The Thunder had a 3-1 week and yes, it could’ve been 1-3 very easily. The easy explanation is that’s just the difference between a good team and an average one, but that’s the truth. That’s the explanation. The Thunder have been outstanding late in games. Down six with three minutes left? No reason to panic, no reason to doubt. With No. 35 and No. 0 standing together for OKC, the Thunder aren’t ever out of it.
That’s beauty of having talent. And a good team. The Thunder hit free throws, get stops and make big shots when they need them. I suppose OKC’s six or seven plays away from being 17-10, but you know what, they made them. So they’re 21-6 and have the best record in basketball. It’s not an accident. It’s not really even luck. The Thunder are a good team and make their own breaks.
Now to the rankings:
1. Kevin Durant (Last week: 1)
Save for the Jazz game Friday where KD’s Kid Clutch heroics weren’t needed, it was another stellar week for Kevin Durant. He sent the game against Portland to overtime with a goaltend that shouldn’t have been called but was and then beat the Warriors by potentially accidentally going glass. He’s Batman. He hits the big shots, gets the big rebounds, makes the big plays. Time and time again, KD has saved the Thunder’s skin. It’s what he’s supposed to do. Flash the Durantula signal and he shows up to save the day. It’s why he’s one of the three best players in the league. Also, some had written KD off from winning the scoring title this year, but he’s just 2.3 points per game behind Kobe now. That’s just a couple big nights away for KD.
2. Russell Westbrook (Last week: 2)
Westbrook averaged 30.0 points per game last week and took 91 shots. KD averaged 28.0 points and took 89 shots. For the season, Westbrook has attempted 506 to KD’s 523. Does Russell shoot too much? Yeah, probably. But does he score the ball really, really well when he does? Yeah, he does. And I won’t lie: I’m not psyched about the dip in his assists.
What’s the explanation for it? I think it’s two-part: 1) Because James Harden is such a bigger part of the offense and KD is assisting more and 2) because the Thunder offense really isn’t built for ball movement, cutting and passing. It’s an iso oriented offense that aims to get talented scorers the ball in scoring positions. Whether that’s KD on a curl, Westbrook isolated or Harden in a two-man game, the Thunder offense just wants those three guys to have the option to score. Most of OKC’s assists come via transition or a kickout to a shooter. Durant is taking more people off the dribble than ever before so Westbrook’s assists to KD curling off a screen have taken a hit. I don’t think it’s a thing where Westbrook is more selfish or he’s not playing point guard as well, but more just a product of the almost too efficient Thunder offense.
3. James Harden (Last week: 3)
So we can put the “Harden sucks on the road” stuff to bed, yes? During the run of eight of nine on the road, Harden averaged 15.1 points a game on 40 percent shooting. Yeah, his best game of the nine was at home against the Spurs (24 points) and the most he scored on the road was 19. But he did it four times. Subtract the game he started against the Clippers where he scored only seven points and Harden averaged 16.3 ppg on the road trip.
4. Serge Ibaka (Last week: 5)
Ibaka is brilliantly inconsistent, but not necessarily in an infuriating way. He’s not a featured, prominent part of the offense so most times what production that comes along is a bonus. That bonus is coming in the form of double-digit blocked shot games and animalistic offensive rebounding. The dude is a terror on the offensive glass right now. All the things he does wrong on the defensive boards is paying off on the other end. He doesn’t block out well, which isn’t something that matters much rebounding your team’s missing shots. He jumped with his arms stretched high, is way long and can grab a rebound well in traffic.
5. Kendrick Perkins (Last week: 7)
Getting consistency out of Perk is the ultimate goal. He played an unreal defensive game the last four minutes of regulation and overtime against LaMarcus Aldridge. Then he wasn’t much of a factor against Golden State and Sacramento. Then he registered his first double-double of the season against the Jazz. Like I said, you can either be a Negative Nancy and point to the fact it’s February and your starting 5 is just now reaching 10 points and 10 rebounds in a game (in fact, it was only Perk’s third double-digit rebounding game). Or you could be a Positive Paul (Positive Paul?) and say Perk had a quality week and is playing better. His post defense has always been good, his offense horrific but the rebounding has come and gone. If he can get his work straight on the boards, I’ll happily take two of those three things.
6. Nick Collison (Last week: 6)
Wouldn’t you know it I call Collison out last week for not taking charges and he goes and takes three in a game and six for the week.
7. Daequan Cook (Last week: 4)
The life of a marksman. You have the hot nights where you drill 5-6 from deep and score 17 points. And then you have the ice cold nights where you go 1-9 from 3 and score only three. Cook has done a really solid job in the starting five though. Other than hitting a 3, which is awesome, he hasn’t really been all that noticeable, which is the way you want to be alongside Durant and Westbrook. He’s basically playing the Thabo role well, except with exceptional 3-point shooting.
8. Nazr Mohammed (Last week: 10)
Breaking: Nazr Mohammed did not, in fact, retire at the beginning of January. He’s still playing. And for the first time in a few weeks, played some quality minutes off the Thunder bench. His minutes are still way down (he averaged 10.7 mpg last week) but minutes don’t matter as much as him giving OKC something when he plays.
9. Reggie Jackson (Last week: 8)
Jackson’s not in a fair position. He’s trying to replace Eric Maynor, maybe the best backup point guard in basketball. He’s a rookie learning on the fly. And he’s on a contender that expects production. Still, the Thunder aren’t getting much from. It’s obvious how uncomfortable he is. When he dribbles the ball up and immediately seeks out Harden to run the offense, you can almost see the relief on his face that he didn’t turn it over. He’s going to get better. The jumper against the Jazz was nice. He was a guy that averaged almost 20 ppg in college and has ability. It’s about comfort and confidence for him.
10. Cole Aldrich (Last week: 9)
11. Royal Ivey (Last week: 12)
You can’t argue with Bill Simmons who has Royal Ivey as maybe the top “chemist” in the league. A chemist being that ultimate locker room vet that really doesn’t have a lot of value outside coming up with pregame handshakes and 3-pointer celebrations. Ivey is an All-Chemist Team All-Star for sure, if not the captain.
12. Lazar Hayward (Last week: 11)
Probably not fair to have Hayward behind Ivey because in terms of PER, Hayward has a major edge. Hayward is at 2.29 while Ivey is at -5.64. Yes, that’s a negative. But Hayward’s HER (Handshake Efficiency Rating) is a pedestrian 9.54 while Ivey leads the league with a historic 35.78.
Inactives: Eric Maynor, Ryan Reid, Thabo Sefolosha