You know what I’m a fan of? These three-game weeks. When the season started, the Thunder were playing four and even five games a week. It was constant basketball without much of a chance to breathe.
And I would assume as much as I’m enjoying the lighter schedule, the team is loving it. A couple weeks ago they got two days together in Washington DC. Right now after beating Golden State Friday, they got Saturday and Sunday to hang in Los Angeles before tonight’s game against the Clippers. Not bad. Not that they need it, but these type of road trips are terrific chemistry builders. You’re there with your team and that’s who you hang out with.
But the Thunder just wrapped up maybe the easiest stretch in their schedule going 3-0 last week with wins against the Hornets, Pistons and Warriors. Now it turns over with some good teams on the horizon. Oklahoma City has now won 11 of 12 with the lone loss being that awful one to the Wizards. They own the league’s best record again and have a 2.5-game edge on the Nuggets for home court in the West. Not a bad start to the season? In fact, it’s the second-best in franchise history.
Now to the rankings:
1. Kevin Durant (Last week: 2)
Durant was quietly sensational last week. First off, he pulled that cool move of asking a reporter to explain why people care so much about him and Westbrook. Really no good reason it was cool except for, who does that? But KD’s numbers: 27.3 ppg, 8.6 rpg, 3.0 apg, 60 percent from the field and hit 20-21 from the line. He had the 37-point, 14-rebound game against the Warriors, was great down the stretch against the Hornets and didn’t play the fourth quarter against the Pistons but still scored 20 points on 13 shots. And here’s the thing: I still don’t think we’re getting the very best Durant has to offer. For one, he turned it over 15 times last week, but I don’t think he’s entirely into a rhythm scoring the ball yet. With the rise of James Harden along with Westbrook, Durant has to score less, so his numbers are down (plus, the fact OKC has blown out a lot of teams and KD hasn’t been playing 38 minutes a night), but he’s still putting up silly numbers. He might not win a scoring title this year, but Durant could be playing his best basketball yet.
2. Russell Westbrook (Last week: 1)
Huzzah! Westbrook had a double-digit assist game! There are a lot of reasons it’s taken 19 games for Westbrook to crack that this season, but it hasn’t mattered. The Thunder are better when Westbrook piles up assists, but still, the team is 16-3. Through 19 games last season, Westbrook had already had eight double-digit assist games. He started a bit slowly this year and while the turnovers are still ugly, he’s beginning to really dominate games.
3. Serge Ibaka (Last week: 4)
He’s back. Ibaka recorded his first double-double of the season against the Warriors but more importantly, has looked like his old self with the relentless energy and enthusiasm. Ibaka averaged 13.3 ppg and 9.6 rebounds last week, which included consecutively his three best games of the season. He was great against the Pistons, then great against the Hornets and then really great against the Warriors.
4. James Harden (Last week: 5)
It was a fantastic week for The Beard as he averaged 20.3 ppg on 65 percent shooting. But better than that, Harden averaged 2.3 points per shot (61 points on 26 attempts). That’s one efficient beard. But it says something good about the team when Harden slips down to fourth best on the team when he’s doing stuff like that.
5. Nick Collison (Last week: 6)
Per usual, Collison’s numbers aren’t anything to look at, but which means it was a very Nick Collison week. Against the Warriors, Collison played a wonderful 25 minutes where he did work on the glass and played fantastic pick-and-roll defense. The Thunder were a +29 with him on the court, which isn’t all that surprising considering OKC went 3-0, but still, when Collison plays, the Thunder typically do well.
6. Kendrick Perkins (Last week: 7)
Perk grabbed 15 total rebounds last week. He scored five total points. That’s probably more ammunition for those that think Perk isn’t playing well this season. But I would say this: The Thunder have one of the three best offenses in the league right now. Do you really think OKC needs Perk scored eight points a game? And for the rebounding: Sometimes, individual rebounds are a funny thing to care about. Watch a game closely and see how many easy rebounds Perk might grab if not for Ibaka or Durant jumping and snatching it away. I agree, Perk could be playing better. But to suggest he’s been bad or the Thunder need to think about a change there is silly. His post defense has been terrific and in the cases where OKC needed something different like quickness to defend a pick-and-roll, Scott Brooks sat Perk and played someone else.
7. Daequan Cook (Last week: 8)
Five 3s on 11 attempts for Cook last week. Not really much else to say other than that. But here’s something: How good of a help rebounder is Cook? He’s consistently in the paint grabbing rebounds against bigger guys. Looking at his numbers he only pulled in four total rebounds last week, but it felt like 14.
8. Thabo Sefolosha (Last week: 3)
A sore foot, 1-6 from 3 and only 11 total points for Thabo. Bringing us back down to earth.
9. Reggie Jackson (Last week: 10)
It’s not that Reggie Jackson is playing badly, it’s just that he’s not doing much. He’s initiating the offense fine and hitting a runner or a jumper when he’s open, but unlike Maynor, how many points has Jackson really created? What I mean is, how many times can you think of where Jackson beat someone off the dribble and kicked out to an open man or dropped a pass to a cutter for a layup? I can’t really think of any. He’s just kind of out there, which isn’t bad. He could be completely sucking and screwing up, so I guess we should take it.
10. Cole Aldrich (Last week: 11)
I don’t really know how Brooks could transition from Nazr Mohammed to Cole Aldrich in the rotation without it being a little awkward, but I’d at least like to see what happens. Maybe Aldrich gets eight minutes a game for the next week and we all say, “Yeah, Mohammed’s better,” but I’d kind of like to know.
11. Nazr Mohammed (Last week: 9)
It really feels like Mohammed is playing terrible, but looking at his numbers, he grabbed 12 rebounds in 32 minutes last week. Not terrible. At the same time, he’s getting beat a lot on the offensive glass and I think his defense has slipped. He’s not really a presence inside and as for impacting the game, there’s not much there. He’s a backup center so what production you get is often icing, but it seems like Brooks is cutting in to Mohammed’s time more and more. He was consistently playing 14-18 minutes a game last season and that number is often in the 8-10 this year.
12. Lazar Hayward (Last week: 12)
Here’s what separates Hayward from Ivey this week: Hayward scored three points, Ivey scored zero. I’m also going to choose to assume Hayward had a couple really great practices too.
13. Royal Ivey (Last week: 13)
Before tipoff, Ivey likes to go to midcourt and try a bunch of one-handed underhand halfcourt shots. My unofficial guess on his season stats: 0-96. I haven’t seen him make one yet. He gets close and will hit backboard or rim, but not one that I’ve seen has gone in. I’m also curious as to how he hasn’t hit someone right in the fact with one of his errant tosses yet as well.
Inactives: Eric Maynor, Ryan Reid