Sure, it’s fun to observe how superstar talent adjusts to a new habitat — Chris Paul finding his wings in Houston, Jimmy Butler howling at the moon in Minnesota, and Kyrie Irving projecting Force ghosts in Boston. But often times, the more rewarding exercise is pinpointing the summer acquisitions who have given their new teams the best bang for their buck in spite of little fanfare and infrequent appearances on World Wide Wob’s Twitter feed. Here are 10 players who have best exemplified that latter category so far this year.
*Stats courtesy of Basketball Reference and NBA.com*
Victor Oladipo, SG, Indiana Pacers
If you love somebody, set them free from Russell Westbrook. That’s exactly what Oklahoma City Thunder GM Sam Presti did this offseason in dealing Oladipo to the Indiana Pacers as part of the Paul George trade, and the fifth-year guard has been on a killing spree ever since. Oladipo’s 24-5-4 averages this season are close to Miami Heat-era Dwyane Wade-type production out of the 2 spot. His 42.5 percent shooting from deep is a wonder of the modern world. Oladipo has become Indiana’s starter, finisher, and Messiah all wrapped up in one. An All-Star nod this February is probably a realistic expectation, which is saying something considering how much Indiana was questioned when they made the trade.
Enes Kanter, C, New York Knicks
While we’re on the topic of Oklahoma City refugees, here is another one who is having himself a nice little season. In between becoming The Empire State’s most beloved enforcer, Kanter is producing career-highs in rebounds (10.1) and assists per game (1.7) while also bumping up his shooting efficiency to a DeAndre Jordan-esque 60.2 percent. His defense isn’t just Shaqtin’ A Fool fodder anymore either, as Kanter is finally in positive territory in defensive box score plus-minus for the first time in seven NBA seasons. A fitting blue-collar bopper alongside the unicorn superstardom of Kristaps Porzingis in the Knicks frontcourt, Kanter is the sidekick that America needs right now.
Indiana Pacers guard Victor Oladipo was the major piece in the summer’s Paul George trade, and the move to Indianapolis has agreed with him. He’s averaging career bests in points per game with 24.5 and rebounds per game at 5.3, and is putting on a show regularly, including a 47-point game against Denver on Sunday.
It is only natural, then, that Oladipo would be frequently compared to the man he was traded for. The 25-year-old doesn’t want to hear it, however.
Both Oladipo and the Pacers as a whole are having better seasons than George and the Oklahoma City Thunder. The former Pacer has openly admitted to growing frustrated, while the man who he replaced seems to be having a great time. The comparisons are always going to happen given the nature of the deal, but Oladipo can rightly point out that he’s simply been better, for various reasons.
The calendar has flipped to November, Daylight Savings Time is no more, and most teams have played their first ten games or so, leaving roughly 72 contests remaining on the schedule. Of course, that can only mean one thing: [sounds airhorn] it’s Overreaction Season. And perhaps the most sacred of all the Overreaction Season traditions is fangirling over those who have successfully turned those 3 a.m. Instagram workouts and that reported 15 pounds of extra muscle into greater productivity on the court. Standing high above the rest of the field, here are the 12 most improved players of the 2017-18 season so far:
Kristaps Porzingis, PF, New York Knicks
Carmelo Anthony’s departure was all that was needed for our Latvian messiah to reveal himself fully. Porzingis has mutated into a nightly 30-point scoring threat now that he is the focal point of the Knickerbockers’ offense (sometimes even 40 as he proved on Sunday night in a comeback win over the Indiana Pacers), and he has been stunningly efficient despite the massive increase in volume (a career-high 50.0 percent shooting). One of Porzingis’ teammates thinks his scorching start should place him squarely in the MVP conversation. I might even take it a step further and call for beatification if he continues to flex with end-to-end displays of power like this:
Steven Adams, C, Oklahoma City Thunder
Spacing saves. With Carmelo Anthony starting at power forward instead of Taj Gibson, and Paul George stretching out opposing defenses instead of Victor Oladipo, Adams can finally rumble down the lane to his heart’s content for the Thunder. He has responded to the opportunity in kind with his best season both scoring (12.4 points per game) and rebounding (8.3 boards). Toss in his intimidating interior defense, and this mustachioed maestro looks like he’s worth every penny of the $100 million that Oklahoma City invested in him last season. What else is there to say? Funaki is a force.
Aaron Gordon, PF, Orlando Magic
With one half of their backcourt duo launching a nightly triple-double rampage on the league, the Oklahoma City Thunder just locked in the other half for the next few years.
According to a report by Shams Charania of The Vertical on Monday, the Thunder have reached agreement with guard Victor Oladipo on a four-year extension worth $84 million.
Oladipo, 24, was acquired by the Thunder in the Serge Ibaka trade this past summer. He averaged 16.0 points, 4.8 rebounds, and 3.9 assists per game for the Orlando Magic in 2015-16.
Reports began to circulate over the weekend that Oklahoma City was closing in on extensions for both Oladipo and center Steven Adams. While it’s not exactly the max extension Oladipo may have been hoping for, it’s still quite the rich payday, even perhaps a little too rich. The former No. 2 overall pick does a bit of everything well, but he struggles to finish at the rim, is an average three-point threat at best, and hasn’t quite lived up to the defensive billing he had coming out of college at Indiana.
Nevertheless, Oladipo is already showing strong chemistry with Russell Westbrook and still has a lot of room for improvement at such a young age as OKC looks to solidify their new core of players post-Kevin Durant.
The Oklahoma City Thunder may have lost Kevin Durant in free agency to the Golden State Warriors, but they’re working to keep a new core intact.
According to a report from The Vertical’s Adrian Wojnarowski, the Thunder are talking with Steven Adams and Victor Oladipo about rookie contract extensions.
