I said it Sunday prior to the Lakers game, but I’m not of the mind of trying to position better for postseason matchups. I think you play the games to win, and let the chips fall where they may.
But… if it so happens to work out, then so be it. Because with the Thunder’s loss Sunday, the Lakers essentially guaranteed themselves the 3-seed with the Clippers and Grizzlies sitting four and five. Which of course means the Thunder would draw the Lakers in the second round (or Nuggets/Mavericks) and not the Clippers or Grizzlies. Favorable, I’d say.
The Thunder clearly matchup better with the Lakers (or Nuggets/Mavs) than they do with the Clippers or Grizzlies. Either would obviously be a challenge, which is kind of the point when you’re in the postseason. You can’t expect to cruise to The Finals. It’s a difficult road, you have to beat good teams and you have to plan on challenging matchups. But if it so happens to be a little bit more favorable, nobody’s going to argue about it.
Now to the rankings:
1. Kevin Durant (Last week: 1)
A lot of people have felt like KD missed an opportunity to win the MVP because of a lackluster April. And while it’s certainly true his team has skidded a bit, Durant’s April has been anything but poor. He’s averaging 28.8 points per game on 48.3 percent shooting. In other words, a fairly typical Durant month of basketball.
But that Laker game Sunday wasn’t typical. Thirty-four attempts a career-high. Twenty-three misses a career-high. There was credit being thrown to Devin Ebanks and while I guess he chased Durant around, I wouldn’t say Ebanks had much to do with KD missing open jumpers. And I’m not talking about shots we’re used to seeing Durant make over defenders. I’m talking about wide open free throw line jumpers.
At the end of the game, the cameras caught Mike Brown laughing with KD by the Laker bench and I am assuming Brown was probably saying, “Hey thanks for not being your normally awesome self today.”
2. James Harden (Last week: 6)
So, this happened, which is a bummer. Concussions aren’t something Harden can just play through. He has to pass the league’s mandatory concussion tests and then he can return. It could be one day. It could be five. It could be 10. It just depends on the severity of it.
But other than the fact Harden had has beard rearranged by a ridiculously filthy elbow from Metta World Douche, he had the best game of his career against the Suns — 40 points on only 17 shots — followed it up by playing wonderfully against the Kings and was well on his way to another likely outstanding effort against the Lakers with 14 first half points on just seven attempts.
Like I mentioned in the recap, I think we all saw just how valuable Harden is to the Thunder. Speculating a team wins a game if a player is available is annoying, but there’s no doubt OKC beats the Lakers if Harden plays that second half. When the offense stalled out late in the fourth, having Harden as a shooter to kick to or a pick-and-roll ballhandler to create would’ve been huge. Which is why if he’s out for an extended amount of time, Thunder fans should be worried.
3. Russell Westbrook (Last week: 2)
Westbrook’s slumping. Here are his scoring outputs for last week: 9, 15, 18, 14. He shot 21-69 (30.4 percent) last week. His mid-range has mostly disappeared, he’s hit 11-39 in the month of April and seems to be a bit out of sorts offensively. Some have asked if this is Westbrook regressing back to his normal self, but that’s not it at all. He’s proven he can shoot and score efficiently. He’s just not playing his best right now. His 3-of-22 performance had a lot to do with Kobe bulldogging him defensively, but to Westbrook’s credit, he was a major reason the Thunder found their way into overtime at all. Westbrook forced four big free throws, and kept attacking in the first overtime.
He just needs to get right these next two heading to the playoffs.
4. Serge Ibaka (Last week: 3)
Here’s the question: Should Serge Ibaka win Defensive Player of the Year? David Aldridge in his NBA.com column picked Ibaka as his DPOY saying this: “At any rate, Ibaka has already surpassed his block total from all of last season despite playing nearly 200 fewer minutes. He leads the league in swats (3.6), but it’s not just the rejections that make him the league’s standard bearer. His intimidation factor is close to Howard’s, and the Thunder have become tougher to score on in the paint. (OKC has improved from 13th to eighth in defensive efficiency, even more impressive considering the Thunder are sixth overall in pace, meaning they have more possessions per game than most teams.)”
That’s a pretty good argument for Ibaka. But Defensive Player of the Year has turned into a little bit of a hipster NBA award, one where people want to give it to the unsung defensive hero that may not have the stats but is the glue to a terrific defensive team, i.e. Tyson Chandler or Kevin Garnett. I’m not at all opposed to that type of player winning the award, especially because defense is a whole lot more than blocked shots. I tend to favor a guy like Tony Allen because he’s a defensive nightmare for whatever player finds himself guarding by him.
