After the Thunder acquired two superstars last summer, the “OK3” had big expectations for the 2017-18 season. Those initial expectations were never realized, as the Thunder were bounced from the playoffs by the Utah Jazz in the 1st round. Today we’re taking a look at what went wrong in that series, and what Sam Presti has done this summer to improve the team in those areas.
Oklahomans have heard Sam Presti say “Scared money don’t make none” plenty of times over the last two summers. The phrase comes from a song by one of Presti’s favorite bands, A Tribe Called Quest, and is a motto Presti has lived and died by since Kevin Durant ditched the 405 for Oakland two summers ago. Thunder fans saw both sides of the motto last summer when Presti took a risk acquiring Paul George and Carmelo Anthony. The risk was worth the reward for Paul George when he re-signed with the Thunder earlier this summer. However, the story isn’t the same for Anthony, who didn’t pan out in his one season with OKC.
Man I can’t believe we traded away Enes Kanter for Carmelo Anthony.— Shane Steinkraus (@ShaneTrain23) July 6, 2018
Carmelo’s short time with the Thunder ended when Sam Presti shipped him and a protected first round pick to Atlanta in exchange for point guard Dennis Schroder. Once again Presti was able to work his trade magic, this time to fix a mistake made the previous summer. Now that Presti has two superstars locked up for the foreseeable future in Russell Westbrook and Paul George, it’s time to build around them. Let’s take a look at Presti’s first attempts to do so by analyzing his transactions this summer.
Men in the middle
One of Presti’s better free agency signings was adding former Dallas Mavericks big man Nerlens Noel. While Nerlens will best be remembered in Dallas for grabbing a hot dog out of the media line at halftime of a game, the 6th overall pick of the 2013 draft should get better opportunities with his new team. While the Thunder already have Oklahoma’s second favorite adult son starting at center in Steven Adams, Noel will get plenty of minutes serving as his backup. Although Adams is one of the best young players in the NBA, he wore down against Rudy Gobert in the Thunder’s playoff series against Utah. Adding Noel will provide Adams more relief early in games so that he can be more fresh to finish opponents in the fourth quarter.
Sam Presti found a way to trade the worst contract in basketball. Although offloading Carmelo Anthony came at a price, the trade was well worth it. Oklahoma City will be adding a capable point guard in Dennis Schroder to their bench. Schroder was the starting point guard in Atlanta, averaging 19.4 points a night on 43.6 percent shooting. Schroder is one of the better pick and roll point guards in the game, much like Russell Westbrook, and will provide much needed scoring to the OKC bench. Schroder gets a big stamp of approval from Paul George, who called Schroder “hands down the best back-up point guard in the league.” OKC could be a dark horse candidate to win the western conference if Schroder is able to live up to those expectations.
Tremendous save for OKC: Thunder get massive salary and luxury tax savings -- nearly $100M -- w/o stretching Anthony's $28M. That deal would've left $9M-plus on books next three years, so Schroder $15.5M per year becomes bargain -- and an asset that could stay or be traded again.— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) July 19, 2018
The other side to the Anthony- Schroder trade is that OKC is no longer trotting Melo out at the power forward position. Instead, the Thunder will likely replace Melo with Jerami Grant, a more athletic wing-type defender. While Grant certainly doesn’t have the accolades Melo does, he is a better defender who could have done a much better job defending Ricky Rubio in the pick and roll during the Thunder’s playoff series with the Jazz. While basketball is moving more and more towards being a positionless game, the Thunder should have success using Grant to defend big men in the post and guards in the pick and roll. Grant will be able to rely on his athleticism in most situations, and if isn’t successful, the Thunder will be able to bring in Patrick Patterson, a bigger body with less athleticism, but also with a knack for help defense. The offense will flow more naturally without Melo hogging possessions going one on one and jacking up ill-advised shots.
While the Thunder defense should see a drastic improvement, along with an upgrade in bench scoring, the Thunder could still use a good 3 point shooter. Paul George is the only reliable 3 point shooter on the team (until Alex Abrines proves otherwise), and he will draw a lot of attention from defenses across the league. Sam Presti will be keeping an eye on the trade market throughout the season because it’s his job, but expect the Thunder to be active in looking to add a player who can help stretch the floor on offense. If things aren’t working out for Trevor Ariza in Phoenix, or if Avery Bradley wants out of Los Angeles, Presti should be the first general manager those teams hear from.
On a different note, my name is Ryan Harris and I appreciate you reading my first post for Welcome to Loud City! I’m about to start my Junior year at Oklahoma State University studying sports media. I’m from the Dallas/ Fort Worth metroplex where football on Friday is just as serious as church on Sunday. The NBA is my passion, however, and I can’t wait to start covering the Thunder for WTLC!
Do you think Presti addressed the major weaknesses from a year ago?
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