Russell Westbrook is the most athletic, powerful point guard in the NBA. Serge Ibaka has emerged as a valuable shot blocker with scoring touch. However, one Seattle Times columnist wasn’t on board when Sonics General Manager Sam Presti’s drafted the two players in the 2008 draft.
Jerry Brewer, a former columnist for the Seattle Times who now works for the Washington Post, wrote a post-draft column in 2008 comparing Seattle’s selection of Westbrook at fourth overall and Ibaka at 24th to “getting two free airline tickets and booking trips to Gary, Ind., and Kosovo.” Neither would play a game in Seattle, as the team moved to Oklahoma City later in the year.
Brewer wasn’t thrilled with the pick calling Westbrook “a defensive specialist,” and categorized Ibaka as a project.
“They used the No. 4 pick on Westbrook, a defensive specialist who may need to make the treacherous transition from shooting guard to point guard. Then they drafted Ibaka at No. 24, a big man from Congo, and, well, let’s just say that general manager Sam Presti must’ve never received a visit from the Ghost of Project Centers Past.”
To be fair, Brewer noted the picks were risks and said if Presti nails them, he should be exec of the year.
“While it’s unfair to get carried away with evaluation before these athletes play an NBA game, you can conclude the Sonics took some significant risks with those two picks. Presti should be the 2009 executive of the year if he nailed this draft.”
Westbrook, of course, had no issue transitioning to point guard. He’s a six-time All-Star, NBA scoring champion and averaging a triple double in 2016-17; much more than a defensive specialist. Ibaka, now with the Orlando Magic, is an elite shot-blocker with an above-average offensive game.
Did Brewer like any of OKC’s first-round picks? Yes. In the column, he singled out D.J. White as a “solid” pick from Presti. The same D.J. White that only played 42 games over three seasons in OKC and 138 total in six seasons before exiting the league in 2013-14. The 30-year-old is currently playing with Auxilium CUS Torino in Italy.
Draft evaluations are difficult. Projections can be wrong and players can grow or flounder immediately upon entering the NBA. Back in 2008, Brewer swung and missed with his evaluations of Westbrook and Ibaka. Can’t win em all.