We all know how an NBA season works. About the ebbs and flows, the ups and downs, the high and lows. We know how it’s not wise to read too much into any win, nor any loss. Don’t focus on a great performance and don’t dwell on a bad one.
The NBA season is best evaluated in bulk sample sizes. Weeks of play, or even months. Because one stretch of ugly play can quickly turn around and become a winning streak pretty easily. The Thunder are about to close out a second week of play, which should provide a decent amount of data and tape to get a little feel on the team.
After a 1-2 start and some iffy on the future of the season, the Thunder have turned things around fairly effortlessly, returning the normalcy of winning to the fold. This last week saw four wins and no losses and while the opponents weren’t the most impressive thing, the Thunder’s work on the defensive end as well as the appearance of turning a corner offensively send out a pretty positive message.
But just like that, the positivity of a week can’t spin on its head and a three-game losing streak send worry and anxiety rippling throughout the media and fanbase. Though again, making any sweeping determination about any team this early is premature, I think the Thunder have established firmly that they are still good even after trading James Harden.
Now, let’s rank.
1. Serge Ibaka (Last week: 4)
I think we just saw the best week of basketball in Serge Ibaka’s young career. His averages for the four games: 19.3 points, 6.8 rebounds and 4.0 blocks per game while shooting 63.8 percent (30-47) from the field. He set a new career-high in points (25), led the Thunder in scoring for the first time and had back-to-back games of scoring at least 20 for the first time ever.
Is this the future of Ibaka? Are these kinds of performances going to become the norm? Is he going to be a guy that averages upwards of 15 a game? No idea. But you can absolutely see why the Thunder had no issue paying big money to keep Ibaka for the long term.
His upside is still absurd and he’s probably not all that close to sniffing his ceiling. He’s becoming more than just a straight shotblocker. He’s a more disciplined defender that understands communication and assignments better than before. And offensively, he’s assertive, decisive and a genuine weapon.
With Ibaka growing into the kind of reliable scorer he appears to be, consider what the Thunder have.
- The best scorer in the world
- One of the more dynamic and explosive scoring guards in the world
- One of the most efficient and effective scoring guards in the world
- And a legit, high percentage pick-and-pop option that can put up 25 any given night as a fourth option.
That’s a whole lot of firepower when it’s clicking. I’m not sure any team can really match that, even the Lakers, who looked oh-so-wonderful on paper.
2. Kevin Durant (Last week: 1)
KD’s points per game aren’t sparkling and he hasn’t cracked 30 yet this year, but that’s no bother to him. He understands the talent around him and he’s focusing his efforts in other areas — rebounding, creating and defending. The first few games it seemed that KD was a little too focused on those things and was letting his scoring slip a bit too much.
But he’s reasserted himself some, scoring 25 and 26 his last two games. He still has yet to attempt 20 shots in a game yet this year, which is weird, but KD knows what he’s doing. He is entirely locked in on scoring as efficiently as he possibly can. He desperately wants to be a 50-40-90 kind of guy, and if he happens to get to 30 a game doing that, awesome.
Durant’s days of scoring big aren’t done though. It’s not like he’s hanging it up and reinventing himself already. He’s just developing as a player. He doesn’t want to be a volume guy that just puts up numbers because he can. He wants to be contributing towards a win. And as the season goes along, Durant’s scoring will continue to climb up. Why? Because he’s too damn good for it not to. He just can’t help but score.
3. Russell Westbrook (Last week 3)
Westbrook has started this season slowly, but if you glance back to his game logs from 2011-12, you’ll see some similarities. He didn’t shoot the ball well early last season either, had some trouble with turnovers and made poor decisions.
It’s not that Westbrook hasn’t played well early this year, he just hasn’t played to his own standard. But against Cleveland Sunday, it seemed like he kind of got a little of his game back. Seventh game of last season? Westbrook went for 22 points and eight assists and scored at least 20 in the next 10 of 13 games. I think Russ is about to crank it up.
4. Kevin Martin (Last week: 2)
Martin’s week scoring: 15, 15, 16, 16. On 18-of-37 shooting. He has very clearly settled into his role fairly effortlessly, understanding when to be assertive and when to pull back a bit. Remember, this is a guy that’s been one of the very best scorers in the league the last six years. He’s averaged 15 shots a game for his career. He’s only getting 10 a game now and is picking his spots well.
Sunday against the Cavs, Martin only attempted two shots in the second half because Westbrook had things going. What I’m interested in is if there’s a game where Martin is scoring at will, if the Thunder will transition into playing through him late or if it will always fall to Westbrook and Durant. It’s one thing to hit Martin on a spot-up, but if he’s got it going and the other two really don’t, will the Thunder look to Martin?
