A big part of the rebranded Thunder’s immediate rise to power was their success with their lottery picks who blossomed to become MVPs over time. Their predecessor, the Sonics, also has a rich history of drafting winners who went on to have Hall of Fame-worthy careers.
Here are some of the best draft picks in Sonics/Thunder history.
Honorable mention: Scottie Pippen (No. 5 in 1987)
Pippen is perhaps the best Sonics draftee in history to not play for the franchise. Before he played the role of Robin to Michael Jordan’s Batman during the Chicago Bulls’ multi-title conquest in the ’90s, Pippen was originally picked by Seattle.
However, they shipped him to Chicago for Olden Polynice and future draft picks. The rest, as you know it, was history. Pippen even punished the team that drafted him when his Bulls spanked the Sonics in the 1996 NBA Finals.
7. Serge Ibaka (No. 24 in 2008)
Apart from the success with their lottery picks, the Thunder were also quite lucky with their late first and second-round draft picks. Ibaka was a relative unknown heading to the 2008 draft but went on to become one of the most accomplished players from that class.
OKC took a gamble on the athletic but extremely raw prospect and developed him into one of the most formidable defenders in the league. He led the league in block shots twice in 2012 and 2013.
His time in OKC turned him into a sought-after player in the league. He played a huge role for the Toronto Raptors in their championship run last season.
6. Shawn Kemp (No. 17 in 1989)
Way before Amare Stoudemire and Blake Griffin did their thing, Kemp was the original high-flying power forward who posterized every defender he could. Although not a prized prospect when he first came in, the 6-foot-10 supreme athlete provided immediate impact and formed a dangerous one-two combo with Gary Payton.
“The Reign Man” was a walking double-double during his eight seasons in Seattle. He made six All-Star teams, with four of those under the Sonics banner.
5. Dennis Johnson (No. 29 in 1976)
The late Dennis Johnson is perhaps best remembered as Larry Bird and the Boston Celtics’ defensive-minded guard during their championship run in the ‘80s. The five-time All-Star actually started out as a Sonic and was part of the franchise’s first and only championship team in 1979.
The NBA Hall of Famer played a big role in the Sonics’ conquest of the Wes Unseld-led Washington Bullets that year.
4. James Harden (No. 3 in 2009)
It’s true that “The Beard” blossomed into the superstar that he is today after leaving the Thunder to join the Rockets in 2012. However, his tenure as a legitimate sixth man for the upstart OKC team certainly gave him the tools to succeed and become MVP in 2018.
Harden played third fiddle to Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook from 2009-12. He was a huge part of the Thunder’s conquest of the West in 2012 and an eventual runner-up finish.
3. Gary Payton (No. 2 in 1990)
Payton is the first player on everyone’s minds when they think about the Sonics at the height of their powers in the mid-to-late 90s. With his in-your-face approach on both ends of the floor, “The Glove” revitalized the fledgling franchise and formed one of the most exciting duos with Kemp.
Among the long list of his accomplishments in a Sonics jersey is being named an All-Star nine times, making the All-NBA First Team twice, and was a five-time All-NBA second team member. He truly made his mark on the other end of the floor, winning DPOY in 1996 and making it to the All-Defensive First team for a whopping nine times.
2. Russell Westbrook (No. 4 in 2008)
One look at the Sonics/Thunder’s all-time franchise stats and you’ll see Westbrook’s name plastered all over the place. Westbrook was simply the heart and soul of the franchise before his eventual exit to reunite with Harden and the Rockets last year.
Some pundits thought he was picked higher than he should be when OKC nabbed him fourth in 2008. A few years later, multiple sites now have him as the first overall pick in a re-draft. After living in Durant’s shadow early on, Westbrook proved he could carry the franchise upon KD’s departure in 2016.
Brodie recorded an absurd triple-double average in points, rebounds, and assists for three consecutive seasons, punctuated by an MVP award in 2017.
1. Kevin Durant (No. 2 in 2007)
Durant is the only player on this list to actually play for both the Sonics and the Thunder. He is indeed the most talented and by far the most accomplished from the group. Regardless of the stipulations of his exit from the squad, KD is still the franchise’s best draftee in history.
Seattle fans were grateful when the Portland Trail Blazers elected to go with Greg Oden with the top pick in 2007, paving the way for them to draft Durant. KD brought the team to unprecedented heights and won MVP in 2014 on top of multiple All-Star game selections.
He failed to lead OKC to the title but eventually won two Larry O’Brien trophies after joining the Golden State Warriors.