It was a win-win strategical move for Sam Presti and the OKC Thunder. After a 7 year run that netted zero titles, the Thunder moved Serge Ibaka down south and brought in shooting guard, Victor Oladipo. It did three things at the same time. The Thunder now have a scoring backcourt. Oladipo has to be guarded. They also have upgraded their team to compete with any team that Durant may be considering in free agency. And they covered their ass in case Durant does the unthinkable and leaves.
A Westbrook-Oladipo backcourt will rival Steph Curry-Klay Thompson and Damian Lillard-C.J. McCollum. If Durant does indeed leave in a worst case scenario, the Thunder will have reorganized their team as a guard heavy talent. The Thunder did absolutely nothing to drop themselves from being a top-4 seed, even if Durant walks away.
This is the second time Presti has sent a fan favorite packing. The irony involved in the Ibaka move is symptomatic of the NBA: for teams who failed in the playoffs, there is change. Harden loyalists remember it was Ibaka who Presti chose over James Harden in 2012, paying Ibaka a big contract, offering Harden less. Now it is Ibaka who is persona non grata. And for good reason.
Ibaka’s 12.6 points was the lowest in four seasons. For the second year in a row, Ibaka didn’t crack the 53% field goal percentage club. His blocks were the lowest since his rookie year. But his minutes virtually stayed unchanged from the last four seasons. His numbers point to a decline in explosiveness and efficiency.
24-year old Victor Oladipo, a lottery pick in 2013, has been a disappointment for a number two pick in the draft. He was drafted higher than Russell Westbrook. Consider that Oladipo has never been an All-Star and never been to the playoffs. He has never led the Orlando Magic anywhere. He has iso tendencies bordering on ball domination and doesn’t make anyone better. In that sense, he has underachieved even as he put up 16 points and nearly 5 rebounds in 2015-16. His 3-point shooting of 34.8% was less than Dion Waiters 35.8% this past season. But he made more two points shots, 47.5% for Oladipo, 42.1% for Waiters. He has quick hands and averaged 1.6 steals this past season and 2.1 turnovers. He was ranked 6th among shooting guards in on-court impact, higher than C.J. McCollum and Klay Thompson. He was ranked 12th among shooting guards in defensive impact. Ranked just ahead of him at number 11 was Jimmy Butler.
Oladipo in the Thunder backcourt means defenses can no longer double Russ or Durant. He has to be guarded which only opens up the court more and it gives the Thunder and Billy Donovan flexibility. In the event that Durant leaves, it allows Donovan to put a guard centric offense in place.
Replacing Serge Ibaka is Ersan Ilysavoa, the stretch four who has played for Milwaukee, Orlando and now the Thunder, and Domantas Sabonis, the son of Hall of Famer Arvydas Sabonis and a rookie out of Gonzaga. No, the Thunder don’t have the shot blocking they had in Ibaka, nor do they have All-Defensive first team potential in the players they are bringing in; they traded defense for offense, stops for points, old for young, talent for more talent.
The impact on Kevin Durant will be known in a couple of weeks but at the very worst, the Thunder are still major players in the big and bad West. They aren’t going anywhere.
photo via llananba