A look at how things are shaping up for the Thunder after the Serge Ibaka trade.
It has been 199 days since the Oklahoma City Thunder shook up the last of their core of Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, James Harden and Serge Ibaka with sending Ibaka to the Orlando Magic for shooting guard Victor Oladipo, power forward Ersan Ilyasova and the draft rights to power forward Domantas Sabonis.
This move was done simply because the Oklahoma City front office believed that Ibaka wanted a larger role after playing third fiddle to both Durant and Westbrook and would not resign with the team after he became a free agent. This is a common theme for Oklahoma City if they reach an impasse with a player. They had a financial standoff with James Harden and the team shipped him to the Houston Rockets. There were tensions with Reggie Jackson and the team gave him a one-way ticket to Detroit to join the Pistons. The fear Oklahoma City had with possibly losing a cornerstone in Ibaka for nothing was what prompted the trade, even if it meant losing a major key at the power forward position.
While reaching the midway point of the season for the Oklahoma City Thunder the question still remains, did the Thunder ultimately end up winning the trade? We will take a deeper dive on how each part of the trade is performing for their respective teams at this point in the season.
One of the pieces in this trade that many thought, this author included, would be a key factor in Oklahoma City being able to fill the void left by Ibaka was Ersan Ilyasova. But, Ilyasova did not last long in Oklahoma City, only appearing in three games for the team, before being traded to the Philadelphia 76ers in exchange for Jerami Grant; so he necessarily is no longer a key factor in the trade.
Instead, Grant has been serviceable off the bench for Oklahoma City, with averages of 6.2 points, 0.5 assists and 2.4 rebounds per game this season. Known more for his defensive ability, Grant has been able to provide a defensive spark off the bench for the Thunder this season. While Ilyasova has been averaging 14.2 points, 6.3 rebounds and 0.3 blocks per game in Philadelphia, who wanted Ilyasova to pair next to Joel Embiid and Jahlil Okafor as a true stretch-four. In the end, it appears Oklahoma City received the short end of the stick on this trade as Ilyasova’s floor spacing ability would be great for both Westbrook and Oladipo to attack the rim and he would be paired with Steven Adams, a player with similar defensive capabilities to Embiid.
The next major piece that Oklahoma City got in their deal with the Orlando Magic was shooting guard Victor Oladipo. When Oladipo arrived in Oklahoma City many viewed him as a ball dominant guard that was a replacement for Dion Waiters at the shooting guard position. Instead, Oladipo has brought tough perimeter defense and the ability to play off the ball and work in harmony with Russell Westbrook. So far he is up to 16.2 points, 4.5 rebounds and 2.8 assists per game and bringing consistent scoring and defense to a team dominated by Russell Westbrook.
The last piece the Thunder got in the Serge Ibaka trade was rookie power forward Domantas Sabonis from Orlando. Many thought that Sabonis would develop slowly behind players like Ilyasova and serve a small bench role for the team getting minutes wherever he can. Instead, he was thrust into the starting lineup and has had a quiet but serviceable rookie season with averages of 6.2 points, 3.5 rebounds and 0.5 blocks in about 21.2 minutes per game. Still learning the ropes in the NBA, Sabonis has showed promising signs in becoming a solid cornerstone for the Thunder in the future, with the ability to play solid defense and stretch the floor.
Finally, for Orlando Serge Ibaka has been solid but inconsistent at times for the Magic squad. Expecting to be the main guy on offense Ibaka has responded with averages of 15.6 points, up from his career average of 11.8 points. But on the defensive side of the ball, Ibaka still continues to drop after being known a few years ago as an elite defender only averaging 1.7 blocks per game, down from his average of 2.4 blocks per game. The trade also forced Aaron Gordon, a natural power forward and considered a key part of the future for Orlando, to slide over to the small forward position who has had an up and down season as well. Ibaka was hoping to have a major pay day, in what would probably be his last major contract by bringing back his elite defensive numbers and increasing his scoring load but he has failed to deliver so far for Orlando this season.
In the end, it is pretty easy to say that Oklahoma City won the trade with Orlando by getting Oladipo and Sabonis alone. They did lose out on a solid stretch four in Ersan Ilyasova, but they are still in the thick of the playoff hunt in a hyper-competitive Western Conference, at 22-16. While Ibaka and other veterans brought in by Orlando last offseason have failed to produce up to this point and it shows as Orlando sits at 16-23 and in fourth place in the Southeast Division.