Of all the weeks of the Thunder’s season, this one was probably the most uneventful. Two games, both at home, playing the Hornets and the Kings.
Entering the week, the Thunder were riding an eight-game win streak and if that were to come to an end at home with those two teams coming to town, that would’ve been a pretty solid disappointment. Instead, it’s 10 straight and a pretty 19-4 record, the best start in OKC franchise history.
But things are about to get tougher and the Thunder are going to get a bunch of opportunities to start validating that record. It starts tonight at home against the Spurs, then at the Hawks, at Minnesota and at Miami. If this winning streak goes to 14, then something special is going on.
You can only win the games in front of you though and that’s what the Thunder are doing. After a semi-shaky 1-2 start, OKC’s won 18 of their last 20 and have developed a clear chemistry on the floor, playing as well as they ever have. At some point, they’re going to lose. And then lose again. And then lose probably 15 more times.
1. Kevin Durant (Last week: 1)
Durant’s scoring by quarter: 6.0, 6.5, 7.7, 8.1. Somehow, Durant has that ability to sort of coast for a game and awaken at the push of a button. It’s like the Durantula signal goes into the sky and he appears late in the game to rescue the Thunder. He took four shots in the first half against the Hornets scoring 10 points. In the second, he took 16 and scored 25, most of it in the fourth quarter. It’s just a sick ability to have, to be able to flip a switch and takeover. And I think it intimidates the hell out of opponents.
2. Russell Westbrook (Last week 2)
There’s a little bit of chatter about Westbrook making an All-Defense team. Still early, but it’s true: Westbrook’s defense is better this season. It’s still not elite by any means though.
Point guard is probably the hardest defensive position to play because you’re forced to guard pretty much every single possession. You have an attacking threat coming out you every time down the floor. Per Synergy, Westbrook is allowing 0.84 points per possession, a pretty solid mark for point guard (for comparison, Chris Paul, a respected defender, is allowing 0.89). Where Westbrook is elite, is in defending isolation. He ranks 13th in the league in points allowed per possession at just 0.55. Where he struggles is in spot-up situations, allowing 1.17 points per possession. The reason for it is Westbrook’s still a gambler, jumping passing lanes and trying to wreak havoc on an offense by flying around the court.
Still, opponents are shooting under 40 percent against him and opposing point guards have a PER of just 14.8 per 48 minutes when guarded by him
He’s better this season. It’s an area he’s improved in and I think part of it is due to his energy management. He’s understanding more how to play both ends of the floor with even energy, instead of putting so much in at different times. He’s a little less emotional and doesn’t seem to be letting bad offensive possessions affect him as much on the defensive end.
Westbrook has the ability to be an elite, lockdown defender. He was in college and a big part of his draft status was based around that. He’s blossomed into an offensive weapon that no one saw coming. But it appears that defense might finally be catching up a bit.
3. Kevin Martin (Last week: 5)
There’s been a lot of talk about KD going 50-40-90, but watch out for Martin who is 46.4-46.8-93.3 right now. Think about that: The Thunder have two guys flirting with 50-40-90 through the first quarter of the season. That’s ridiculous.
It’s no coincidence that Martin is shooting career-highs from everywhere though. He’s getting better looks than ever and while he’s taking about five shots fewer per game than he has throughout his career, his scoring is still on track. I can’t shake one thing about Martin: It’s a shame he came to the Thunder were he was 29, not 25.
4. Serge Ibaka (Last week: 4)
Question: Say it was Ibaka, not Harden, that held out for the max deal and wanted an alpha role. Say he got it. What do you think his numbers would look like this season?
My opinion: I don’t think they’d be as good. He might be averaging a point or two more a game, but it’s obvious to me that Ibaka flourishes as an outlet option. He’s not really a guy you run plays for. More of a guy you find open within the flow. And with Westbrook and Durant drawing so much attention, it has helped Ibaka blossom into a terrific scoring weapon.
Check Ibaka’s percentages by area: 78.7 percent at the rim, 50.0 percent 3-9 feet, 66.7 percent 10-15 feet, 48.0 percent 16-23 feet. He’s fifth in the league in field goal percentage but the four guys in front of him — Chandler, Splitter, McGee and Jordan — barely ever step outside the paint. There isn’t a player in the league has the kind of percentages Ibaka does right now.
5. Nick Collison (Last week: 3)
I couldn’t think of anything to write this week about Collison and yet here he sits No. 5. I think that says it all.
6. Thabo Sefolosha (Last week: 7)
Got an interesting question posed to me this week: Which player is more valuable, Perk or Thabo?
The case for Thabo: He’s much more versatile and while primarily a defensive specialist, he contributes offensively with his spot-up shooting, passing and cutting. He’s an elite wing defender that can successfully guard the likes of Kobe, Wade, Tony Parker and Chris Paul. He’s got a great contract and is an ideal role player. He knows his job, and does it well. He’s one of those perfect glue guys to have.
7. Kendrick Perkins (Last week: 6)
The case for Perk: While he lumbers around and doesn’t look pretty on the floor, he solidified OKC’s biggest weakness when he came over in the trade. The Thunder now defend the paint especially well and the ability to match up with basically any combination of players you throw at them. Perk doesn’t put up numbers, but he’s one of the few big men that can defend Dwight Howard, Marc Gasol or Andrew Bynum. A wing defender is far more replaceable than a post defender — it’s why Perk makes a lot more money than Thabo.
The verdict: I sort of lean towards Perk because I think Thabo would be easier to replace. Big men that can defend are limited. But Thabo is so very clearly better than Perk at what he does. Tough choice.
8. Eric Maynor (Last week: 8)
Did you know Maynor had seven assists against the Kings? Somehow, I missed that. There are signs of life here. I think Maynor is coming around. He’s more confident, he’s more aggressive with his mid-range game and he’s attacking a bit more. He’s not there, but I think he’s given Scott Brooks enough reason to keep trying him.
9. Reggie Jackson (Last week: 10)
I’m not sure what the game against the Hornets did, but it certainly opened some eyes. Jackson can be a weapon when deployed properly. He seems far more comfortable and confident as a guy that can playmake and not think than a guy running an offense. Against the Kings he stepped in and turned the ball over three straight times and didn’t appear to have a good feel at all running the show. But as an energy guy, someone to defend and create, he looked smooth and confident.
There’s something there with Jackson. It’s just about figuring out where he’s best used.
10. Hasheem Thabeet (Last week: 9)
Kind of fallen off the face of the planet the past couple weeks, hasn’t he? Since his first career double-double, Thabeet’s best game was probably against the Jazz where he had three points and six rebounds.
11. Jeremy Lamb (Last week: 12)
His most recent game in Tulsa: 26 points on 10-12 shooting including 6-8 from 3. It’s the D-League, yes. But that’s pretty good even in a Saturday pick-up game.
12. DeAndre Liggins (Last week: 12)
He’s the only one of the Tulsa Four that scored in an actual Thunder game this week, but he gets dropped because of the shirt he wore postgame after the Hornets game. It looked like this. I’m not even kidding.
Inactives: Perry Jones III, Daniel Orton