A select number of fans getting anxious, agitated and overreactionary isn’t anything new. It happens in every fanbase, even the most appreciative, smart and complacent. But why does it seem to happen quite a bit with the Thunder, a team that by all accounts people should be thrilled about?
After both losses last week, Oklahoman beat writers wrote columns wondering if the two losses exposed flaws and warts and ugly spots and problems. Sure the Thunder played horribly in those two games and I suppose you could read deeper into them if you want. Every team has flaws and problems. Otherwise they’d be 23-0. It’s about correcting the flaws enough to get by and enough to survive in the postseason.
So, why the anxiety? Why is each game under the microscope?
Two reasons, I think:
1) People can see that the opportunity to win a championship right now is a real thing. So that’s stressful. Every little thing matters, which it should. But every missed rebound, every opponent 3-pointer, every failed inbounds play are just a sign that something needs to improve if the team is actually going to complete the task of raising a trophy. If you’re going to win it all, you’ve got to get everything under control. You’ve got to hide the blemishes and correct the flaws.
2) People still kind of can’t believe what they’re seeing. I think the scars of the Thunder’s first season are still fresh with some. Like, some can’t completely buy into the team being this good and so they live in fear of reality crashing down. Every loss is potentially the beginning of the end and things won’t feel better until the Thunder win again.
And then there’s the majority of the fanbase that sees it all as gravy, but wants to win. Thing is, there’s a little of everything in all of us. There’s anxiety and frustration after losses while also a realization that the team is good and everything will be OK. Just the life, times and real-life anxiety of a fan.
Now to the rankings:
1. Kevin Durant (Last week: 1)
Honestly it didn’t matter to me if KD scored a point against the Spurs Saturday, he was the player of the week simply for his brilliant close against the Grizzlies Friday. That was just superhuman stuff. But he’s been consistently productive throughout the season and has notched five consecutive double-doubles. And here’s something that says a ton about KD: Since that Wizards game where the Thunder gave up 19 offensive rebounds, Durant has averaged 11.0 rebounds per game. He took it upon himself to correct an issue. I love that.
2. Russell Westbrook (Last week: 2)
Westbrook averaged 5.0 turnovers to 5.2 assists per game last week. That’s 21 assists and 20 turnovers. I’ve always felt I was OK with Westbrook turning it over as long as they were the good kind where he was trying to create or make a play. But I didn’t mean that it was cool to turn it over five and six times a game. But that’s just Russell. Otherwise, he was really good over last week’s four games averaging 25.7 ppg while maintaining a good shooting percentage. Plus he shot 40 percent from 3, which is icing. However, getting torched by Tony Parker for 42 is not.
3. James Harden (Last week: 4)
Here’s my case that Harden deserves to be an All-Star reserve, which I truly believe: The West needs more than one shooting guard, right? So after Kobe, who do you take? Probably the guy that plays for the team with the best record in the NBA and has the next best PER to Kobe, right? Maybe you want to make a case for Kevin Martin or Monta Ellis but the numbers tell a different story. Now with only seven spots open and guys like Tony Parker and Steve Nash deserving consideration, I understand it’s likely that Harden would be an easy snub. Positions don’t really matter in this selection process, but Harden has solid numbers — 16.6 ppg, 3.5 apg, 4.2 rpg, 47 percent from the floor and a true shooting percentage of 64.8 — and he’s the third best player on the West’s best team. That normally counts for something.
4. Daequan Cook (Last week: 7)
Cook has done quality work in the starting lineup, but one of the more impressive developments has been his defense. It’s been nothing short of excellent. He contests shots well and rarely gets blatantly beat. He’s not extremely quick or athletic, but he’s always a threat on the floor and his presence alongside KD and Westbrook open the floor a bit. I really wouldn’t be opposed if Cook stayed in the starting five when Thabo returns, even though we know that won’t happen.
5. Serge Ibaka (Last week: 3)
Ibaka averaged 3.75 blocks per game this week. But that was greatly aided by his 10-swat performance against the Mavericks. It was a decent week for Ibaka, but not great. The Dallas game was a high point, but he didn’t play well against the Clippers or Spurs and was squeezed out of the Grizzlies game as Scott Brooks went small.
6. Nick Collison (Last week: 5)
Collison has been his usual solid self, but it seems to be harder and harder to notice his contributions. According to HoopData, Collison has only taken seven charges this season (league leader has taken 21). Harden has taken the same amount as Collison.
7. Kendrick Perkins (Last week: 6)
First, this happened. Which actually tempted me to put Perk in the top five because I love the fact that he didn’t run from the dunk but instead tried to stop two easy points. But that would mean I’d be ignoring the fact Perk was awful against the Spurs and Clippers, the two games OKC lost. Also: He picked up his ninth technical of the season which puts him four away from a suspension. He’s on pace for 26 which means he could be on pace to miss up to eight games. He says he’ll get it under control, but it’s time for it to start happening.
8. Reggie Jackson (Last week: 9)
One improvement I’d like to see from Jackson is more of a willingness to attack the rim. At Boston College, he had the ball in his hands all the time and did things like this. With the Thunder so far he seems content to shoot 3-pointers (41 2-pointers this season compared to 26 3s) and just move the ball. Being aggressive is a challenge for some rookies to figure out because it’s hard to know if it’s better to get a little crazy or just try and stay totally steady. I’d love to see Jackson try and take some risks and make some plays.
9. Cole Aldrich (Last week: 10)
10. Nazr Mohammed (Last week: 11)
Just when it looked like maybe Mohammed was getting squeezed from the rotation, he came back against the Grizzlies and Spurs and played seven and 10 minutes, respectively. There’s no doubt his minutes are getting chopped and his production is way down. It’s always good to have interior depth, but Mohammed’s time in the rotation could be coming to an end.
11. Lazar Hayward (Last week: 12)
Hey, Hayward got like real playing time this week. Started the fourth quarter against the Spurs and was part of a little Thunder comeback. And… that’s your Lazar Hayward update for the week.
12. Royal Ivey (Last week: 13)
You know how much Ivey is making this season for practicing and coming up with cool handshakes? $1.2 million. I want THAT job.
Inactives: Eric Maynor, Ryan Reid, Thabo Sefolosha