By Addam Francisco
Thursday was a busy day for the Thunder with both the NBA trade deadline and a very important conference game against the Dallas Mavericks who hold the fifth best record in the league at 36-20.
With the departure of Perkins, Jackson, Smith and Jerrett due to the trade deadline, OKC was very short handed in Thursday nights game, only suiting up ten players with only eight receiving more than ten minutes playing time. That didn't seem to matter too much. With the 9-of-17 shooting from Westbrook and 14-of-14 free throw shooting, along with players like Anthony Morrow coming off the bench scoring 16 points, beating the Mavericks wasn't really a challenging task. The drive and intensity I saw from Serge Ibaka in this game is exactly what he needs to do for the remainder of the season. Ibaka finished the game with 21 points and a career high 22 rebounds against one of the toughest post players in the league in Tyson Chandler who finished with 13 rebounds of his own. This was an impressive showing from a short bench in front of a sell out crowd and even more impressive considering reigning MVP Kevin Durant had a sub-par performance by only scoring 12 points off 4-of-14 shooting.
The future looks bright for our Thunder, but we lost a great defensive presence in the post and an outspoken team leader in Kendrick Perkins to Utah. We lost a very talented back-up point guard that brought energy to the second unit with Reggie Jackson finally getting what he wished for, a trade, to the Detroit Pistons and we lost two other players that brought team chemistry and heart to this Thunder team and organization in Ish Smith and Grant Jerrett. However, OKC picked up DJ Augustin, a really sparky but high IQ point guard that knows the game and can (in my opinion) be a better point guard coming off the bench than Reggie. He averaged 10.6 points and 5 assists pregame this year for the Pistons and he can also be a leader in the locker room because of his experience in the league. This is something the Thunder didn't have with Reggie Jackson. Not to mention he and Kevin Durant were college teammates at the University of Texas and are said to be great friends. I like this move for the Thunder. A move that I'm still a little skeptical about is Kendrick Perkins for Steve Novak and Enis Kanter. I question this trade because I wonder where the leadership is going to come from and this also puts a lot of pressure on Steven Adams to play tough interior defense which I don't think is his forte. If Scott Brooks can work all of that out, this could be a steal of a deal. Steve Novak in his 10th season is known for his three point shooting and multi-dimensional play. He's a "big man" but he led the NBA in highest 3-point percentage in 2011-2012. He will likely play the third power forward position behind Collison. Enis Kanter mixes it up in the post and can step out and shoot the ball. This will allow the Thunder to go with a line up that can open up the lane for guards like Russell Westbrook and Dion Waiters to penetrate and get easy buckets and multiple trips to the free throw line. Kanter averaged 13.8 points and 7.3 rebounds a game this year for the Jazz. Last but not least Kyle Singler, who is a very talented and competitive player. He plays the small forward position and will likely come off the bench behind Anthony Morrow. So far in his career he's known as a 3-point shooter (40.6%). He averages 7.1 points per game as well. This guy isn't expected to put up huge numbers or anything, but he's expected to be a role player and a player that can help boost the Thunders third team that has a lot of talent.
After the 16-point win over the Grizzlies going into the All-Star break, and their big win over the Mavericks Thursday night, I am very excited to see the Thunder close out this season and hopefully make a big run in the playoffs. They could go a very long way this year, despite all of the obstacles they had to cross. I can't think of a team other than Houston that really concerns me, even though Golden State has the best record, I don't know who on that team can handle all of our big men and who can stop both Durant and Westbrook. It looks like the Thunder are peaking at the right time as they finally jump into a tie with the Phoenix Suns for the eighth and final seed in the Western Conference and improving their record to 29-25 with only 28 games to go.