A recap: Win against the Clippers, loss at the Celtics, win at the 76ers.
Being realistic and using common sports sense , wouldn’t you say that’s a pretty good week? It’s one of those weeks where if I told you in August when the schedule came out that the Thunder would go 2-1, you’d probably have said, “cool.”
One thing though: The defense has very clearly slipped. In OKC’s first eight games, it only allowed one team to score more than 95 points. In the last six, the Thunder have allowed 95 or more in all of them. Five of those games they allowed more than 100. They went from a top five defensive team per 100 possessions to now in the bottom half of the league. Or look at it this way: First eight games points allowed per 100 possessions, 94.7. Last six, 109.1. The offense is clicking along extremely well in terms of points per 100 possessions (third currently), but the defensive slide has been a bit concerning.
Anyway, let’s numerically order the roster. (Note: There weren’t any rankings last week so the “last week” rankings are actually from two weeks ago.)
1. Kevin Durant (Last week: 1)
Remember how early on in the season KD was playing a little passive and not looking for his own scoring much? Where he went the first five games without scoring 25 and the first eight without scoring 30?
Well, he’s scoring again.
Durant’s average over the six games: 31.2 points per game. And he hasn’t really sacrificed his playmaking all that much, or his efficiency. In the first eight games he had 31 assists (3.9 a game). Over the last six, 32 (5.3). He’s still rebounding extremely well, he’s cut his turnovers down some and his shooting percentage are sparkling (49-43-89).
Let’s say KD averages 28.0 ppg, 8.0 rpg and 4.0 apg on 50-40-90 averages. That’s one of the best seasons in NBA history, right?
2. Russell Westbrook (Last week 3)
The early theme to Westbrook’s season is that he’s back to assisting. He’s averaging 8.4 a game and has had four games with double-digit assists this season (four all of last season). So what’s the deal? Was Westbrook just selfish last season and looking for his own? Or was last season more of a outlier based on the fact the Thunder changed their offense a bit to be more isolation heavy?
Pretty sure you know my answer there already. Westbrook’s assists by season: 5.3 apg, 8.0, 8.4, 5.5, 8.4.
The Thunder as a team are assisting more and Westbrook has a lot to do with it. Look where his assists are coming at: He’s averaging 4.1 a game with assists leading to a basket at the rim (up from 2.2 last season) and 1.9 a game from 16-23 feet (up from 1.2 last season). Everywhere else, it’s mostly the same. Which tells me that Westbrook is back on the ball more as a creator. Plus, having a legit pick-and-pop option like Serge Ibaka helps a ton.
Another thing: KD’s being assisted on 61.3 percent of his baskets. That’s up from 48.1 percent last season and closer to what it was the seasons where Westbrook averaged eight assists per game. Westbrook is creating more looks for Durant while the Thunder are relying a bit less on isolation. I think his assist numbers are a bit misleading because Westbrook isn’t a ball mover. His assists come mostly as an isolated event, an explosive play where he set someone up. What I mean is, you notice when Westbrook gets an assist. It’s not like CP3 or Rondo where you glance at the box score and are shocked he had seven in a quarter because it only felt like three. But that’s the kind of player Westbrook is. He’s a hybrid guard that scores and creates. He’s not looking to pass, and he’s not really looking to score. He’s looking to make sure his team comes away with two or three points, one way or the other.
One other thing to touch on: Hopefully you read Henry Abbott’s super piece on Westbrook and hero ball. I don’t disagree with Henry really, but I do think there’s a certain addendum to Westbrook and hero ball. Because while he goes go rogue on his own, one thing that drives me crazy is this idea that Westbrook needs to pass.
My question is why would you have one of the most explosive scorers in the league trying to pass all the time? It would be like buying a greyhound and having a tiny backyard. Making the right play aside, the thought that Westbrook should be a point guard that just distributes is wrong. You can’t handcuff a talent like that. Does he call his own number too much? Yeah, probably. Does he ignore open teammates sometimes? Absolutely. But it’s not on an account of selfishness. Westbrook’s no ball hog. He just believes in Russell more than anyone else.
3. Serge Ibaka (Last week: 4)
Did you know: After scoring in single digits the first two games of the season, Ibaka has ripped off 12 straight in double-figures? His best career streak prior was six.
He’s obviously assuming a lot of the scoring load and has his average up to 15.1 ppg. That’s just 1.4 behind what James Harden averaged last season for OKC. If Ibaka can maintain his 15-7-3 averages, he’d join some pretty great names for players to have done that like Shaq, Bill Walton, Hakeem Olajuwon, Patrick Ewing, Kareem. David Robinson and others.
4. Nick Collison (Last week: 5)
A couple Collison stats: He’s a cumulative +48 on the season so far. Good, not great. Consider this though: He’s a -21 with the unit of Maynor, Martin, Thabo and Thabeet. Almost every other lineup, he’s a plus.
