While people were at work on Tuesday afternoon a significantly important trade occurred in the NBA. The Oklahoma City Thunder sent two future second round picks to Denver for big man Joffrey Lauvergne.

You may be asking yourself, “why is it a big deal that the Thunder traded for a young, backup big?” To answer that, let’s look at Oklahoma City’s big-man rotation: Steven Adams, Enes Kanter, Ersan Ilyasova, Joffrey Lauvergne Domantas Sabonis, Mitch McGary, and Nick Collison.

That’s seven big men, many of whom have overlapping skill-sets. Moreover, the Thunder have sixteen players on their roster, and they need to be down to at least fifteen by the time the season starts. So yes, this trade is important because it signals Oklahoma City is preparing for another move, one which would be potential bigger.

There are two different types of potential trades: first, one involving expensive Turkish center, Enes Kanter; and the second involving some combination of Ilyasova, McGary, and/or Collison combined with another young player and/or asset. If it’s the latter, I would not expect the trade to land Oklahoma City a star; if it is the former, however, a star is very possible.

First, it is important to examine what the Thunder need moving forward. The Russell Westbrook contract extension has guaranteed Oklahoma City two more years with the star point guard. Therefore, it seems clear that whatever the Thunder do, it needs to place them into championship contention soon. With that said, there are two main holes on the team: a wing who that is a ~40% three-point shooter and who plays good defense as well as a playmaking interior forward.

Trading Kanter probably puts the Thunder in the best position to get one of those two types of players, as both varieties are increasingly difficult to come by in today’s NBA. Furthermore, the similarities between Kanter and Lauvergne make the trade even more feasible. Let’s first look at basketball-reference’s comparison of the two bigs’ advanced stats when they were in their second season:

bref kanter

What this shows is that, while Kanter was slightly better, the margin for that increase is minimal in pretty much every stat. But, let’s be honest, neither of these two bigs are lighting the world on fire defensively. Rather, they are both floor spacing bigs who can dominate inside the paint and with a nice midrange game. Here, the numbers get even more eery:

Joff Shooting

Joffrey Lauvergne Shooting Statistics

Enes shooting

Enes Kanter Shooting Statistics

Look in two specific areas: first, shooting percentage 0-3 feet from the basket; and second, shooting percentage from midrange but that are not three-pointers. In both areas Kanter and Lauvergne lack significant differences. Moreover, as mentioned previously neither are stars defensively, however this is one area favoring Lauvergne. The French big is forcing opponents to shoot 13.4% worse on three-pointers than their season average, a mark that is 16.4% higher than Kanter’s.

Thus, what we see is that while Kanter is a slightly better defender in the paint, Lauvergne is much better outside of it. The latter is a much harder skill to learn than the former, and due to Lauvergne’s natural size, it seems likely that he will learn to be a better defender inside the paint.

With all of that said, this trade does not necessarily mean that the Thunder will trade Kanter. Another possibility is the Thunder moving some combination of Ilyasova, McGary, Collison, and/or a young asset. More than likely this type of deal will not net the same type of return as a Kanter trade could, nonetheless, it easily could net a three-point shooter who plays good defense. As I’ve noted previously, three-point shooters who are net-neutral defenders is a huge need in Oklahoma City. Thus, Sam Presti is more than likely doing his due diligence finding this type of trade too.

Overall, the Lauvergne trade does not make Oklahoma City or Denver better by itself. While Lauvergne is a nice addition for the Thunder, frankly, he is still raw and needs playing time. What it does do, though, is provide the Nuggets with future assets and allows the Thunder to trade one of their many big men. This means that Oklahoma City is attempting to find a blockbuster trade involving Enes Kanter as well as seeing if there are smaller trades that would improve the roster without bringing back an all-star talent.

More than anything, though, is that this move signals Oklahoma City has already left Kevin Durant in their rearview mirror. Frankly, the Pearl Jam song “Rearviewmirror” – had it been written twenty-plus years later – could have been written about Kevin Durant’s decision to leave Oklahoma. And like Eddie Vedder, the Thunder have raised their shades and are seeing things very clearly.


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