For a second there, visions of a 18, 19 or even 20-game win streak started to become realistic. The Thunder had ripped off 12 straight and if they could just get through a tough back-to-back in Minnesota and play well in Miami, they had another stretch of pretty favorable games ahead.
Alas, the Thunder are left to try and start a new streak. Still, a 21-5 record sure is pretty to look at.
Anyway, it’s Christmas Eve, which means Christmas is tomorrow. (I’m pretty smart.) The best Thunder gift of all would be for a little revenge on the Heat, but with the spirit of the holidays in mind, let’s rank the roster and give them all a little gift.
1. Kevin Durant (Last week: 1)
An MVP. Obviously it’s a bit too early for that yet, what with 56 games to go, but I’m putting this request on the wishlist now. Consider it gifting-it-forward.
KD won’t say it, but he really wants this. And his play so far is certainly making it not just reasonable, but real. At the quarter pole of the season, Durant is the MVP leader in the clubhouse. His percentages, his efficiency, his scoring, his team, his leadership, his overall development –he’s gone to another level.
KD hasn’t reinvented himself. He’s just continued his evolution. His 41-point game against the Hawks this week might’ve been one of the best overall games I’ve ever seen Durant play. It was just… beautiful.
High-usage wing players like Durant are not supposed to post true shooting percentages in the 65 range. Michael Jordan exceeded 60 percent four times and Larry Bird topped the 60 percent mark twice, but both maxed out around 61 percent. And LeBron James’ career-high mark of 60.5 percent came last season.
Durant this season? 65.4 percent.
He’s quietly become one of the most brutal post assignments in the game from either side of the floor. He’s getting more separation than ever on curls and pin-downs, working in some sneaky misdirection like a wide receiver running a route. When he’s off the ball, he’s looking more than ever to slip beneath the defense for easy feeds at the rim. And he’s drawing more contact than ever off the dribble. Durant has never displayed anything but maximum effort on the floor, but did close proximity to a title this past June ignite something more visceral in his game?
2. Russell Westbrook (Last week: 2)
A couple good shooting nights.
It’s time to talk about the dirty part to Westbrook’s otherwise stellar season. His assists are up, turnovers down, scoring steady. But he’s shooting just 40.7 percent from the floor this season which is much closer to his ugly rookie percentage (39.8) than where he was last season (45.7).
What’s going wrong for Westbrook? In terms of shot locations, the biggest difference this season compared to last is at the rim, where he’s converting just 53.7 percent, which isn’t a strong number. (Last year he was at 61.6 percent.) He’s actually taking fewer low percentage shots this season too. Fewer long 2s (4.0 compared to 5.2), fewer from 10-15 feet, a place he’s never shot well. He’s taking more 3s, but he’s actually making a better percentage from there.
What seems to be occurring to me is that Westbrook might’ve just had a pretty good season shooting the ball from 16-23 feet last season (43 percent, a good number) and that spiked his percentage. This year, he’s leveled out mostly to where he’s been in his career, except for at the rim where’s not finishing.
Oh, and also, this shirt. Russ needs it. As well as a few Taylor Swift and Katy Perry CDs. Did you know Russ listens to them pregame? It’s true. I asked him and that’s what he told me.
3. Serge Ibaka (Last week: 4)
Basketball scented air fresheners for his car, since, you know. He’s be like so focused all the time.
4. Kevin Martin (Last week: 3)
A Twitter account. I would imagine he’d average 500 retweets per tweet, for a crazy good TER (Twitter Efficiency Rating).
5. Nick Collison (Last week: 5)
A lifetime Thunder contract. I don’t want to talk about it but Collison’s 32 years old and has just two years left on his contract after this season. It’s like when you have a dog and you try to avoid thinking about 10 or so years down the line when the inevitable will happen.
6. Thabo Sefolosha (Last week: 6)
A new tattoo on his right shoulder that says, “I Regret The Tattoo On My Other Arm.”
(Sidebar: Thabo went just 4-15 from 3 last week. Regression to the mean or just a bad shooting week? My take: With his confidence rising, I think he’s forcing up a few 3s that he passed on earlier in the season. Nobody gets barked at by Westbrook and Durant more to shoot it than Thabo, and with him hitting at a solid clip, he’s letting them fly a bit more contested than he was before.)
7. Kendrick Perkins (Last week: 7)
For his iconic post-jumper pose to be the Thunder’s first statue outside The Peake.
8. Jeremy Lamb (Last week: 11)
Some playing time.
9. Reggie Jackson (Last week: 9)
Jeremy Lamb should re-gift his present to Reggie.
Jackson of course got a decent shot against the Wolves and while there was some justified frustration over the lack of Jeremy Lamb in that game, that’s not Jackson’s fault. He was on the floor to try and combat Minnesota’s jitterbug guards, and honestly didn’t perform that poorly. There’s a role for Jackson to fill on this team, I think. It just seems that that’s still unknown to everyone. Granted, it’s the D-League, but it’s impossible not to watch Jackson dice up defenses in Tulsa and not think that he can play. He’s a dynamic player that just needs a place where he can be productive.
10. Eric Maynor (Last week: 8)
A little confidence. There’s no denying that Maynor hasn’t been himself this season and whether that’s the knee recovery, the rustiness, the pressure of a contract year or a combination of it all, doesn’t really matter. He hasn’t played very well.
What seems obvious to me is that Maynor is pressing. He knows he’s got limited minutes to play each night and it’s kind of hard to just relax and play your game when you know you’ve only got 8-12 minutes to do it. When Maynor was establishing himself as one of the game’s top backup point guards, he played with a ton of confidence, swagger even. He took jumpers when he had open looks, he splashed 3s, he ran the offense. Now it seems like he’s determined not to mess up the time he’s on the floor. He’s hesitant with shots that he’s shown he can make and doesn’t have that same decisiveness.
11. Hasheem Thabeet (Last week: 10)
A BOOK THAT COMPILES ALL OF HIS MOTIVATIONAL SHOUTTWEETS.
Also, Thunderstruck on Blu Ray. Somebody needs to get it.
12. Perry Jones III (Last week: N/A)
13. DeAndre Liggins (Last week: N/A/)
14. Daniel Orton (Last week: N/A)
And my wife suggests a new sportcoat for Orton because he seems to favor that blue plaid one a bit too much. As in, it’s the only one he’s ever worn. Russ should take him shopping.