How Good Are the Oklahoma City Thunder After Their Trade Deadline Moves?
The Oklahoma City Thunder have been quite a roller coaster -- even before the season started.
Initially, with a full roster intact and healthy, our algorithms gave the Thunder an 87.86 percent chance to make the playoffs and a 7.70 chance to win the title. Accounting for the broken foot of Kevin Durant, those odds dropped but didn't plummet. They entered the season with 79.40 percent odds to make the postseason and still managed a 4.7 percent chance to win the NBA Finals.
Well, things haven't gone swimmingly for the Thunder, and they're currently scrapping it out for the eighth seed in the Western Conference. While all was quiet in OKC prior to the waning moments of the trade deadline, the Thunder were sitting on 65.2 percent odds to lock up a playoff berth but just a 1.9 percent chance to win it all, considering the gauntlet ahead of them as a potential eighth seed.
Rather than opt for complacency, Oklahoma City, of course, made some significant roster changes prior to the deadline, highlighted primarily by the incoming of Enes Kanter and the departure of Reggie Jackson and Kendrick Perkins. The Thunder also received D.J. Augustin, Kyle Singler, Steve Novak, and an unprotected second-round pick in 2019. Oklahoma City parted ways with Grant Jerrett and a protected future first-round pick in 2017, and the rights to Tibor Pleiss.
The big question, of course, is to what extent -- if any -- this trade helped their playoff and NBA Title odds.
Let's answer that question.
The Sum of the Trades
To figure things out, it's important to understand our nERD metric. nERD is similar to Win Shares, and it indicates how many wins above or below .500 an average team would wind up with a given player as a starter. Simple enough, right?
Considering all the moving pieces in the NBA around the league, the Thunder's projected win total falls from 45.0 to 44.7. Their playoff odds remain fairly stable, but their championship odds drop more than a full percentage point (from 1.9 percent to roughly 0.84 percent).
Well, Kanter thus far has racked up a nERD score of -1.4, indicating that he's been below the league average in terms of efficiency. Kanter's nF Efficiency, which indicates a player's point differential as a starter, was -0.5. By all accounts, he was below average so far this year.
How do the rest of the players involved look based on nERD and nF Efficiency?
If you add up the nERD scores and nF Efficiencies, this was nearly a wash for the Thunder. Excluding Jerrett and Novak, they shipped away a -2.1-point point differential and a -3.9 combined nERD score in exchange for a -1.9-point point differential and a -4.6 nERD.
Filling the Voids
But, of course, there's more to the trade than plugging in one player into the role of another.
Prior to the moves, the Thunder had the 10th-best Defensive Rating in the NBA (103.6). Perkins had an individual Defensive Rating of 103, sixth-best on the roster. Kanter's Defensive Rating this year is 109. Kanter is also really bad protecting the rim.
Among the 103 players who defend at least 4.0 field goals per game at the rim this year, Kanter ranks 99th in field goal percentage against (57.4 percent). Perkins, who sees 4.8 per game, ranked eighth out of that 103-player subset (45.3 percent).
Steven Adams, though, ranked 38th on 6.9 attempts faced per game (48.7 percent), making Perkins' departure less hurtful in terms of rim protection. Plus, Perkins had an Offensive Rating of just 87 this year. Kanter's is 105.
All-in-all, Kanter's Win Shares per 48 minutes (0.081) isn't anything spectacular (Nick Collison's is 0.090), but it is better than Perkins' 0.025.
As for the guards, Jackson, in terms of nERD, is the best player in the deal that the Thunder either lost or gained. Augustin's Win Shares per 48 minutes (0.094) is a mite lower than Jackson's (0.106), and Jackson ranked just sixth on the Thunder in the category among players with at least 1,000 minutes this year.
We can kick around the numbers all we want, but no real difference-makers were involved.
A Zero-Sum Swap?
In terms of expected wins and losses this year, the trade deadline for the Thunder was basically futile, as our algorithms expect them to lose just 0.3 more games with the new squad than they would have with the old one, but it was a pretty drastic blow to their championship odds, given Kanter's expected role and less-than-stellar efficiency.
Looking long-term, though, the Thunder were able to turn Perkins, an unrestricted free agent come summertime, and Jackson, a restricted free agent at the end of the season into new players. Augustin, coincidentally Durant's teammate at the University of Texas, is under contract at $3 million through next season. Kanter is a restricted free agent at the end of next season, giving the Thunder the chance to retain him if they like what he shows during his stint in Oklahoma City.
Ultimately, the deal doesn't hurt the Thunder's odds too much this year, as their title odds were already rather low. Then again, the deal doesn't necessarily help, either.
Overall, though, Oklahoma City might wind up with a better future as a result.