February 15, 2019
The Thunder entered deadline day with a great sixth man, and left with a couple of them.

Rumored at one point to be close to a Brook Lopez deal, the Oklahoma City Thunder picked up a different big man to bolster their lineup. In a three way deal, they landed fourth year player Enes Kanter from the Utah Jazz, along with Steve Novak, and also received D.J. Augustin and Kyle Singler from the Detroit Pistons. In exchanged, they shipped out guard Reggie Jackson to the Pistons, as well as a future protected first round pick, Kendrick Perkins, Grant Jerrett, the rights to Tibor Pleiss and a future second round pick to the Jazz.

Although the Thunder gave up the likely best player in the trade, it seems as though they got a solid return for a player that was likely to leave (and definitely glad to be out of his current situation). Jackson had seen a steady decline in his minutes per game throughout the season, from 38.2 in November with Westbrook out down to just 19 in six February games. His usage rate has also seen a steady decline, dropping from 27.3% in November to 16.5% in February, showing that he is having a smaller impact offensively in less minutes.

While it’s never a great idea to give up the best player in a trade for depth – see also, the James Harden deal – Oklahoma City nevertheless netted a set of players that will likely have a larger and more immediate impact as the Thunder push for a playoff run. The pieces they received appear to fit better alongside their core set of players, which could make them a dangerous team in the West.

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Augustin should settle into the backup point guard vacated by Jackson, and be more comfortable taking on the role as a facilitator than he was. Augustin had a 29.1% assist rate with the Pistons, and one of the highest points created by assists per 48 minutes marks at 23.4. The ball should ping around the court a little more with Augustin on the court, except when it is Dion Waiters’s hands. Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant shouldn’t both be off the court at the same time for long stretches, but if ever they are, Augustin can fill some of the playmaking void left by Jackson, as he creates 8.1 team points per game on drives and should hopefully create easy field goal attempts for a bench unit that will not be filled with shot creators. He will do all this at a similar efficiency level as Jackson, as Augustin has an effective field goal percentage of 46.3% compared to Jackson’s 47%.

For whatever reason, the Pistons have nonetheless been bad with Augustin on the floor. For all his playmaking, he has only a -4.1 net rating on the year, and struggles defensively. However, with this deal, he moves from the 16th ranked defense to the 10th ranked defense, so it will be interesting to see whether he makes his unit better throughout the rest of the year. If Augustin can have a positive effect on the Thunder, Scott Brooks might have a point guard who he can count on to lead the second unit. Jackson is the better player but Augustin may fit into the Thunder team construction better and fill a much needed role as a facilitator on the second unit.

In Singler and Novak, the Thunder got two players who can help improve their three point shooting. The Thunder shoot just 33.8% from three point range, 23rd in the league, so Singler’s 40.6% on 3.5 attempts per game and Novak’s 48.5% on 1.5 attempts should help. This shooting should open up room for Westbrook and Durant drives to the rim, while providing wing options out of these drives.

Singler’s shot chart is below, with Novak’s below that. It will be interesting to see how Brooks fits these two into the rotation. This probably means less minutes for Perry Jones III in the crowded wing, and we will see whether it’s possible for Brooks to bury him further into the bench.

Singler

Shotchart_1424396075923

Finally, but perhaps most importantly, the Thunder picked up a promising young big man in Kanter.

While he hasn’t provided the production expected from the #3 pick, Kanter is still on his rookie deal and will be an restricted free agent after this season if the Thunder extend him a qualifying offer. He was unhappy with the Jazz and demanded a trade, so a change in scenery may benefit him. With Steven Adams out for a bit longer due to his hand injury, Kanter may be asked to play big minutes with the first unit from day one.

Kanter is great around the rim, shooting 64.2% in the restricted area with many of these attempts coming off offensive rebounds. According to Synergy play types, Kanter scores 1.17 points per possession on his putbacks, good for a 57.8% field goal percentage. His 13% offensive rebounding rate ranks ninth in the league and should bolster the Thunder’s already strong offensive rebounding, making it difficult for teams to end defensive possessions.