It’s nothing new, but I floated the thought Collison should be OKC’s full-time starter at center, or at least there be a consideration for that. Granted, early sample sizes are small, but at center this season, Collison is a +49, with the team scoring 111.8 points per 100 possessions and giving up only 94.0/100. That’s crazy good. (Note: Collison’s a -2 at power forward, and that’s with a whole lot more minutes there.)
You’re probably thinking, “Well, Collison doesn’t really defend opposing centers that great though.” Dwight Howard or Andrew Bynum? Maybe not. But statistically, Collison is holding opposing centers to 48.8 percent from the floor compared to power forwards at 57.6. Opposing centers have a PER of 16.7 against him while power forwards are at 18.3.
Pretty much the point is this: The Thunder are better in almost every circumstance with Collison on the floor rather than off, especially when he’s playing center.
5. Thabo Sefolosha (Last week: 6)
It’s saying a whole lot about Thabo’s perimeter shooting that when he puts one up — where he’s open — that I genuinely think it’s probably going in. Thabo takes high percentage 3s and has developed the ability to hit them. So therefore, he’s shooting a high percentage. It’s science.
6. Kevin Martin (Last week: 2)
Martin has gone back-to-back games scoring in single digits. Ignoring last season where he was hurt a lot in Houston, that didn’t happen a single time two seasons ago. Only happened twice the season before that. Didn’t happen once the season before that.
So you see my point here.
Martin is clearly a player that has to be involved, and by that I mean, other players have to include him. He’s not a weapon just standing on the wing waiting for Westbrook to kick out. He’s a weapon if he’s part of the offense, not apart from it. Using him just as a spot up shooter or only a bench scorer isn’t utilizing him best. Maybe there’s still a bit of a trust thing in that Durant and Westbrook have been through things together finishing games as a duo a whole lot, deep into the playoffs.
And so including Martin, who they’ve only played 14 games with, seems a bit foreign. That’s why you’ve got to hope that the longer things go and the more they play together, they rarer these single digit games before because Martin is a consistent factor in the offense.
7. Eric Maynor (Last week: 9)
Something’s up with Maynor and here’s what I think it is: We all got it in our heads that he was a mini-Harden, some super bench savior that was going to fix everything. Two seasons ago, his best season, Maynor averaged 4.2 points and 2.9 assists per game in 14.6 minutes a night.
This season: 4.1 points, 1.9 assists in 12.6 minutes per game.
The biggest I see for Maynor is that his time is getting more and more limited on the floor. It’s hard to really impact a game when you only play 11 minutes and get three or four at a time. Point guards need rhythm, need to get in a good flow and that’s not really happening. Plus, Maynor is adapting to being more of a creator. With Harden, Maynor wasn’t relied upon as much as a ball handler in the second unit. Now, he’s expected to get Kevin Martin shots. It’s a different thing.
Now, I don’t think Maynor has been as good as he’s been in the past. He’s not splashing 3s, he’s not finding pockets and creating consistent looks for teammates. But I also don’t think it’s all his fault.
8. Kendrick Perkins (Last week: 7)
Not really a horrible week for Perk. His game against Boston might’ve been his best of the season and against Philly, he was extremely useful in that he only played 20 minutes while Scott Brooks used his best lineup.
9. Hasheem Thabeet (Last week: 8)
I know some are watching Thabeet and wondering why he’s not OKC’s starting center. But being a starter comes with playing 25-30 minutes a game. You think Hasheem Thabeet is ready for that?
Fun stat though: Thabeet is shooting 78.6 percent from the floor (11-14), 80 percent from the line (16-20) and zero percent from 3. Meaning he’s a 79-0-80 shooter right now.
10. Perry Jones III (Last week: 12)
11. Reggie Jackson (Last week: 10)
12. Jeremy Lamb (Last week: 11)
It’s probably pretty unlikely any of this trio isn’t going to break into Scott Brooks’ now nine-man rotation, but before the Thunder made any kind of move to strengthen the second unit, I’d hope that someone gets at least a real shot. I’m not talking about two minutes in the second quarter. I’m talking about a four or five game stretch of real rotation minutes in a specific role.
The Thunder’s second unit is lacking some playmaking and a dynamic offensive creator. Could Reggie Jackson potentially be that? Who knows. And that’s the point: Who knows. Could Perry Jones add a new scoring dimension for the bench group? Or could Lamb be an extra shooter/floor spacer?
I doubt any of the three are legit difference makers, but my point is to free one to find out. Stockpiling talent is great, but they don’t give you anything than warm bodies on the practice floor. Unless they’re helping you win games, then what’s the point?
Inactives: Daniel Orton, DeAndre Liggins