Admiral Schofield is worth a flyer for the Oklahoma City Thunder

In one of many offseason moves made by Sam Presti and the Oklahoma City Thunder, the team acquired forward Admiral Schofield from the Washington Wizards as part of a draft-night deal between the two teams. The trade was originally announced on draft night, and it saw the Thunder acquiring the draft rights to Vit Krejci (37th overall) for Cassius Winson (53rd overall) and a 2024 second-round pick. Later, Schofield was announced as part of the trade. In an offseason that has featured a full-on rebuild for the Thunder, Schofield seems to be the perfect candidate for development and possible upside, something that the franchise has made a focal point of the past few weeks.

Schofield, a second-year player out of the University of Tennessee who was drafted 42nd overall by the Philadelphia 76ers in the 2019 NBA Draft, was quickly cut by the 76ers, later to be picked up by the Wizards. He saw only 368 minutes with the Wizards, spending most of his time in the G-League where he put up 16 points, 5.5 rebounds, 2.2 assists while shooting 46% from the field and 37% from long-range. His NBA stats, however, saw his minutes trickle from 31 minutes to 11 minutes per game while averaging a mere 3 points a game, while shooting 38% from the field and 31% from distance. Though most of his playing time with the Wizards came late in the season, Schofield showed some early promise by scoring 15 points in his 4th active game as a Wizard, though the only other stat he contributed was adding one rebound. After his nice scoring game, Schofield went scoreless in six straight, later scoring 14 in his 11th game as a Wizard, also adding contributions in multiple categories. Schofield’s best game to date came on January 8th when he started and added 18 points, six rebounds, two assists, and no turnovers. Schofield also reached his career-high in minutes played with 35. He would go on to play in only three games after the career performance, playing limited minutes and recording minimal contributing stats. 

At first glance, Schofield does not seem like the kind of player to take a chance on, but the underlying stats and development show room for improvement. Schofield only played 20+ minutes in four of his 27 pre-bubble games but averaged 10 points per game in those. One of his biggest flaws was his defensive efficiency, grading in as one of the worst per-possession forward defenders. He often found himself out of position and playing slower than his opponents. He showed more success as a power forward, but still lacked the skills needed to live up to his “3-and-D” mantra. 

At Tennessee, Schofield was constantly adapting to what Head Coach Rick Barnes needed. In Schofield’s freshman year, he came off the bench playing decent minutes, leading the team in charges taken and providing depth in the post. In his sophomore year, he was promoted to the team’s sixth man, continuing to show improvements across the board. His junior season, however, was when his biggest challenge arose. Barnes challenged Schofield to become more of a scoring threat, even moving him to the wing. Schofield began to adapt and change his game. He began working on his outside game, his quickness, and his handles. His work ethic was contagious, and Schofield was quickly becoming the team’s leader. Even at the wing, Schofield led the team in rebounding, while also pacing the team as second in scoring, steals, three-pointers made, and three-point percentage. Once again, as Schofield did during his first two years, he improved as the year went on, earning SEC-tournament first-team honors averaging 17.0 PPG and 8.3 RPG. He also led the Vols to huge wins including a gigantic performance at Kentucky. Where Schofield really thrived, however, was his senior year, in which he came in with high expectations, proof of which showed in his addition to the Naismith Award’s top 20 watch list. Schofield, along with Grant Williams of the Boston Celtics, led the team to its first #1 ranking in a decade, defeating #1 Gonzaga thanks to Schofield’s 30 point effort with multiple clutch three-pointers. He led the team once again in three-point shooting, and he shot over 50% in 18 of his games. 

The biggest need for Schofield is simple: An identity. For the past six years, Schofield has been asked to change his role constantly. From a forward to a wing, and even sometimes playing the small-ball five at Tennessee, Schofield is now in a position where he can find his NBA identity. The work ethic, build, and proven development shows that he can become a nice young rotation player for the Thunder this season and possibly beyond. When looking at comparisons, PJ Tucker seems like a solid one to hope for with Schofield. Tucker has never averaged double-digit points in his NBA career. After being selected in the second round like Schofield, Tucker did not find early success, even spending five seasons overseas. Once he returned in 2012, Tucker would go on to become a staple of each team he played on, becoming known as one of the most popular 3-and-D players in the league. He, like Schofield, was searching for an identity and a role, and when he finally developed that, he never stopped. Last season, Tucker led the league in corner-threes and shut down many opposing players throughout the season and the playoffs. If Schofield can continue to develop, he can become the player that teams crave in Tucker: A dependable rotation piece that provides grit, hard work, and contributes from deep and on defense. 

And not to mention, both Schofield and Tucker are 6’5” and around 240 lbs, and who was their coach and developer in college? Rick Barnes. Realistically, Schofield can provide minutes at the three and the four this year off of the bench. If the Thunder keep Ariza, Schofield will provide backup forward minutes alongside Justin Jackson. He may also see minutes behind Darius Bazley. Many of the rotation pieces for the Thunder are also searching for an identity, so it is hard to project if Schofield will reach that goal quicker, but we should prepare for around 10-15 minutes per game. 

Projection:

5.2 PPG, 3.4 RPG, 1.8 APG, 13 MPG.

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