By the Thunder’s own admission, they played pretty poorly last week. A 2-2 week with both losses coming at home, including the inexcusable blown lead against Houston.
But here’s the thing: This stretch leading up to this week was seen as a an easy part in OKC’s schedule. A five-game homestand with very winnable games, it looked like the Thunder could rip off seven or eight wins in a row. But they slacked against teams they should beat, didn’t bring the usual amount of energy and focus and lost some games they shouldn’t have. It caused some mild concern among the fanbase, with it starting to boil when Oklahoma City fell behind San Antonio by 27 at home.
I think some of the concerns are valid. Scott Brooks said as much before the game Sunday, saying that he’s concerned, but he has the same concerns he had before the season started. And that’s the thing. The season is long, there are lots of games and sometimes you hit a lull. The next two weeks will say a lot about this team. Either it’ll make everyone forget about the little lull, or it’ll validate some of those concerns. Games against the Jazz, Clippers, Lakers, Wolves, Heat, Blazers, Bulls, Grizzlies, Heat again and Pacers line up a seriously difficult stretch for OKC. You could almost understand if they’ve sort of been looking ahead to those games this past week or so. Trying to just rest up and get ready for it. Maybe that explains the lapse in focus some nights. At least that’s what I’m telling myself.
Now to the rankings:
1. Russell Westbrook (Last week: 3)
One thing that’s been a tad overlooked about Westbrook this season is how incredibly consistent he’s been. He’s easily one of the most competitive guys in the league, but he’s brought it every single night. He’s scored in double-figures every game but one (the horrid Memphis game), and hasn’t scored fewer than 15 since Jan. 8. He’s scoring more than Derrick Rose per game and per 36 minutes. He’s doing it more efficiently and while his assist numbers are down, the Thunder offense is still better than ever. The partnership between him and Durant seems to be working terrifically with the two playing well off each other. Some might think Westbrook shoots too much but I’m not in that camp. He’s one of the best scorers in basketball. Telling him not to shoot is like Merrill in Signs: “Felt wrong not to swing.” Feels wrong for Russ not to shoot.
2. Kevin Durant (Last week: 2)
You know what’s a little strange? KD hasn’t taken at least 20 shots in a game since he took 27 against Phoenix two weeks ago. I don’t think there’s necessarily a reason for it, though Durant seems to talk about ball movement and sharing the ball more than ever right now. He scored less than usual this past week and didn’t have excellent percentages, but the thing about KD is “scoring less” means 25 points on 18 shots, instead of maybe 31 on 20.
3. James Harden (Last week: 1)
After having two career games in a week, Harden toned it down a notch averaging 16.7 points per game last week. No big scoring outburst, just the usual consistent 15-19 points a night from him. He did average 5.7 assists per game though, including seven against both Houston and Portland.
4. Serge Ibaka (Last week: 4)
Ibaka has become more and more consistent with his jumpshot that I think the Thunder really need to consider actually looking to him for that look within the offense. Because if teams are going to just give Ibaka a solid face-up 18-footer, I have enough confidence in him to make to warrant him taking three or four a game. That little shot adds such an extra level of diversity to the Thunder offense. You have Westbrook, Durant and Harden with the ability to attack and create and if that breaks down, now you can go to the pick-and-pop with Ibaka.
5. Thabo Sefolosha (Last week: N/A)
Good to have the NBA’s best 3-point shooter back in action. OK, so Thabo’s not actually the best and he’s not qualified to actually count because he’s missed so many games, but he’s shooting 52.9 percent from 3 this season. He’s 18-34 from deep. When Thunder fans would sit down at dinner and pray to Thor for things, having Thabo hit a consistent 3 was certainly close to the top. And he’s doing it. He’s obviously not totally healthy yet as the most he’s played is 15 minutes in his three games back, but there’s no big rush with it. He’s getting back to defensive form and best of all, he hasn’t lost the golden touch from outside.
6. Royal Ivey (Last week: 5)
With essentially the full roster back (sans Eric Maynor, of course), Ivey’s situation gets complicated. Daequan Cook is a much better spot shooter than Ivey, while Ivey has showcased he can be a game-changing defender. His effort on Tony Parker is something you know Scott Brooks is going to put in the back of his mind if the Thunder find themselves matched against San Antonio in a series. I don’t think Ivey’s going to get any regular rotation minutes, but he’s certainly going to be something Brooks has in the back of his mind if a big spot pops up, or if the team needs a jolt in the arm. And here’s another thing: He’s actually a point guard. He’s played off the ball all season, but by trade, Ivey’s a point guard. So if Reggie Jackson flubs in the playoffs, Brooks can always turn to Ivey to run that second unit.
7. Nick Collison (Last week: 6)
Adding another play to Collison’s anti-highlight mix to go with his failed behind-the-back pass: His free throw lane violation. Also, Collison said during a video thing that his favorite movie is “Hoosiers.” Least surprising thing ever, right? I think Nick actually played the part of Strap.
8. Daequan Cook (Last week: 10)
You can just see there’s a new comfort level with Cook now that he’s returned to his role as the spot sharpshooter off the bench. Plus, he’s had a bum shoulder the past few weeks that he’s played through. Since Thabo’s returned and Cook went back to the bench, he’s 4-9 from deep. That’s nine 3-point attempts in four games. He was sometimes doing that in a single night as a starter. He’s more comfortable finding those open looks in just 10-12 minutes rather than 25-30.
9. Kendrick Perkins (Last week: 7)
Not a great week for Perk, but he did do another splendid job on LaMarcus Aldridge Sunday. But that’s overshadowed by him getting worked by San Antonio’s pick-and-roll. Scott Brooks saw it too, playing Perk only 16 minutes against the Spurs, including only four in the second half. Perk makes a lot of money which is why I think people like to gripe about him, but he’s worth every penny when you see how effortlessly Andrew Bynum put up 33 points on 14 shots against Utah Sunday, and then how he couldn’t score at all against Perk.
10. Reggie Jackson (Last week: 9)
When Jackson looked across from him Sunday and saw Nolan Smith guarding him, it was like there was a sense of confidence that popped out that we haven’t really seen. He had a guy he knew he was better than last year in college trying to guard him. And immediately Jackson attacked Smith twice off the dribble. It’s that type of sure play that OKC needs from Jackson. He can mess up. He just needs to not exist on the floor. He needs to make some plays. While I don’t think the talk of maybe Derek Fisher coming in as a new backup will happen, Jackson does need to do something to give Scott Brooks a bit more confidence in him going forward. Maybe Westbrook just starts getting 44 minutes a game, or maybe Ivey gets those minutes. Or maybe Jackson starts to turn the corner. The guy has a bunch of talent. But he’s a rookie. He’s learning. And he’s got to do it on the fly.
11. Nazr Mohammed (Last week: 11)
Two really nice games to start the week, and then two games where he played a total of 14 minutes. Kind of sums up Mohammed’s season well.
12. Cole Aldrich (Last week: 8)
I know Brooks likes his smallball lineups and while they’ve been pretty successful this season, I’m a little intrigued to know how it would look with Aldrich as the 5. Brooks likes Perk as his center over Ibaka to give him a little bulk inside, but maybe Aldrich could bridge the gap between the two. Just a thought.
13. Lazar Hayward (Last week: 12)
Hayward played for the Thunder Friday, got assigned to the Tulsa 66ers on Saturday and then got recalled and played for the Thunder on Sunday. This season was already crazy enough for players without them getting yo-yo’d up and down I-44.
Inactives: Eric Maynor, Ryan Reid