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New Thunder players Oladipo, Elyasova, Sabonis could have immediate impact in OKC

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With the Serge Ibaka trade, the Thunder have put almost all of their chips in play to make next season one for the ages.

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Has the Thunder dust settled yet?

Last week's draft day trade saw forward Serge Ibaka shipped to the Orlando Magic for budding guard Victor Oladipo, veteran forward Ersan Ilyasova and rookie forward Domantas Sabonis, and now the attention turns to how the trio of players coming back to Oklahoma City in the deal will fit into the rotation moving forward for the Thunder.

Above all else, the trade of Ibaka to the Magic shook up the NBA universe. In the middle of the NBA Draft, the attention suddenly turned from the young players coming into the league on a special night to the future of the Thunder and how this trade affects Oklahoma City's chances of re-signing the highly sought-after Kevin Durant in free agency.

First things first:  by acquiring Oladipo to start the deal, he plays a hugely legitimate factor in Durant returning to OKC. The star forward has already come out and said that he's good friends with the former No. 2 overall draft pick in the 2013 NBA Draft.

Although losing Ibaka was a big blow to the core three that the Thunder has built around over the last few seasons, the return in the trade was absolutely stunning. Oladipo will be a restricted free agent after this season, but his uber-athleticism, tenacious defense and win-at-all-costs attitude will slot in very nicely next to Russell Westbrook in the backcourt.

Those two alone will form one of the best backcourts in the league from day one simply due to freak athleticism that both have.

But by adding Ilyasova and Sabonis, the No. 11 pick in this past week's draft, into the deal, it becomes that much better for Oklahoma City while also giving them more financial flexibility to sign Durant this off-season and Westbrook next off-season.

Ibaka will be a free agent next off-season and will likely command around $30 million a season in the ever-increasing salary cap in today's NBA. By dealing Ibaka, the Thunder took some of the leverage away from the core three, considering Westbrook and Ibaka were set to hit the open market at the same time.

Now, they can focus all their attention on Durant this off-season and Westbrook next off-season.

Should they lock up Durant for at least this coming season, how do Oladipo, Ilyasova, and possibly even Sabonis (with limited minutes in the front-court) fit into the picture heading into the 2016-17 season?

For starters, Oladipo should start right away in Oklahoma City, but it shouldn't be a surprise if he comes off the bench as the sixth man, which is a role he flourished in with the Magic to close last season.

Plenty of attention has been brought to the fact that Westbrook and Oladipo will form a back-court that simply can't shoot. While the numbers show that, a large part of Oladipo's struggles to shoot were coupled with the fact that the Magic didn't have many offensive weapons around him and he rarely got a wide open shot from beyond the arc.

Plus, he won't be asked to create shots with the ball in his hands often or against 1st string defense, since Westbrook and (hopefully he returns) Durant will be ball-dominant.

That alone will allow Oladipo to hang out around the perimeter and get easy catch-and-shoot 3s as defenses collapse on a cutting Westbrook and Durant. Oladipo will also be able to utilize backdoor cuts and run off screens for more comfortable mid-range jumpers in this loaded offense, much like Andre Roberson has, but with a higher rate of conversion.

But where Oladipo will really leave his mark on this season's Thunder team is on the defensive end, where he'll be asked to lock up some of the best perimeter players in the West, namely Klay Thompson and Stephen Curry, without being left alone on the other end of the court.

Think Oladipo would have played a big role in Game 6 against the Warriors when Thompson went off for 47 points to tie the series? I do.

That area alone is where I think the young guard will make the biggest impact right away.

As for Ilyasova and Sabonis, the veteran Ilyasova will serve as a backup stretch four as a player that can space it out in the second unit and step out beyond the arc. Sabonis will be that grinder down low that crashes the glass, plays solid defense, and really punishes opponents in the paint. However, I don't expect the rookie to see a ton of minutes right away, much like Mitch McGary rarely saw minutes his rookie season until OKC ran out of healthy bodies.

Ilyasova and Sabonis are simply depth pieces at this point. There is nothing wrong with that whatsoever.

There isn't many holes on this team should Durant re-sign. As of now the Thunder looks like the Finals favorite out of the West. A fun year should lie ahead of us. But of course, everything hinges on what #35 does next.

***

Now that you've read my first piece with Welcome to Loud City, I just wanted to introduce myself a bit. I was born and raised in the wonderful city of Pittsburgh where I grew up a diehard Penguins, Pirates and Steelers fan. Unfortunately for me, Pittsburgh didn't have a professional basketball team, so I quickly caught on with the Los Angeles Lakers and Seattle Supersonics right around the turn of the century.

But as I grew older, got my hands on a League Pass subscription and followed the iconic Kevin Durant at Texas, and watched Russell Westbrook develop at UCLA — coupled in with the move of the Sonics to Oklahoma City to become the Thunder, I quickly found a new team to follow on a nightly basis.  I have a serious passion for the Thunder and I truly hope Durant and Westbrook do the right thing by sticking around long-term with this franchise. I am truly excited to be joining the team here at WTLC and I hope you'll enjoy this ride just as much as I know I will. Cheers.