Sam Presti and the Oklahoma City Thunder paid their respects to Russell Westbrook’s legendary season Friday night. A three player trade brought the Indiana Pacers’ Paul George to OKC in exchange for sophomore forward Domantas Sabonis and five-year-man Victor Oladipo. The trade is certainly a win now move for the Thunder who placed sixth in the Western Conference in 2016-17, entirely at the behest of Westbrook’s gargantuan triple-double riddled season.
While the Thunder are unequivocally the winners of the exchange, the Pacers have an opportunity to have a final season before completely deciding whether to engage total rebuild mode. The length of 6’10” power forward Sabonis doesn’t preclude that he be anchored to the block and compete for post presence with the rising Myles Turner. Rather, development of his midrange game – he shoots from just under 13 feet from the hoop on average – could prove a fruitful combo with Turner’s athleticism and verticality near the rim.
Sabonis, and Oladipo in particular, are also a pair of dark horses, especially considering both played under the ball-dominant Westbrook last season. Oladipo rarely looked completely at home in the Chesapeake Energy Arena, though his shooting stats would tell otherwise; the 2-guard increased his 3-point attempts to compensate for the drive and dish game from Westbrook, but his true shooting percentage remained .534, commensurate with his 2015-16 effort. Assuming Jeff Teague is gone for greener pastures after a tough season in Indy, Oladipo could see increased exposure as a primary ball handler, or at the very least, work in tandem with a point guard similar to the backcourt combo of Oladipo and Elfrid Payton in Orlando.
Despite the small-market tag bestowed upon the franchise formerly in Seattle (#MakeSeattleSuperAgain), fans and management in OKC have finally landed their first major player not found through the Draft since relocating. Paul George happens to be the best approximation of Kevin Durant available, and immediately signals a downturn from the “Do Everything Russ” of last season. Shooting marginally better from 3 than KD (.393 to KD’s .375 last season), Paul George can reliably create his own shots on the ball but operates equally well with the presence of a true point guard, considering his time with George Hill and a couple of trips to the Eastern Conference Finals.
Although moving Enes Kanter to lessen the blow from the luxury tax is possible (the Thunder are in the ball park of $20 million over the cap with him), the tertiary scoring from the combo forward and center could prove vital in matchups against high volume shooting teams like the Warriors and Rockets. Beyond George, Kanter and Westbrook, the Thunder have a number of situational, high energy players like Jerami Grant and Semaj Christon, though they will likely require a backup guard to spare Russ and ensure George doesn’t have to resort to throwing up shots to make up for his absence. Additionally, with Taj Gibson and Andre Roberson becoming free agents (the former unrestricted, the latter restricted), the Thunder need to determine how to fill their defensive needs considering outshooting the rest of the league shouldn’t be a viable strategy, even with George. Gibson might be searching for one last big contract as he’s 32, while a growing team like the Nets might be liable to throw money to snag Roberson for his defensive prowess.
The Thunder most certainly stepped, rather long jumped in the right direction, but the perennially stacked West makes a PG13 addition the first of many moves for OKC this summer.
Thoughts on the trade? Find me @bjtripleot on Twitter or email at firstname.lastname@example.org