Sam Presti is not afraid to shake things up. He traded James Harden to Houston. He moved Reggie Jackson to Detroit. And now he has sent versatile big man Serge Ibaka to the Orlando Magic for Victor Oladipo, Ersan Ilyasova, and the draft rights to Domantas Sabonis.
Also on draft night, somewhere in the depths of the Twittersphere, Oladipo became an All-Star and Ibaka became last week’s leftovers. Analysts are labeling this some sort of coup for Oklahoma City, praising their ability to be rid of their aging twenty-six year old big man for an up-and-coming twenty-four year old shooting guard. Now, in contract terms, the two are vastly different in age since Ibaka is set for a huge raise after next season. But is this really a home run deal like they say?
Victor Oladipo is really good. He’s supremely athletic, a quick defender, and his shooting percentages have increased in each of his three seasons in the league. His move to a secondary option on offense in OKC should be a big help to his efficiency numbers, and his ability to contribute on both ends of the floor will be a welcome sight for Thunder fans.
There is no doubt this is an upgrade on the wing for the Thunder. But is it enough? Oklahoma City just cashed in its biggest realistic trade chip for a player who has similar weaknesses as their current roster: inconsistent shooter (Roberson), too small to move down and play small forward (Waiters), and needs the ball in his hands to make his biggest impact on the game (Westbrook). They didn’t fix any of their biggest holes. Everyone saw what Oklahoma City was capable of in the playoffs when they got competent production from their wings; they almost ran through two of the best regular season NBA teams of all-time. But the ironic part of this is that Serge Ibaka was actually their best 3-and-D role player. His ability to hit open jumpers on one end and then switch all pick and rolls on the other end embodies today’s NBA role player. Add in his ability to protect the rim and you have one of the most versatile players in the league, and a very good fit with your two cornerstone stars.
Yes, Ibaka’s block numbers are down. He’s being asked to play further away from the basket, of course his block numbers are down. Yes, his three-point shooting numbers were down last year, but his “bad” shooting year was just 2% lower than Oladipo’s career high. In fact, Oladipo has never hit 35% of his threes, a number that Ibaka has surpassed three of the last four seasons. There are reasons to consider trading Ibaka, but it has to be for the right upgrade because he is still an extremely valuable player on this OKC roster. His move to center during the Golden State series unlocked a small-ball lineup even Golden State couldn’t contain. A lot of the things Ibaka does for this team don’t show up in the box score, but they’ll show up during the playoffs next year.
Oklahoma City was one game away from the NBA Finals and the future of their two stars is very murky. They should be in win-now mode, not “sustain” mode. In 2016, you just can’t give up Ibaka’s combination of shooting, rim protection, and switchability. There are simply more Oladipo’s than Ibaka’s.