So, it was a pretty good first half for the Thunder. Rewind your brain to Christmas Day where we were all looking at the schedule and saying things like, “A 6-4 start would be pretty good” and look at the first half of the season for Oklahoma City.
27-7. Best record in the West. Tied for the best record in the league. Nine games up on Portland in the Northwest. The best point differential in the West. And a clear favorite to represent the Western Conference in The Finals.
Yeah, I’d say the first half of the season has gone alright. But that’s the thing: It’s only halfway finished. There’s a whole other 33-game schedule waiting on OKC to play. There will be frustrating nights like losses to the Kings and Wizards. And there will be big, dramatic wins like over the Nuggets and Mavericks. It’s all about staying consistent. Not getting too high, or too low. Keeping your eyes on the prize and pushing toward that top seed and homecourt throughout the Western playoffs.
The NBA season is kind of a three-part process. First half, second half, playoffs. The Thunder are done with a third of it. Now it’s on to step two. Think about step three when it gets here.
Now to the rankings:
1. Kevin Durant (Last week: 1)
Let’s run down KD’s first half. He’s rounded out his game to become more of a complete player than ever, assisting more (3.4 a game), rebounding better (8.1 a game) and creating his own shot. He’s averaging 27.9 points per game, but doing as efficient as ever, hitting 51.3 percent from the field. He’s got a PER of 27.75, second to only LeBron. He’s won a bundle of games in the last two minutes, hit game-winners, made clutch plays and won an All-Star MVP. Yeah, I think he’s done alright so far.
2. Russell Westbrook (Last week: 2)
If I told you Westbrook was having his best season, you’d probably say, “Yeah, but his assists are down.” And that’s true. By three a game. But has that really hurt OKC’s offense much? Westbrook is scoring more than ever (23.5 ppg) and doing it at his most efficient levels (47 percent from the field). He’s shooting more, assisting less but unless you’re entirely wrapped into the idea that Westbrook needs to pass the ball and stand in the corner, it’s pretty clear that there’s a legit discussion as to if Russ and KD are a deadlier duo than LeBron and Wade.
3. James Harden (Last week: 4)
I’m serious when I tell people that Harden has been as valuable to OKC’s 27 wins as either Westbrook or Durant. Because just his presence is the adhesive the Thunder’s offense needs to run properly. Even if he gets shut out while Westbrook and KD do their thing in the fourth quarter, those two or three possessions where Harden creates an easy basket for himself or a teammate are bigger than you think. He’s a little things player, while doing big things. It’s his best season yet, as well as the Thunder’s, which isn’t a coincidence.
4. Serge Ibaka (Last week: 3)
Remember when Ibaka started slow and people were all like, “What’s up with Serge Ibaka?” Here’s what’s up: double-digit block games, triple-doubles and crazy offensive rebounding. I think we all expected a little more development from Ibaka in his mid-range and post games, but those haven’t been big things because, well, OKC’s offense is rolling.
5. Kendrick Perkins (Last week: 6)
If you asked Perk how he’d grade his first half, he’d probably give it a D or something. He’s hard on himself and has no problem with you being hard on him. He expects better rebounding, better scoring and fewer turnovers. Perk has a PER of just 7.03, which is the worst among starting centers. He has a turnover rate of 28.9 which with how much he handles it, it astronomical. But as you saw last Thursday against the Lakers, Perk’s post defense is extremely important to the success of the team. And he’s playing better in the box score too. His last three games he’s averaging 10.6 rebounds per.
6. Daequan Cook (Last week: 8)
As shooters tend to do, Cook went through a pretty serious slump. During a 10-day stretch in February, he missed 34 of his 38 3-point attempts. But his last two outings have been better. He’s gone 5-15, which is respectable. But more importantly, his confidence hasn’t been rattled. Cook’s role is to shoot when open. And he has to do it. He can’t ever turn down an open 3, otherwise he would need to get off the floor. Maybe 15 3s in two games is a bit much, but it’s kind of hard to tell him to chill, especially if you’re like me and think it’s going in every time he fires one up.
7. Royal Ivey (Last week: 11)
Ivey deserves a whole lot of credit for being ready to go when called upon by Scott Brooks. The Thunder’s second unit needed a steady presence on it, and Ivey has helped provide it. He’s been playing off the ball, still giving Jackson time at point guard, but Ivey’s shown off a good corner 3 stroke. Once Thabo returns, it’s unlikely Ivey maintains that time on the floor, but having those type of veteran luxuries at the end of a bench is something that separates great teams from good ones.
8. Reggie Jackson (Last week: 9)
Jackson had maybe his worst game against the Celtics last week, but bounced back with a good one against the Lakers. Such is the life of a rookie point guard. He still needs to be more decisive and take more responsibility, but then again, sometimes just getting out of the way of Harden’s two-man game with whoever is the smartest thing he can do.
9. Nazr Mohammed (Last week: 7)
Mohammed’s just sort of there. You see him show up on the floor and from then until the time he sits, you really don’t think a whole lot about him. That’s good, and bad. Good because it means he’s not doing anything that makes you say, “Freaking Nazr,” but bad because he’s not doing anything that makes you say, “FREAKING NAZR!!!”
10. Cole Aldrich (Last week: 10)
The Free Cole movement has lost some steam ever since Cole was actually freed and played minutes. But don’t be discouraged just because of what you saw in a brief six-minute run in the regular rotation. Aldrich’s activity on defense was definitely a good thing, and he absolutely has the ability to be a premier screen-setter and offensive rebounder. He needs work. He knows it. And that’s why he hasn’t fully cracked the rotation yet. But don’t give up on him just yet.
11. Ryan Reid (Last week: N/A)
Still can’t get over Reid having his family meet and take a picture with KD after the Boston game last week. It was hard not to stop and say, “awwwwwwww.”
Inactives: Eric Maynor, Thabo Sefolosha, Nick Collison, Lazar Hayward