying charts and other materials during the draft.
Technology briefly failed the group when the fan in the projector broke.
“We really audibled and put the draft on a different screen,” Presti said, “but we had this horrible noise going through most of the second round.”
Presti credited vice president of basketball operations Will Dawkins and the rest of his team for not only making it through the night, but sticking together for the last several months.
“It’s been a learning process for us all,” Presti said, “but it’s made me realize how lucky I am to work with a group of people that are so adaptable, so selfless and so committed, and I really am so grateful for that.”