(SportsNetwork.com) - Eleven deals went down involving 37 players prior to the NBA trade deadline last Thursday.
The one that seems to have paid the most immediate dividends is the three-team trade the Oklahoma City Thunder pulled off with the Utah Jazz and Detroit Pistons, with the Thunder acquiring Enes Kanter and Steve Novak from the Jazz and D.J. Augustin and Kyle Singler from the Pistons.
Kanter, in particular, has given the Thunder a huge boost, especially with starting center Steven Adams still sidelined with a fractured right hand. Following the deal, Thunder general manager Sam Presti praised Kanter's versatile offensive skill set and looked forward to what kind of impact he could have on his new team.
"There's different ways to score certainly and draw fouls," Presti said. "I don't think that's the only thing that he does. He's skilled. He can shoot the ball facing. (Utah) had him shoot some 3s during the season. He's an excellent free-throw shooter. So there's more to him than that. That is one of the things we like about the acquisition. It kind of rounds out the frontline in a lot of ways".
Kanter has immediately lived up to his GM's expectations.
In his first game in a Thunder uniform, the fourth-year center had 10 points and 13 rebounds as Oklahoma City posted a 110-103 road win over the Charlotte Hornets last Saturday.
"Impressive," head coach Scott Brooks said following Kanter's debut game.
"It's good to see him pick up things quickly. Enes brings an IQ to the game. He has soft hands around the basket and has good hands."
The following night in Oklahoma City, Kanter put up 20 points and 12 rebounds on 8-for-12 field-goal shooting in just 26 minutes, and the Thunder routed the Denver Nuggets by 25 points.
On Tuesday night, the Thunder moved to 3-0 with Kanter with a 105-92 win over the Indiana Pacers. The 22-year-old center had 15 points and five rebounds in 23 minutes.
So for the three games, he's putting up an impressive 15 points and 10 rebounds per game in just 27 minutes, and shooting 58 percent from the floor.
Steve Novak, who became good friends with Kanter in Utah, believes his improved play basically comes down to one factor.
"To me, the biggest difference I've seen is it seems he's playing very relaxed," Novak said. "I forget who was next to me on the bench, but I said to him Enes looks like a different player right now. Relaxed and he's not really trying to force anything. Because of how talented he is, that's how he's most effective."
You won't get any arguments from Kanter on Novak's comments, but he knows there's a pretty simple reason for his calmer approach.
"I'm playing more relaxed because I'm playing with amazing players like Russell and all the other guys," Kanter said. "And I just can't wait for KD to get back."
And while we're on the subject of the Thunder, I have to talk about the aforementioned Westbrook, who's playing as good as anybody in the league right now and is starting to get some MVP attention.
ESPN.com recently ran a story titled, "Westbrook's numbers might add to MVP" while the headline on Foxsports.com was "Thunder's Russell Westbrook demanding MVP attention".
The Thunder have won eight of their last nine, including four games with Durant sidelined, and it's mainly because Westbrook has been spectacular. The four-time All-Star point guard is averaging 30.6 points, 10.1 assists and 7.9 rebounds during that stretch.
And in the last seven games that Durant has missed, the Thunder are 6-1, with Westbrook putting up 28.8 points, 9.4 assists and 7.3 rebounds per game.
As spectacular as Westbrook has been, he still has to be considered a long shot at this point for MVP honors over the current favorites, Stephen Curry and James Harden, for a couple of reasons
Westbrook has missed 14 games, while Harden has played in every game while Curry has missed only one.
Curry has been the best player on the team with the best record in the league, while the Rockets are 6 1/2 games better than the Thunder with Dwight Howard missing 24 games and Terrence Jones 43.
I think for Westbrook to have any legitimate shot to win the award, the Thunder will have to overtake the Portland Trail Blazers for the Northwest Division title, which will not be an easy task with just 25 games left to the season. They trail the Blazers by five games and are down 2-0 in the season series, which is the first division tiebreaker.
It's likely they'll have to beat them in the remaining two games and play at an extremely high level in hopes of catching Portland.