5. Thabo Sefolosha (Last week: 6)
It’s early yet, but Thabo is shooting 58 percent from 3 (7-of-12) so far this season. Last season he hit 43.7 percent from deep which left us all to wonder if it was a blip in the statistics or if he had turned a corner as a 3-point shooter. So far, it looks like he might actually be a reasonably reliable outside shooter.
6. Eric Maynor (Last week: 9)
Understandably so, Maynor started off the season showing some obvious signs of rust. But in the last few games, he’s rediscovering some of his game that made him maybe the best backup point guard in basketball.
Maynor could quietly be one of the most important players on this team this season. I’m truly beginning to think that Kevin Martin fits better with Durant and Westbrook than Harden did, but definitely am not sold that he controls a second unit like Harden. Which is where Maynor’s importance comes in. If that second unit is to have a big impact, it’s going to be largely about Maynor creating good looks, mostly for Martin.
7. Nick Collison (Last week: 5)
Nick Collison’s cumulative plus/minus over the last week: +40. The Thunder were 40 points better than their four opponents — and average of 10 points per game — when Collison was on the floor. Yep, sounds about right.
8. Kendrick Perkins (Last week: 7)
It’s nothing all that striking, especially in terms of the box score, but Perk is playing pretty darn well. As I’ve said a bunch before, evaluating Perk is about understanding his limitations as a player. He turns the ball over, he’s terrible with the ball in his hands unless he’s touch passing to someone and he doesn’t own the boards.
But he works, he defends, he communicates and he plays as hard as he can. Scott Brooks wisely pointed out after Sunday’s game that Perk didn’t play at all over the summer because of surgeries and didn’t have much of a training camp because of recovery. He’s just now getting into shape, finding a little bit of a rhythm.
Again, he’s not a double-double player and in a lot of situations, he has no business being on the court. But Kendrick Perkins will earn his pay before the season is over, and in the last week, he’s done a little of it already.
9. Hasheem Thabeet (Last week: 8)
Right when he was playing really solid ball off OKC’s bench, he goes down with an ankle sprain. It’s not severe and he should be back any time, but that just seemed about right for Thabeet.
10. Perry Jones III (Last week: 12)
Jones saw some regular minutes last week but they were frustrating minutes. Because he barely touched the ball. I don’t know if that’s to his fault, or the players he was playing with, but Jones isn’t making near the impact I expected him to. Not that I thought he’d become a powerful sixth man or some instant offense guy. But there was a feeling that he could give Scott Brooks something more to play with in terms of rotations and lineups, giving OKC an interesting matchup look with him as a stretch 4.
But Jones has to find some level of comfort on the floor before any of that happens, something that seems to be a ways off.
11. Reggie Jackson (Last week: 10)
I don’t exactly know what Scott Brooks is looking for or expecting when he plays Jackson with Maynor. My guess is that he wants Jackson to become a slasher/attacker a la Westbrook while Maynor plays setup man. It’s an awkward role and I think it’s pretty clear that Jackson is transitioning out of being a backup point guard and is moving into more of a hybrid, versatile role.
12. Jeremy Lamb (Last week: 11)
It looks very unlikely that we’ll see Lamb outside of garbage time this season, unless an injury or something shakes up the rotation. He’s a rookie with a lot to learn, but I’m curious as to what the Thunder are going to be looking for in him. Is he more of an asset, or is he the kind of talent they think they can shape into sliding into a real role?
I don’t think there’s any real plan for Lamb as of now other than to develop him and then evaluate the situation again possibly at the trade deadline, then after the season. He obviously has a bunch of skill. But he’s in the tough spot of playing for a team that’s not interested in just dishing out playing time to young players just because. The Thunder are more interested in winning than anything else and if Lamb can’t aid in that cause, he’s not going to play.
13. Daniel Orton (Last week: 14)
I have no idea what the future will hold for Orton whether it be with the Thunder or someone else, but let me say this: I will always root for the guy. Just the couple weeks of being around him, he’s one of the most thoughtful, well-spoken, mature young players I have ever been around.
The guy has been through quite a lot the past couple years and while he’s sort of hanging on to an NBA career, I think he can make it. He’s got a great mindset, a great attitude and seems to be the kind of player that’s not going to take a roster spot for granted.
And you know what? I think he can play a little too. Just about getting the opportunity.
14. DeAndre Liggins (Last week: 13)
Orton jumps him by default of Orton scoring and Liggins not.