One (calendar) month down for the Thunder. And it’s been a weird one.
They sit at 12-6 after a month of oddly inconsistent basketball. They’re 4-0 on the second night of back-to-backs, have beat teams like Utah, Portland (twice) and Boston, but lost to the Clippers and Rockets. While some aren’t thrilled with the way the team is playing, I don’t think anyone is upset with the current results.
But we’ve got 18 games in the book and a month down. So let’s review, shall we? We shall.
No doubt, it’s Russell Westbrook. He’s completely taken charge of the team and without his efforts, who knows where we’d be right now. Statistically, he’s outplaying LeBron right now. The thing that’s taken Westbrook to another level is his development of a consistent mid-range jumper plus his incredibly improved ability to finish at the rim. Even last season where Westbrook started to break out, he’d do everything but finish. This season, if he can get to the rim, it’s almost a done deal that he’s finishing the play.
Kevin Durant is still the team’s most talented player and a lot of Westbrook’s open lanes are helped from defenses leaning KD’s way. But after one month, Russ has definitely been OKC’s best player.
Daequan Cook. Such high hopes for Cook coming in. I kept saying things like, “He wont the 3-point contest!” while trying to convince myself he was the sharpshooter OKC needed. But Cook was as cold as ice in the seven games he appeared in. He’s 3-16 from 3 and 5-18 overall from the field. Not great for a guy that’s only job is to shoot well.
MOST IMPROVED SINCE OPENING NIGHT
Serge Ibaka is starting to scare me. Like I’m terrified by the time he’s eligible for a contract extension that Oklahoma City won’t have enough cap room to pay him. He just keeps moving up and up in terms of his ability. He actually has a refined offensive game now. Watching Ibaka grow as a player has been fun to watch, especially because you can see a massive difference between him now and even opening night. The mid-range jumper, the aggressiveness in the post, his help defense – all of it is better. I can’t wait to see what he looks like by even Christmas.
MOST UNDERRATED CONTRIBUTOR
This is a toss-up a bit between Eric Maynor and D.J. White, but I’m going with White. His numbers are slight and his minutes small, but in the few spots where Scott Brooks has called on him, White has helped. He’s played better defense, rebounded well and given the Thunder a nice insurance policy at the end of the bench. At some point, he’s going to either get a legitimate shot to make the rotation of this team, or he’s going somewhere else. I’m convinced D.J. White is going to contribute somewhere.
PLAYER THAT’S DESTINED TO PLAY BETTER
It’s weird that we keep feeling unfulfilled by Kevin Durant’s play early on. But the fact he’s shooting just 42 percent from the field and 26.7 percent from 3 doesn’t feel right. And it’s not going to keep up. At the end of November last season, KD was shooting 46.3 percent from the floor and just 23.7 percent from 3, while averaging 27.7 ppg. He followed that up with a better December (29.7 ppg on 49.3 and 38.6) and then started his absolute dominance in January (32.1 ppg on 51.9 and 53.2). I keep telling you, don’t worry about KD. He’s still an awesome, awesome basketball player. I think the fact the team is winning this season compared to a slower start last season is a great thing and speaks to how much better this team is.
OKLAHOMA CITY’S RECORD AT THE END OF NOVEMBER LAST SEASON
The Thunder was 9-8 and really had a much easier schedule to start. So far this season, there have only been a handful of games against teams where you feel like the Thunder shouldn’t lose. So the pace this season for OKC is much better if they’re going to win 50 again.
Kevin Durant leads the team (and the league) with 27.3 ppg as well as minutes per game (40.5). Russell Westbrook leads the team in assists per game with 8.4 and steals with 2.2. Westbrook is also tops in PER (third in the league), but leads the team with 3.9 turnovers per game. Serge Ibaka leads with 6.9 rpg, 2.1 bpg and is shooting the highest percentage from the field (58.0 percent). Eric Maynor is OKC’s top 3-point shooter at 40.9 percent.
LOOKING BACK AT PRESEASON PREDICTIONS
Back in August, I predicted how I thought the Thunder would do month-by-month this season. My guess for the first 18 games? A record of 12-6. And what are the Thunder? Why wouldn’t you know it, 12-6. GENIUS HERE PEOPLE.
I’d say after one month, it’s hard not to be happy. The record is good, the Thunder’s second in the Northwest and has the sixth seed right this second. Not bad for a team that we’d all agree isn’t playing anywhere near to what they’re capable of. But it’s just one month and there are three and half more to go. There’s no doubt that things could get better, but there’s also the option for it to go the other way. I’m nearly positive though that despite a nice 12-6 record, the Thunder’s only scratching the surface. I feel more relieved to have 12 wins right now than happy really. And I think that’s more reason to be encouraged.