Although the Oklahoma City Thunder received a hefty package in return for Serge Ibaka, including Victor Oladipo, Ersan Ilyasova, and Domantas Sabonis, the trade with the Orlando Magic was not the fleecing that some people believe. The loss of Ibaka will leave the Thunder with challenging lineup decisions, and Oladipo’s fit next to Russell Westbrook is hardly certain.
An Ibaka trade was fairly inevitable, as Ibaka voiced his frustrations in Oklahoma City this past March, according to the Vertical.
“It’s hard sometimes when you play so hard on defense, then you come to offense and you’re going to be out there in the corner for four, five, six, sometimes eight minutes and you don’t touch the ball.”
Ibaka’s frustrations culminated during this past season, when Billy Donovan’s notion that Ibaka would soon experience a bigger role in the Thunder’s offense went “overpromised and under-delivered,” according to the Vertical. With Adams and Kanter taking up the majority of minutes at center, Ibaka was forced guard power forwards on the perimeter in Oklahoma City, which has inevitably limited his greatest ability of deterring shots at the rim.
— Dime Magazine (@DimeMag) June 25, 2016
With the Thunder, Ibaka has demonstrated the rare ability to shoot three-pointers and protect the rim at an elite level, something that not many other players in the league can do. Ibaka will make a great fit next to Nikola Vucevic and will help to hide some of his defensive deficiencies, making Vucevic’s offensive skills more lethal. One concern with the trade is certainly Ibaka’s current contract situation, as he is becoming an unrestricted free agent at the end of next season. However, the Magic have an ample amount of cap space to extend Ibaka if Orlando believes his decline was a product of his growing aggravation with the Thunder and not indicative of his current abilities.
In return, Oklahoma City received Oladipo, whose fit next to Russell Westbrook is questionable at best. Oladipo is more effective with the ball in his hands, which will not be a common occurrence with the Thunder. It is possible that Oladipo will spend time as the primary ball handler with bench units, but his primary role will be as an off-ball guard next to Westbrook in Oklahoma City’s main lineup. Of course, Oladipo will get better looks in catch-and-shoot situations with the Thunder, and he has improved his three-point shooting in all three of his years in the NBA. Still, if his outlier season in college is ignored, he has never been an above-average shooter.
Serge Ibaka thanks fans of Oklahoma City on Instagram https://t.co/9jPc60VR67
— Kurt Helin (@basketballtalk) June 25, 2016
As ESPN.com discusses, spacing will likely be an issue with most of the lineup combinations that Thunder will soon employ unless Oladipo can accelerate his long-range improvement.
“Oklahoma City’s non-Durant options at power forward all lack something. Kanter and Ilyasova struggle defending the perimeter. Roberson can’t shoot, and in Oladipo, the Thunder have found yet another shaky long-range option opponents will happily leave open — and another guy who needs the ball. (He’s also due a big raise after this season, though he won’t earn as much as Ibaka). Assume 30-plus minutes for Adams, and a lot of Thunder lineups would feature four so-so shooters around Durant.”
Along with spacing issues, the Thunder’s starting frontcourt is a mystery. The most obvious option for Oklahoma CIty is to start Durant alongside Westbrook, Oladipo, Roberson and Adams and hope Durant replicates the same type of elite defensive engagement (both on the ball and in protecting the rim) that he displayed in the playoffs. However, a potential starting lineup could also feature Kanter and Adams frontcourt, but it is unlikely that this will turn out to be the best option. Donovan did not play Adams and Kanter together frequently this past season, and when he did, the results were average at best. Without having the option to employ Ibaka as Oklahoma City’s small-ball center, the Thunder have lost a substantial amount of lineup versatility that came in handy in forcing the Golden State Warriors into a seven-game series in the Western Conference Finals.
Ultimately, the final judgement of this trade will come when Ibaka’s contract situation is shored up and Oladipo’s fit next to Westbrook is observed.
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