While chemistry is an underrated aspect of team building, holding on to a particular core group for too long can ultimately lead to stagnation. Because of this, there’s a delicate balance NBA front office executives continually play before making significant roster moves.
Oklahoma City Thunder general manager Sam Presti made one of those decisions, to change, on draft night by dealing long time starting power forward Serge Ibaka to the Orlando Magic, which came as a surprise to some.
The Thunder will reportedly acquire guard Victor Oladipo, forward Ersan Ilyasova and the draft rights to forward Domantas Sabonis from the Magic in exchange for Ibaka.
“Tonight represented an opportunity to build the versatility, depth and skill of our basketball team. Victor, Ersan and Domantas represent the character, work ethic and toughness that we relentlessly pursue with the Thunder,” Presti said in a press release.
Ibaka was drafted by Oklahoma City with the No. 24 overall pick in the 2008 draft, but made his debut during the 2009-10 campaign. In 524 career games with the team, 413 starts, the forward averaged 11.6 points, 7.4 rebounds and 2.5 blocks per game on 52 percent shooting from the floor.
Ibaka is only 26 years old, but many feel the three-time All-Defensive first team performer may be in a state of decline. There are signs of it to note. Ibaka averaged a career-high 15.1 points per game in 2014, but 14.3 in 2015 and 12.6 (lowest since 2012) this past season. The trend can also be seen in his rebounding after posting 8.8 per contest in 2014, then declining to 7.8 in 2015 and 6.8 this past season.
On a closer look, Ibaka’s transition to the perimeter offensively could be the culprit in the decline of his rebounding. Ibaka attempted just 60 three-pointers in 2014, but has combined to attempt 389 three-pointers the past two seasons. Not surprisingly his offensive rebounds per game have declined from 2.8 (2014) to 2.1 (2015) to 1.8 (2016). Ibaka’s defensive rebounding has stayed pretty consistent since entering the league, but as he’s become more of a perimeter option, his penchant for attacking the offensive glass has waned considerably.
This marks the second straight offseason where Presti has made a bold move, moving further away from the 2011-12 unit that reached the NBA Finals. Last season, Scott Brooks was replaced by rookie head coach Billy Donovan with the result being a Western Conference Finals birth.
But during the team’s Western Conference Finals loss to the Golden State Warriors, the Thunder’s lack of a two-way threat in the backcourt alongside Russell Westbrook showed as Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson ran roughshod to close out the series.
The addition of Oladipo addresses a major need for the Thunder. The third-year guard has career averages of 15.9 points, 4.4 rebounds and four assists per game. More importantly, Oladipo has a strong reputation for being able to defend both guard positions, which should immediately alleviate some of the pressure on Westbrook with the league’s top guards.
Offensively, Oladipo is an upgrade over incumbent starter Andre Roberson who teams consistently dared to beat them on the perimeter due to his lacking of an outside shot. Oladipo, on the other hand, has raised his three-point percentage every season since entering the NBA, shooting a career-high 35 percent this past season on 282 attempts.
While staying consistent could have led Oklahoma City to put together another campaign flirting with 60 wins and another Western Conference Finals appearance, Presti opted to make a dare-to-be-great move that may have a short-term hit to the team’s chemistry – but ultimately put the franchise on a better trajectory to compete for a championship.
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