We’re halfway done and I’m not sure the first part of this season could have gone much better. It took Oklahoma City 82 games to win 23 last year and this season, the Thunder’s reached that mark in just 41. That’s like progress or something.
But I figure this is a good point to see where everything is at, evaluate some players and look back on the things I thought were important coming into the season. I like re-reading things from months back to gain a little perspective on where we’re at currently. And to either pat myself on the back and say how smart I am, or if I was wrong talk about how it was someone else’s fault and how what I said should’ve happened. That’s what good sportswriters do.
Looking Back At Stuff I Said
- Peering over the things I said about Kevin Durant, I was pretty spot on in some areas, and missed in others. He’s scored 40 twice, he’s in the MVP discussion, he’s going to be an All-Star, his defense is vastly improved, his PER is up and I’m pretty close on his ideal stats. But I was off on the turnovers, the 180 shooter (though it’s getting closer; 172 right now) and cutting down the minutes. But as far as Durant meeting the arbitrary goals I set for him, I’d say he’s a 10 out of 10.
- I was way off with Nenad Krstic. I wanted 15 double-doubles from him. So far, he’s got one. Yikes. But he showed Monday in Atlanta why he’s still got serious value to this team. When the matchup works, he can by a dynamic extra offensive weapon.
- Thabo needs to shoot above 35 percent from 3: “This is similar to the previous one, but he needs to be consistent from 3 from everywhere. Thabo isn’t a big offensive threat, but he’s a valuable piece to have on the floor. Not just for his defense but for his leadership, passing abilities and knack for spacing the floor. He’s not going to score a bunch of points but if he can hit open 3s, he’ll become a very important piece to the puzzle.” Thabo is shooting 33 percent from deep right now.
- James Harden: “Gel with his teammates. It’s no secret that KD, Uncle Jeff and Russ have quite a bond between the three of them. They are very close. While I’m sure Harden will be friends with everyone, it’s key for team chemistry to keep on the up and up and for Harden to fit in with the gang. This is such a young team that I could see some of the older vets having a hard time chemistrifying, but these young guys need to be pals. Hopefully by Christmas Harden is right in there with the other three.” I think that actually took about two days to happen.
- Jeff Green should grab eight rebounds a game: “We need to see a couple 15 rebound games. A bunch of 10 rebound games. And at worst, pull down five boards. None of this 34 minutes, two rebounds crap. He had 20 games last year where he pulled down fewer than five. But I know he’s capable of being a quality rebounder. Look at his production from February of last season – 9.5 a game with 12 a game in the last five. Then he got hurt and the number went down to 6.3 for March and 4.4 a game in April. If he commits mentally to being a good rebounder before each game, I think he can be OKC’s main guy on the boards.” D’oh. This season, Uncle Jeff is averaging 6.0 rebounds a game and has 12 games where he’s pulled down fewer than five.
- I couldn’t have been more wrong with D.J. White: “Play in at least 75 games. This is more a wish for good health and not winning a position battle. If Serge Ibaka beats him out and takes away his minutes, that’s fine. But more than anything, I want to see White healthy for a season.”
- And Nick Collison, as I wanted his numbers back to what his career averages were and to average around seven boards a game. Even though he hasn’t, I ironically think this is maybe one of his best seasons.
- Russell Westbrook’s ideal stats: “16.5 ppg, 6.5 apg, 4.5 rpg, 2.0 spg, 2.7 turnovers per game, 43 percent from the field, 35 percent from three. If Westbrook can replicate stats somewhere near that, the Thunder’s in for a nice season. He averaged 3.4 turns a night last year, so cutting into that number would be big, but getting his assists and scoring up while also bringing up his efficiency is equally important.” Russ is averaging 16.1 ppg, 7.5 apg, 5.0 rpg, 1.1 spg and 3.2 turnovers per game.
- I didn’t want Serge Ibaka to become Mo Sene. I think he’s doing a pretty good job of avoiding that so far.
- Ten goals I set for the season: A couple have flushed out pretty close so far, but I’ve been way off on others, specifically the road wins goal. I said I’d be happy with 10 road wins for the season. Yep, that happened a week ago.
- I had the team at around 16-17 wins at this point. I love being wrong.
Player Report Card
Nick Collison (A-): I truly think Collison has had one of his best seasons yet. He doesn’t have the big numbers, but he just makes so many plays throughout a game that directly have an affect on the scoreboard.
Kevin Durant (A+): He’s done everything we wanted. He’s defending so much better. He’s leading. He’s rebounding. He’s scoring. He’s turning into a bonafide bright star. If you want to tick him for something, it’s the turnovers, but with everything else he’s doing, I can live with it.
Jeff Green (C+): His numbers have slumped, but he’s played much better lately. But the thing about Uncle Jeff is that he seems to always make winning plays. He’ll hit a big 3 just when the team needs it, or like yesterday, he’ll absolutely obliterate someone’s face in what may have been the biggest play of the year.
