Coming into last week’s slate of games, I think most Thunder fans, or at least realistic Thunder fans, were set to be satisfied with a 2-1 road trip. Oklahoma City was rocking along with the best record in the league and a six-game win streak, but a big game against a hungry, desperate Celtics team was waiting.
But with a solid win over the Celtics, the Thunder were in prime position to stretch that streak out to 12 before a game in Los Angeles against the Clippers. And then a funny thing happened: The Thunder lost to the league’s worst team. It wasn’t that jarring, as it kind of felt like it could be coming. Still, the Thunder went 2-1, but just not in the way that was really expected. Because of that, I’d give the team a C grade for the week. Two wins are good, but the loss to Washington and an ugly win over the lowly Nets didn’t make it a banner week by any means.
Now to the rankings:
1. Russell Westbrook (Last week: 1)
First, Russell done got paid. No more wondering about if Westbrook was really a long-term fit or if there was a chance he wanted to play elsewhere where he got be the alpha dog. He’s locked in to being Kevin Durant’s best friend for five more years. And whether it was the weight lifting off him as the extension neared a conclusion, but Westbrook has been spectacular the past couple weeks. This one being no exception. He was terrific closing out Boston with his 3-point barrage, played well in a loss to the Wizards (36 points) and was fantastic on both ends of the floor against the Nets. His averages for the week: 27.6 points, 6.0 assists, 5.0 rebounds and just 3.3 turnovers per game.
2. Kevin Durant (Last week: 2)
It says a whole lot about Kevin Durant when he has a 20-point, 15-rebound game and even he calls it an off night. He’s been good lately, but did you know his 33 against the Wizards was his first 30-point game of 2012? He hasn’t been scoring quite at his normal insane clip. He’s maybe settling for his outside jumper a bit much as he took 23 3-pointers last week, hitting just four (18 percent). You can never say KD’s play was bad, but for him, it was a bit average.
3. Thabo Sefolosha (Last week: 7)
I’m ready to say it: Thabo’s defense this season has returned the level it was at when he was named second-team All-Defense in 2010. It was obvious the difference in Nick Young when Thabo was on him compared to when Durant or James Harden were. Thabo’s instincts and persistence defensively are just off the charts. Plus, don’t forget, he’s fitting in better than ever offensively. The 19-point game against Boston was an outlier for sure, but he’s taking — and making — just the open shots and not trying to do too much. One thing remains though: He’s absolutely horrible with the ball in his hands during a 3-on-1 or 3-on-2.
4. Serge Ibaka (Last week: 5)
I don’t know that Serge Ibaka is finally coming around after a slow start, but I definitely think he’s playing much, much better. The five blocks against the Nets were great, but his defense overall improved. He wasn’t gambling as much to try and swat everything and was staying disciplined with his help defense. Ibaka’s scoring isn’t a concern for me (he scored 18 points in three games last week) as long as he brings his energy, defense and rebounding. He still needs work on the glass as he just tries to jump for rebounds instead of actually using his body, but you can definitely see Ibaka is finding his old defensive groove.
5. James Harden (Last week: 3)
Harden has been wonderful this season but a trend is developing that’s kind of hard to ignore. At home: 19.1 ppg, 4.3 apg, 52.8 percent from the field and 38.7 percent from 3. On the road: 14.0 ppg, 2.1 apg, 39.5 percent from the field and 34.1 percent from 3. It’s early so that still could be a bit coincidental, but trends like that often can stick around for the duration of a season. It’s sometimes hard to figure why a guy plays better at home than on the road, but it’s a small issue with Harden right now.
6. Nick Collison (Last week: 4)
Fun fact about Collison: He only lost one game spanning from third grade through his senior year of high school. Think about that. One game. When Scott Brooks can only think to describe Collison with the cliche of “he’s a winner,” well, that actually fits.
7. Kendrick Perkins (Last week: 6)
Scott Brooks says all the time — and I mean all the time — that he never looks at the box score with Perk. And I understand it. Because Perk does so much that the traditional line doesn’t pick up. He doesn’t even get the plus-minus boost Nick Collison does. But at some point, you have to expect Perk to rebound the ball better. In a week where the Thunder struggled on the glass, Perk had just 16 total rebounds. For a guy 6-10 that played 30 minutes a game, that’s not great. The Thunder preach team rebounding, but Nenad Krstic grabbed five rebounds a game. Perk is tough, nasty, mean and one heckuva post defender, but he’s got to get big on the boards too.
8. Daequan Cook (Last week: 9)
It kind of seems like Cook has dropped off, but he’s been fairly steady since getting past that brief goggles phase. Hitting 3-pointers for a living is kind of a tough gig and there will be some nights where it’s just 1-5 from deep for Cook and others where he’s 3-5. But a lot of it is the timing of the 3. He’s had a knack all year for hitting a big one when OKC needs to stop a run or kick their own into overdrive. He can hit just one a game for all I care as long as it’s the right one.
9. Nazr Mohammed (Last week: 8)
If this were a Scarf Wearing Power Rankings list, Mohammed would be No. 1. That dude loves a good scarf. Every game he leaves, he’s rocking one. Basketball speaking though, Mohammed really hasn’t been great lately. He hasn’t rebounded well and hasn’t played a whole lot of minutes either. But his scarf game is still staying tight.
10. Reggie Jackson (Last week: 10)
This past week, Jackson played just 30 minutes, had only five assists and seven points. I think the most likely move Scott Brooks is going to make to replace Eric Maynor is to just play Russell Westbrook more. Jackson isn’t completely ready to fill that role as of yet. He doesn’t look that comfortable and seems to have a little difficulty feeling the game out.
11. Cole Aldrich (Last week: 11)
Thought: With the Thunder’s rebounding slipping a bit lately, would it make sense to make go big instead of small? For instance, what about trying out Aldrich in a lineup with Nazr Mohammed or Perk? It’s not going to happen, but Aldrich is a good rebounder and I just wonder if maybe for a three-minute burst if it would work to give that a shot.
12. Lazar Hayward (Last week: 12)
Here’s where it’s at for Hayward: I spent 15 minutes Googling and browsing his Wikipedia page to try and find some kind of fun fact to add here. I got nothing.
13. Royal Ivey (Last week: 13)
There’s going to come a time when Ivey gets real minutes. I can just feel it. I think Scott Brooks still feels like Reggie Jackson needs minutes and the only way for the rookie to get settled and improve is to play. But Ivey is steady, consistent and smart. I can see a game where Ivey steps in front of Jackson, not as a sign of a switch, but just to make sure the veteran is ready for when called upon too.
Inactives: Eric Maynor, Ryan Reid