But Ibaka should certainly be considered. His raw number of blocks is enough (he has 236 compared to the next closest player having 132). He’s impacted the Thunder defensively because it’s allowed OKC’s guards to be more aggressive on the ball because they know they have Ibaka in help defense to rotate over and swat a shot. He changes the Thunder defensively with his presence. He forces other teams to stay out of the paint and shoot jumper. There’s no denying that just his shotblocking alone is impressive enough to merit top three consideration.
But I wouldn’t pick Ibaka to win the award, even as much as I’d like to. (Especially because I picked him to win it before the season.) He’s not a complete elite defender because Ibaka still has issues defended isolated in the post, doesn’t communicate well in the pick-and-roll and often falls asleep rotating over. I don’t think you can really award a guy as Defensive Player of the Year if his own coach doesn’t trust him in the pick-and-roll instead choosing to go small at his position to combat it. If you’re truly that much of an impact player defensively, you should be on the floor 30-35 minutes a night, no question. But Ibaka often sees under 25 in a game, averaging 27.2 for the season.
I think he absolutely should be considered and even get some votes. The blocks are too much to ignore and he’s improved in a whole lot of areas. He’s just not entirely there yet.
5. Thabo Sefolosha (Last week: 4)
I don’t care about the shots Kobe hit at the end of that game yesterday. Thabo was unbelievable. He is such a committed, smart defender. I’m not sure there are five better on ball guys than Thabo.
6. Kendrick Perkins (Last week: 7)
Do you know why Andrew Bynum didn’t play at all during the fourth quarter or either overtime Sunday? Because Perk was on the floor. Mike Brown is smart enough to know that with Perk defending Bynum that any pass down to his big man was a wasted possession. Perk has always defended Bynum better than anyone in the league and yesterday was no different. The Lakers were trying to make a comeback and needed speed and athleticism over Bynum’s ability on the block.
It seemed like Scott Brooks probably should’ve matched with Nick Collison instead of Perk, but Perk’s screening was outstanding in the later stages of that game. OKC’s offense was tired and worn, but Perk opened the door for a couple wide open looks for KD and freed up driving lanes for Westbrook.
And note this: There have been big complaints about Perk’s rebounding this season, but he hasn’t grabbed fewer than seven since April 5. He’s averaging 9.3 a game over his last six. I continue to hope and believe this is Perk rounded into playoff form.
7. Nick Collison (Last week: 5)
The sample size is small, but Collison is shooting 54 percent from 16-to-23 feet. Why don’t the Thunder utilize him more in the pick-and-pop? It seems that Collison could be a reasonable offensive weapon but instead is always marginalized as only a screener and passes on offense. I’m not saying to start running sets for Nick, but if you have a guy that’s a reliable two points, it could be something to look at more than one or two times a week.
8. Derek Fisher: (Last week: 8)
Scott Brooks must’ve heard the cries. Or just realized what he was doing. Fisher’s minutes last week: 17, 17, 16, 14. The 14 Sunday against the Lakers is the fewest he’s played in a Thunder uniform.
Also: Fisher has hit seven of his last 13 3-point attempts.
9. Daequan Cook (Last week: 10)
It continues to be confusing why Cook has been so squeezed on the Thunder bench. He was such a weapon early in the season routinely getting more than 15 minutes a game. Last week, the most he played was 13, and he played as few as four. Is he in Brooks’ doghouse? Is Brooks trying to trim the rotation a bit? Is Cook still not entirely healthy? Is it all Derek Fisher’s fault? I don’t see why Cook isn’t getting minutes, especially when his 3-point shooting can be such a bonus to OKC’s offense.
10. Nazr Mohammed (Last week: 9)
Box scores say that Mohammed played 36 minutes last week. I just don’t remember any of it.
11. Cole Aldrich (Last week: 11)
There’s been a lot of chatter about picking between Harden or Ibaka in the future for the Thunder. One solid solution has been the idea of using the amnesty clause on Perk and keeping both. Outside of the fact I think it’s entirely possible everybody stays and either the team pays the tax or Ibaka and Harden don’t get as much as everyone things, I think the Perk amnesty idea could hinge on the development of Cole Aldrich.
Because you can’t just drop the best post defender in basketball like Perk and act like it’s no big deal. Whether you like him or not, Perk adds a ton to the Thunder. But if Aldrich develops into a Perk junior, it could make Perk more expendable. Aldrich would be a cheaper version and provide the Thunder an extra door to choose from. And honestly, I don’t think he’s that far away.
12. Royal Ivey (Last week: 12)
With James Harden out Sunday, Brooks turned to his secret weapon. And when Ivey launched both those 3s in the fourth quarter, I was 100 percent convinced they were dropping.
13. Lazar Hayward (Last week: 13)
Write your own thing here.
Inactives: Eric Maynor, Reggie Jackson