James Harden (B): He’s found his role and he’s playing it well. He hasn’t been spectacular, but for a rookie fitting in on a winning team, I’d say he’s doing just fine. His shooting percentage needs to come up though (39.3), but his 3-point percentage is great (37).
Serge Ibaka (B-): He’s been a pleasant surprise because coming into the year, we didn’t know what to expect. But he’s added energy off the bench and made OKC’s second unit much stronger. He’s still raw around the bucket and has trouble grabbing the ball and has been inconsistent at times, but for the most part, it’s been a good rookie season for him.
Nenad Krstic (D): He’s not failing because he’s been solid at times and directly contributed to winning multiple games. For instance, Monday against ATL he was great and played wonderful post defense. But he disappears and gets hammered on the glass too much. Krstic is a worthy player to have on the roster, but eight and four isn’t good enough for a starting seven-footer.
Eric Maynor (A): He’s exactly what OKC needed behind Westbrook. Someone that could play alongside him, but would also enter the game and run the offense without missing a beat. He’s a different kind of point man but he complements Russ extremely well.
Byron Mullens (I): He just hasn’t played enough to accurately grade him. But in what we’ve seen, I’ve definitely been encouraged.
Kevin Ollie (N/A): I feel like Doc Holliday from Tombstone: “Oh, Kevin I apologize. I forgot you were there. You may go now.”
Thabo Sefolosha (A+): I couldn’t ask for more from Thabo so far. He understands his role completely, never forces anything and is the team’s best defender. And for the money he’s paid, you could make a case that he’s the most valuable player on the roster per capita.
Etan Thomas (D): If you could get points for watching the jumbotron and checking out cheerleaders, Etan would be off the charts. He did have some nice minutes early in the year though and I’m sure if given the opportunity, would play decent again.
Kyle Weaver (I): In what little minutes he played, it looked like his 3-point shot had improved and he was ready to play a little backup point before he got hurt. But Eric Maynor may have locked Weaver onto the end of the bench for a while.
Russell Westbrook (A): Without a slight slump in late November, Westbrook is an A-plus for sure. But his percentages are still low (39.9 from the field, 25.9 from 3) and every now and again, he gets tunnel vision to the bucket. But for being a second-year point guard, he’s doing awesome. Eighth in the league in assists (7.5 a game), a 2.35 assist to turnover ratio and also averaging five boards a game. And the best part is, he’s still got a lot of room to improve.
D.J. White (I): He hasn’t really seen much time in OKC, but he did well in his stint in Tulsa. I still think he’s going to find a place on a roster as a quality bench big man. I hope it’s Oklahoma City’s, because I like him. I just don’t know if there’s room.
Five Things To Do Better From Here On Out
1. Rebound. As a team statistically, it’s not bad. OKC is fifth in the league at 43.4 a game with a plus 2.3 differential which is in the top 10 in the league. But at times, the Thunder can get abused on the glass and opponents pile up second chance points.
2. Execute in late game situations. Most recently, it cost OKC a win against the Hornets. And it nearly cost them against Atlanta yesterday. At times in the fourth, the Thunder can go stagnant offensively. Ball movement goes south, jumpers fall short and the team has to rely completely on defense to win. That formula is working right now, but the more important games get, the more important late game possessions are.
3. Turnovers. Right now, OKC is tied for fifth in the league averaging 15.5 turns a game. Ball security is always an issue with young teams, but giving away possessions is never a good thing. When you’ve got scorers like the Thunder, you want them taking a shot at the end of a possession.
4. Make more 3s. The Thunder are fifth worst in terms of 3-point percentage right now at 32.9 percent. A lot of that is because Jeff Green has been slumping, but it’s a proven thing that 3-pointers are very important to winning games. The Thunder doesn’t take a lot (15 a game), but knocking down open ones would be nice.
5. Beat playoff teams in the West. OKC has just two wins over current West playoff teams. The Thunder are clearly a good team, but with a lot of games against those teams left, OKC needs to start beating them.
One Last Thing I Have To Point Out
All offseason, I got asked how many wins I thought the Thunder would notch this season. And often times with that, people asked if there was any chance they could sniff the postseason. My answer every time was that I saw this team winning 32-36 games with the potential to get to 45 and possibly postseason play if Russell Westbrook made a big leap in his progression. Well, Westbrook is making said leap and the team is on a collision course for 45-ish wins. It was obvious before the season how important Westbrook could be to this team. And with his improved play, better decision making, better shooting and just overall development, this team is headed for big things, even this year.
I don’t know about you, but these next 41 games should be a ton of stinking fun. The first 41 literally flew by. But that must mean because we were having so much fun. If things hold to form, the second half of this season may cause a fun overload. Which I’m all for.