When the Oklahoma City Thunder acquired Joffrey Lauvergne from the Denver Nuggets on August 30th, it came as a bit of a surprise for several reasons. For one, the Thunder already had 15 guaranteed contracts on the roster and one non-guarantee with Semaj Christon. Secondly, the Thunder front court was not a position of need for the Thunder. They already had a burgeoning top-10 center in Steven Adams, a high scoring and high rebounding back-up big in Enes Kanter, a stretch 4 in Ersan Ilyasova, a savvy veteran in Nick Collison, a promising rookie in Domantas Sabonis, and another young big who, even with all his personal problems, still likely has untapped potential in Mitch McGary. With all those big men on the roster, the Thunder have the flexibility to play a variety of styles. So why did the team trade for another big man whose playing style, while unique, mimics those of several other big men on the Thunder’s roster?
The answer to that question is the same as the star point guard’s favorite saying, “Why not?” The move for Lauvergne is your classic “low risk/high reward” move. Lauvergne is a very skilled big who can score in a variety of ways, and is likely to expand his range as he gets older. He’s an athletic 7-footer and someone who should be able to switch onto wings when teams pick and roll against the Thunder. He’ll be 25 at the beginning of the season which keeps him in line with the Thunder’s timeline, and he’s a helluva pick and roll target for someone like Russell Westbrook.
In addition, he’s making just $1.7 million on the final year of a rookie scale contract and the Thunder currently hold the rights to match any offer he receives on the market next offseason. And, if the Thunder don’t like how Lauvergne fits on the team, they can cut him before the season starts and only have to pay him half his salary (about $900,000). For as much flack as Thunder GM Sam Presti has gotten over the past 3 months, these are the types of moves that can build a team’s depth quickly.2015-16 Statistics
59 GP, 17.6 mins, 7.9 pts, 4.9 rebs, 0.9 asts, 0.3 blks, 51.3% FG, 24.5% 3pt FG, 89.9% FTBest-Case Scenario
At the Thunder’s media day, Lauvergne was asked whether he wanted to start. I don’t know if the language barrier played a role in his answer, but he point blankly said, “Yes.” I believe the media member was taken aback by this direct response, because he just kept staring at him waiting for him to expound on his answer. When Lauvergne noticed this, he looked at the media member quizzically and said, “I don’t know what else you want me to say.”
I honestly don’t know if Lauvergne fits in the starting line-up along with Steven Adams. It definitely wouldn’t be an every game thing, because both big men like to occupy the same niche on the floor as roll-men. But in certain situations, like the Thunder did so well with Adams and Kanter last season, I could see the benefit of playing Lauvergne heavy minutes, especially with Westbrook. I believe those two will develop a nice chemistry in the pick and roll game.Worst-Case Scenario
Lauvergne’s defensive deficiencies and the numbers game in the front court keeps the Blue Croissant (h/t Steven Adams) off the floor for much of the season. For being so athletic and tall, Lauvergne is nowhere near the rim protector you’d expect him to be. And while he has a thick frame, he doesn’t have near enough mass to bang inside with powerful big men. He could possibly be a good pick and roll defender as a hedger, but he hasn’t really shown it in his season and a half in Denver.
When he was on the court, the Nuggets were a -10 last season. Now that could have something to do with the Nuggets being one of the worst teams in the league last season. But it could have something to do with Lauvergne’s inability to be a good defender. It’ll be interesting to see if that changes while he’s with the Thunder.Percentage that he’ll be traded sometime this season:
15% – Lauvergne is a promising young player on an extremely cheap deal. The only way he is getting dealt is if he’s added onto a bigger deal. I think the Thunder are high on his skill-set and see him as a high minute role player for the future.Lauvergne’s Season Preview
There’s so much to be settled in the front court for the Thunder. There will definitely be a move in the near future that settles out the big man rotation. Maybe its as small as McGary getting traded for a heavily protected 2nd round pick. Or maybe someone like Kanter or Ilyasova get traded for a bigger haul. Whatever the case may be, something needs to happen for the front court to settle itself out. Whenever that occurs, though, I see Lauvergne getting a significant amount of playing time (18-20 mpg). He’s athletic and his skill-set fits with Westbrook as a roller. His defensive issues may be a problem, but I think he has the athletic tools to be an adequate pick and roll defender in the league.