The Thunder haven’t had a strong low-post offensive presence in their history, as they haven’t had a player they can rely on to score in the post on a regular basis, despite their desire to force feed Perkins. Kanter isn’t a great post scorer, either, but at 6’11”, he has shown flashes of potential as a low-block scorer. According to Synergy, Kanter scores 0.89 points per possession on post-ups. It would not be wise to take away Westbrook or Durant possessions to give Kanter post-ups, so Kanter may need to find another way to contribute, but as an option to seal and finish, Kanter is an improvement for the Thunder and an extra option in their playbook.

Ultimately, Kanter’s success with the Thunder, and his long-term NBA future, may be predicated on his ability to shoot jump shots and space the floor.

He may need to become a more consistent jump shooter to fit into the Thunder scheme, especially when playing alongside Serge Ibaka, Adams or even Mitch McGary. Indeed, as BBALLBREAKDOWN college Ben Dowsett wrote back in November, Kanter needed to develop a jumpshot to fit into the Jazz’s scheme, too. And he didn’t. Kanter is struggling badly away from the rim, shooting 35.8% on paint shots (non-restricted area) and 33.1% on mid-range shots for his career. It’s even uglier looking at just 2015, where he is shooting 32% on paint shots and 25.7% on mid-range shots.

Shotchart_1424394747116

What will continue to stunt Kanter’s development is moving from playing alongside two of the top rim protectors in Gobert and Favors to playing alongside two more great rim protectors in Ibaka and Adams. The argument could be made that Kanter is the worst rim protector in the league; opponents are shooting 57.5% at the rim against him, and having bigs who can once again clean up his mistakes will not force improvement from Kanter. In the short-term, it is a good thing for both parties that he is covered in this way, as the Thunder can hide his deficiencies and Kanter doesn’t need to be a defensive stalwart. But he will need to improve in this area quickly, especially as he is staring free agency in the face.

Kanter will need to find his offensive role alongside Ibaka and Adams, which will likely be different from how he was playing with the Jazz, although his experience from playing alongside Rudy Gobert and Derrick Favors should help the transition. Kanter can still turn into a good player and the Thunder are in a nice position to re-sign him if they wish in the summer. He clearly wasn’t happy in Utah, and a new role on a new team may be the push he needs to finally reach his potential.

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This trade also rid the Thunder of Perkins, who,despite being an expiring contract (finally) seemed to be a burden to the Thunder. Perkins had a positive 3.7 net rating this season, but the Thunder struggled to utilise him at all offensively. With Adams matching his defensive level and passing him offensively, it was time for the Thunder to cut ties, give more minutes to Adams and stop forcing the ball to him in the post. In an era of the stretch big, and of much more emphasis on pick-and-roll player rather than post-ups, Perkins’s main skill (low post defense) was becoming redundant.

In exchange for Kanter, the Jazz got some nice pieces back in this trade, starting with the protected 2017 first round pick received from the Thunder. The expiring contract in Perkins, who is expected to be bought out, opens up some cap space going into the summer (Novak’s contract expires in 2016 and is fully guaranteed), while Jerrett and Pleiss gives them some young assets they can try to develop into rotation players. Pleiss is a 25 year old seven footer, currently playing for FC Barcelona. He is a decent back to the basket player and a good rebounder, averaging 11.5 per 40 pace adjusted in domestic competition. Jerrett is a 6’10” stretch big who appeared in 25 minutes for the Thunder this season and who shot 38% on limited three point attempts in the D-League this season in multiple stops. It’s a long shot that either of these players will turn into long-term rotation players, but taking a flyer on these two, along with the two picks received, is a respectable haul for a player who didn’t want to resign with the Jazz this offseason.

The Thunder gave up the best player and their sixth man, but they bolstered their rotation by adding a point guard who is a solid distributor, some shooting in Singler and Novak, and Kanter, a former third pick who may benefit from a change in scenery. At times, Jackson has looked like a future star, so the trade will be evaluated by how far the Thunder go in the playoffs this season and whether Kanter can become a long-term rotation player. As of right now, they sold as high as they could on Jackson, and filled several needs in one go.

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Joshua Riddell

Josh is also a writer for DraftExpress and enjoys watching both college and professional basketball.

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