Adams, 23, was a first-round pick by the Thunder in 2013 and has quickly developed into one of the better big men in the league. He emerged last postseason as he averaged 10.1 points and 9.5 rebounds per game for OKC. Adams is under contract for $3.1 million this season and has a $4.3 million qualifying offer for next season, but the Thunder would like to get him under contract for longer.
Oladipo, 24, was the No. 2 overall pick in 2013 and was acquired by the Thunder in the Serge Ibaka trade. He has displayed a strong overall game, including 43 percent shooting, 80.8 percent from the line, and averages of 15.8 points, 4.4 rebounds and 4 assists per game during his career. Oladipo is making $6.5 million this season and can earn $8.5 million for his qualifying offer next season.
The brand new Oklahoma City Thunder appear to be getting along well.
Victor Oladipo had a great view of Russell Westbrook’s 51-point triple-double on Friday night in a win over the Phoenix Suns. Now that Westbrook is the undisputed leader of the team, players like Oladipo are playing off of him, and apparently having a grand time doing it.
Westbrook has been remarkable during the young season so far and seems to be taking full advantage of being the team’s clear and only superstar. He also seems to be forging a very close relationship with Oladipo, his new backcourt mate. So far, so good for the new Thunder.
Victor Oladipo and Russell Westbrook appear to have a beautiful budding bromance.
According to Oladipo, his new Thunder backcourt mate has an interesting way of putting him to sleep.
I believe I speak for us all when I wish for more details than this.
What we can deduce from this is that Westbrook has well and truly moved on from Kevin Durant and found something new. We’re hoping for more information here, though. Maybe even a little sample of Westbrook’s vocals.
It would not come as a surprise to see Colin Kaepernick’s national anthem protests make their way to the NBA as well.
Oklahoma City Thunder guard Victor Oladipo fully expects that at least some players will choose to take a knee during the anthem or some other sort of protest.
“Oh, no question. I truly believe it will,” Oladipo told Russ Bengtson of Complex Sports. “Because at the end of the day it’s a sport, and people are gonna be looking at some guys in the NBA to see what they’re gonna do as well. At the end of the day you just control what you can control, so your opinion is your opinion, that’s the beauty of the United States, so, do whatever you feel is best that will help you do whatever you believe.”
Oladipo hasn’t spoken directly to teammates about a protest, but he has a sense that things will happen.
“Not yet, but a few people just in general I’ve had conversations with about that, I tell ’em the same thing, people’s beliefs are people’s beliefs, you know what I mean, you can only control so much, you can only control what you can control, and the most things you can control is yourself,” Oladipo said. “So whatever you believe, believe in to the utmost. But I think definitely, we’ll see a few guys in the NBA doing the same thing.”
We do know of one big star who won’t be participating, but there has been a lot of support voices for Kaepernick, and someone will likely step up and act once the season starts.
At this point, the Oklahoma City Thunder are probably glad that at least somebody is potentially committed to them for the long run.
According to a report by Zach Lowe of ESPN on Tuesday, newly-acquired shooting guard Victor Oladipo is looking for a max contract extension from the Thunder.
Oladipo, 24, averaged 16.0 points per game, 4.8 rebounds per game, and 3.9 assists per game for the Orlando Magic last season. He was acquired by Oklahoma City as a part of the Serge Ibaka trade on Draft Night 2016.
The former No. 2 overall pick is a talented all-around 2-guard with particularly strong one-on-one defensive skill. But he’s not quite worth max money just yet, even despite what the market has been throwing at players of his position this summer. Oladipo has a streaky jump shot (he’s a career 33.9 percent shooter from deep), struggles to convert in the paint (shooting just 56.0 percent inside the restricted area last season), and doesn’t get to the line at an acceptable rate for a shooting guard (just 4.0 free throw attempts per game for his career). He was relegated to a sixth man role in Orlando for some of last year, which may have partially inflated his individual counting stats.
Still, the Thunder are reeling after the departure of Kevin Durant and the subsequent uncertainty regarding Russell Westbrook’s future with the team. Now that they have a young, potentially core piece willing to lock in with them long-term, Oklahoma City might have no choice but to hammer out an extension for him, no matter what the salary hit may be.
*Stats courtesy of NBA.com*
The Orlando Magic and Oklahoma City Thunder delivered one of the biggest blockbusters on draft day, as they agreed to a large deal that sends Serge Ibaka to the Magic for three players.
The Vertical’s Adrian Wojnarowski says the Magic are sending Victor Oladipo, Ersan Ilyasova, and draft pick Domantas Sabonis to Oklahoma City in exchange for Ibaka.
There were rumors earlier on Thursday that the Thunder were making Ibaka available in trades.
Ibaka, 27 in September, will be a free agent after next season, which makes the move somewhat risky for the Magic. But if he shines in Orlando playing without Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant for the first time in his career, he could end up signing a long-term deal with them and becoming a franchise player.
This move is also risky for the Thunder. Not only are they breaking up a core that has led them to success the past several seasons, but they are also doing so at a critical time for their franchise. Kevin Durant is a free agent and his decision to remain with OKC could be influenced by this trade. Westbrook will also be a free agent after next season.
Are the Thunder doing this to increase their chances of retaining Durant and Westbrook? Or is this protection in case they lose one or both players? Or maybe they just made the deal to get some strong value in return for Ibaka, likely knowing they wouldn’t be able to keep him beyond next season:
Oladipo should slide into the shooting guard spot for OKC and give them a really nice option. The former No. 2 overall pick in the draft averaged 16 points per game last season. His addition likely means the Thunder will not match offer sheets for Dion Waiters this offseason.