Contrary to popular belief, the season is not over. The Thunder have not been crowned anything. There are still 14 games remaining.
But the past week was pretty darn special. Thing is, the NBA season only moves forward though. Now it’s games against the Grizzlies, Heat (again) and Pacers. There’s work to be done. The Thunder made a pretty loud statement and climbed atop everyone’s power rankings, but the Spurs are still nipping at OKC’s heels and the season still isn’t done. It appears the Thunder are hitting a stride right now and while I’m sure there will be a hiccup or two along the way, we’re seeing what the team is capable of. When they play with energy, focus and effort for a full 48, they’re basically awesome.
There’s still room for improvement and still time to get better though. I keep saying it almost as a reminder to myself but there aren’t any trophy presentations in March or April. It’s about the big picture. Handle business one night at a time and then tackle the postseason when it gets here.
But man, what a week.
Now to the rankings:
1. Russell Westbrook (Last week: 2)
I think we might’ve seen the best three-game stretch in Russell Westbrook’s career. That’s probably a little bold and I’m sure you could find a better set from last season or something, but in terms of magnitude, impact and overall how well he performed, I don’t know that Westbrook’s ever played better. He torched Portland, completely dominated the Lakers and then owned the Bulls in three quarters. And in those three games? Five total turnovers. That’s right. Five. Take away what was really a bogus traveling violation against the Lakers and Westbrook’s gone two games without a turnover. In fact, since he gave it away seven times against Denver two weeks ago, Westbrook’s averaging just 2.2 turns per game over the last nine games.
This season, Westbrook has led OKC in scoring 17 times, while KD has done it 30 times (Harden’s done it twice). Here’s my question for all those that question Westbrook’s offense: Isn’t scoring diversity a really good thing? Don’t you want that option to look elsewhere for points? Isn’t that what everyone agrees makes the Heat so dangerous?
I attempted to make the point at CBSSports.com that if the Thunder are going to win a championship, they’re going to need the Russell Westbrook that’s not afraid to shoot 30 times in a game, the guy that’s not shying from taking big shots and making big plays. He’s just too good to not be. There are absolutely times he forces it, takes dumb shots or makes bad plays. He’s going to have a bad game or two in the playoffs and it’ll get everyone harrumphing about. But Westbrook’s got to play that way. That’s how the team has been built to win, and they’re doing a pretty good job of it right now. You can’t change now. Be who you are and if it’s good enough, great. If not, you live with it.
2. Kevin Durant (Last week: 1)
As someone that probably loves KD as much or more than his own mother, I don’t really need to sit here and list the things he’s awesome at off. But here’s one more: Durant’s willingness to step aside for Westbrook (or Harden) is one of the reason’s he so very special and also so very clearly the leader of this team. Some guys truly would have an issue with what some see as a brewing alpha dog issue. But it’s not an issue because KD doesn’t make it so.
He’s a really smart guy. He understands what’s working and why the team’s winning. And he’s not going to compromise all that just for something as arbitrary as so-called alpha status. You know how we all know this is KD’s team? Because he doesn’t have to say so. There would be questions if he was having to try and prove that as a point whether be in the media or with him forcing the issue in games. It’s pretty clear that he’s the Thunder’s go-to option in the clutch and that Westbrook defers to him pretty openly in the fourth quarter. So what that Westbrook sometimes takes more shots than he does. I say if KD’s cool with it, we all should be.
3. Serge Ibaka (Last week: 4)
Ibaka’s averages for March: 10.4 points, 8.5 rebounds and 3.6 blocks per game, along with 56 percent shooting. Consistency was once an issue with Ibaka and while his minutes sometimes fluctuate based on matchups, he’s putting in near double-double efforts almost every night. And you can just see the confidence dripping from him with his jumper. There are lots of X-factors in the postseason, but Ibaka’s certainly going to be a big one.
4. James Harden (Last week: 3)
Not the best scoring output from Harden as he went for 21 against Portland, then nine against the Lakers and 11 against Chicago. But combining the Miami and Portland games, Harden scored 40 points on 12-14 shooting. That’s ridiculous.
5. Thabo Sefolosha (Last week: 7)
The fact Kobe Bryant so openly despises Thabo tells you everything you need to know. I’m not sure anyone defends Kobe better. Thabo’s length and instincts are absolutely terrific on Bryant, or anyone for that matter. He just makes the Thunder so long. Every passing lane is covered up, every shot is contested.
6. Nick Collison (Last week: 5)
Against the Bulls, Collison dunked on Omer Asik. It was impressive enough for me to say, “Holy crap, did Nick Collison just dunk on Omer Asik?!” But wouldn’t you know it, when I went back to rip video of the play to watch over and over again 800 times, the ABC broadcast missed it because it was showing a graphic about Kevin Love. Collison does something outstanding, and nobody sees it. Isn’t that just
7. Kendrick Perkins (Last week: 6)
After EXPLODING for 40 points in three games, it was back to normal for Perk Sunday against Chicago. But I think we’re getting a taste of the postseason Perk. He’s been in shape all season, but his aggression and intensity against the Heat and Lakers was extremely encouraging.
8. Derek Fisher: (Last week: 8)
Since Fisher was signed, the Thunder are 6-0 with blowout wins over the Clippers, Heat, Blazers and Bulls, along with terrific wins over the Wolves and Lakers. They’ve won those games by an average margin of 14.1 points. M-V-P?
9. Cole Aldrich (Last week: 13)
How about the two blocks Aldrich busted out at the rim against the Bulls? He didn’t see anything other than mop up duty, but that’s a way to make an impression during it.
10. Royal Ivey (Last week: 11)
Scott Brooks randomly tossed Ivey into the game against the Lakers when OKC was trailing big. I like how Ivey’s become Brooks’ message to his team they aren’t playing hard enough. Like when Ivey comes in during a second quarter, it’s basically saying that Brooks wants some energy.
11. Lazar Hayward (Last week: 9)
Think about what Hayward’s contributed this season. You’re not thinking about very much, I realize. But he’s given some decent minutes, played some in the rotation, hit a few 3s and played solid defense. And now think about what OKC gave up to get him: Robert Vaden and a second round pick. Not too bad then, right?
12. Nazr Mohammed (Last week: 12)
Nazr Mohammed went to Kentucky’s Final Four game against Louisville Saturday afternoon and returned home Saturday night to be ready for OKC’s game Sunday against Chicago. That’s good hustle.
13. Reggie Jackson (Last week: 14)
Watching him play in sparse garbage time minutes Sunday made me stop and wonder, “How in the world did OKC survive with him as its backup point guard for two months?” Mop up time is tough because it’s sloppy, but Jackson still has lots of work to do.
Inactives: Eric Maynor, Daequan Cook