Summertime is commonly the time for movie blockbusters; draft night in the NBA can sometimes be a night of blockbusters trades as well. The Oklahoma City Thunder provided a sequel to the James Harden trade when they moved Serge Ibaka to the Orlando Magic. Just looking at the trailer, the Thunder is the clear winner since they were able to bring in Victor Oladipo, Ersan Ilyasova, and Domantas Sabonis. The real question though is this sequel on the level of The Empire Strikes Back or is it along the lines of the Independence Day Resurgence?
Like any sequel, there similarities in these trades, four years ago the Thunder were coming off losing in their first finals appearance and struggled all summer to agree to a contract extension with Harden. Despite being the favorites to represent the Western Conference in the finals the next year, the Thunder traded him to the Houston Rockets for Kevin Martin, Jeremy Lamb, and their draft pick in the 2013 draft that eventually became Steven Adams. The Thunder went on to win 60 games but Russell Westbrook got hurt during the playoffs and they lost to the Memphis Grizzlies in the second round of the playoffs.
Flash-forward to 2016, the only piece from the Harden trade still on the team is Steven Adams who the Thunder picked in the 2013 draft with the pick they got from the Rockets. Oklahoma City came within a game of the NBA Finals and began to come together as a team in the playoffs. Ibaka’s numbers have dipped over the past few seasons as his role has changed. He’s been asked to work more on the perimeter both offensively and defensively.
On the offensive end he shot 32.6% from three in the regular season but in the playoffs he found his touch and shot 44.9% from 3 while attempting nearly four a game. Defensively he was the best big the Thunder had that could switch onto guards in pick-and-rolls. In the pick-and-rolls below, Ibaka switches onto Stephen Curry in the first one who can’t blow by him so he settles for a contested three and when Curry tries to split the second pick-and-roll Ibaka forces a turnover.
The Thunder were in need of a second guard to fill the hole they created when they traded Harden four years ago. They may have filled that void with Oladipo but also created a new one at power forward. Ibaka proved in the playoff he’s capable of handling switching onto guards when defending pick-and-roll actions better than any big on the current roster now.
We’ve seen this movie before from the Thunder’s production team; the Harden trade brought them a great piece in Adams but took a step back in competing for a championship at that time. The Ibaka trade is very similar to the Harden trade, just as it looks like the Thunder are a step away from a championship, they make a big move. The question again is, will we look back a year from now and say the Ibaka trade put them over the top or was it another terrible sequel like Independence Day Resurgence?
Serge Ibaka Traded From Thunder to Orlando Magic for Victor Oladipo by Jason McIntyre of The Big Lead
Serge and Destroy by Danny Chau of The Ringer