After somewhat limping into the All-Star Break, going just 4-6 in the 10 games leading up to the break, the Oklahoma City Thunder have righted the ship, bolstered by a significant deadline trade. With the win over the Boogie-fied New Orleans Pelicans on Sunday night, the Thunder have now reeled off three straight wins.
SIX THINGS FROM THE LAST WEEK
Hello, Taj Gibson and Doug McDermott. On February 23, the Thunder made a deadline move, trading Anthony Morrow, Joffrey Lauvergne, and last year’s number 14 overall pick, Cameron Payne, to the Chicago Bulls for Gibson and McDermott. The Thunder also added a 2018 second-round pick. In my opinion, the Thunder sold low on Payne, giving up a player who has barely played an NBA-season’s worth of games, but who was a fast riser on draft boards before the Thunder snatched him with the 14th pick. Gibson is an unrestricted free agent after the season, and it isn’t expected that he will remain with the Thunder (in part because Gibson wants to test the market, and in part because Gibson’s asking price will probably exceed what the Thunder will be prepared to pay). McDermott, under contract through the 2017-18 season, has carved out a decent career as a solid rotation player, known mostly for his shooting. For this year, this trade absolutely makes the Thunder better. Gibson is a strong defensive presence and a definite upgrade over the struggling Domantas Sabonis, and McDermott is a proven shooter who moves great off the ball. That being said, Gibson is a likely rental, so long term this was basically Payne for McDermott swap, with the Thunder earning the honor of giving McDermott a lucrative extension sooner than Payne. McDermott fills more of a need for the Thunder than Payne, though, as Payne was fairly limited to being Russell Westbrook’s backup. As a result, this trade is a positive for the Thunder, with the potential of looking great if the team could somehow convince Taj to sign long-term to a reasonable contract this summer.
This is how Taj says hello.
The Semaj Christon show. Due to Payne’s injury, and now departure, Christon has played a ton of minutes this year. Christon has appeared in 42 games, averaging about 14.5 minutes per game and has not shown much potential to be a rotational player. His true shooting percentage is abysmal (37%), he turns the ball over at a high rate (15% turnover percentage), and he has struggled doing basic things like … dribbling.
The buyout market is now open, and the Thunder have been linked to Norris Cole and Mario Chalmers in various reports. It would probably help to add a better back-up point guard.
Alex Abrines? Call him Alex A-three-nes. Maybe I’ve been accused of stealing this nickname (though I swear it was an independent thought), but in his first two starts, Abrines has filled it up from three, shooting 44% and making a Thunder-rookie-record 5 threes against the Lakers. But give Abrines some additional credit, the guy can get up. Well, up just enough at least.
Starter Sabonis. A big question post-deadline trade is what happens to Sabonis with Gibson on the roster. It’s been widely speculated that Sabonis will shift to the bench and Gibson will take the reigns as starting PF once Gibson gets more settled. The thought in starting Sabonis was to speed his development by allowing him to play alongside Westbrook, but as the season has progressed, Donovan has used Sabonis more and more in lineups with bench players. Against the Pelicans, Sabonis played just 8 minutes, the fewest he’s played since the third game of the season. I would expect that if Gibson does move to the starting unit, Sabonis will see his minutes (he’s averaging 22 per game thus far) decline to somewhere around 10-15 a night.
The Return of Enes Kanter. After losing a fist fight to a chair on January 26, it was believed that Kanter’s broken arm would sideline him for 6-8 weeks. In a shocking twist of events, Kanter made his return just 29 days later. Showing some rust in his first game back, Kanter returned to form against the Pelicans, scoring 24 points, grabbing 9 rebounds, and adding 3 assists in just 24 minutes off the bench. Welcome back, Enes.
AND ONE MORE MAKES SEVEN
Good one, Russ. Good one.