The week in review: three wins and a loss. But the loss, man oh man, the loss.
Losing to the Wizards was really bad, but to the Thunder’s credit, they’ve bounced back and won their last three games. All you can do when you lose a game you shouldn’t.
1. Kevin Durant (Last week: 1)
Durant’s performance against the Lakers was maybe of the most impressive takeovers I’ve ever seen from him. He was just ruthless. He completely shredded the Lakers and with him cooking the way he was, if he had decided he wanted 60, he could’ve gotten 60.
But something that really stood out in the Lakers game, and then the Blazers game, is just how important Durant is to the Thunder’s on-court success. Yeah, I know that sounds dumb because duh, of course he’s important. The stats show it (the Thunder are a net 8.6 points per 100 better with KD on the floor), but visually, you can just see what Durant means. Even when he’s not carrying the load, he’s making his four teammates better too.
I thought Durant had a decent case for MVP last season, but ultimately, it was just destined to be LeBron’s award. I feel that way about KD this season. He’s taking his game to new heights, but more importantly, he’s taking his teammates with him.
(Also: Did you know over his last five games, KD is averaging 5.8 assists per game? Pretty good.)
2. Russell Westbrook (Last week: 2)
Westbrook went 4-17 against Washington, then bounced back to go 17-35 over his next two games. But then he went 5-21 against the Blazers. What happened? He’s Russell Westbrook, that’s what. All part of the Russell Coaster.
Huge positive about Westbrook’s week though: He had 36 assists to just nine turnovers. That’s really good, and not just for Westbrook. That’s really good for anybody.
3. Kevin Martin (Last week: 4)
It seemed like Martin exorcised some of his road demons with a strong performance against the Lakers, but he couldn’t string two road games together as he went just 1-8 from four points against the Blazers.
I’m starting to get a little nervous feeling about Martin and the playoffs. For the most part, he’s been outstanding in his role off the bench. He’s averaging a solid number, shooting good percentages and adding a nice punch to go with Westbrook and Durant. But then there are nights like Sunday where he’s entirely eliminated from the offense and you honestly wonder if he’ll ever score a point again. I just don’t have a hard time picturing a playoff series where Martin is eliminated from the Thunder equation for two or three games.
Martin’s version of “being aggressive” seems to be hoisting deep 3-pointers, and not really attacking the paint. He acknowledged that his role on this team is more of a shooter than a scorer, but when he’s struggling, he seems to try and shoot himself out of it. There’s no doubt he’s a brilliant scorer. Just a tad inconsistent at times and seemingly, not all that difficult to remove from the Thunder offensive equation.
4. DeAndre Liggins (Last week: 11)
Too high? I’ve got serious Liggansanity right now. His effort and intensity is contagious, and obvious. You can’t watch Liggins and not be struck with how hard he’s playing.
Question is, why wasn’t it good enough for the Magic to keep him? If he’s truly this good of a defender, at a position where elite defense is very valuable, why was he having so much trouble finding a roster? I think it’s this: For a team like Orlando, using a roster spot on a specialist isn’t ideal. Thabo is super successful with the Thunder because he’s able to fill a very specific role. That same idea applies to Liggins. The Thunder don’t need or expect anything from him other than hard-nosed defense and effort. Durant, Westbrook, Martin and Ibaka take care of the rest. So giving a roster spot to that kind of guy is no problem because the Thunder have filled most every other need.
I mentioned the Tony Allen comparison in the recap and I think it really fits. Liggins just needs to do a job. And he understands that. Defend, rebound, take open shots when you get them, cut hard to the basket and defend some more.
The problem is, Liggins does basically all the same things Thabo does. He doesn’t necessarily fill a need for the Thunder. He’s not a bench scorer, not a creator, not anything other than an energy guy. Not that that’s a bad thing, but it’s probably going to limit his potential use going forward.
5. Kendrick Perkins (Last week: 6)
Shh, don’t tell anyone, but Perk is averaging 8.3 rebounds a game in January. Remove the Wolves game where he played only 13 minutes because of foul trouble and had just one rebound, and he’s averaging 9.5 a game. That’s like a real number for a starting center. And it’s in only 23.9 minutes a game, so expand it to per 36, and Perk is averaging 12.5 so far in January.
Here’s my theory with that: I think it’s directly related to KD’s rebounding numbers being down to 6.4 per game in January. Take note during a game how many rebounds Durant comes in and takes from either Serge Ibaka or Perk. It used to be a lot early in the season. Now, he’s doing it a little less. Rebounds can be kind of a dumb stat sometimes, because a lot of getting them or not is happenstance and luck. You can block your man out and do everything right, but the ball hits long and bounces to Westbrook, then what are you going to do?
But regardless of how he’s getting them or not, Perk has played better in January. That doesn’t mean he should necessarily fit into OKC’s best crunchtime lineups every time, but his play has been encouraging.
6. Nick Collison (Last week: 5)
I was talking to a league insider recently and he floated this theory to me: Scott Brooks is keeping Collison’s minutes down because he doesn’t want to overwork him prior to the postseason. The expectation being that Collison’s role will be increased in the playoffs.
I don’t know if that’s the case, but I sure hope it is. Outside of defending bigger post scorers, Collison accomplishes essentially everything Perk does, but adds in an offensive dimension. The pick-and-pop, the finishing at the rim, the passing, the screening — Collison is a lot more versatile. I get Brooks’ obsession with playing Perk because it’s necessary to maintain a certain feel around his team, but when the games get more important, it’ll be interesting to see which way he goes.
7. Thabo Sefolosha (Last week: 7)
After Sunday’s game against the Blazers, more than a few people asked about DeAndre Liggins and his impact on Thabo. One person phrased it this way: Is this potentially an Alex Smith/Colin Kaepernick situation?
Other than missing a game, Thabo had a pretty terrific week. Offensively, he averaged 11.0 points on 65 percent shooting, including 5-8 from 3. Defensively, well, of course he was great on that end. He locked up Kobe Bryant and he harassed the Wolves (three steals).
The game Liggins played against the Blazers Thabo has played probably 20 times this season. It just stuck out because Liggins was new and the performance was unexpected. We take an 11-point and strong defensive effort from Thabo for granted.
So if you’re one of those people asking the question about Liggins taking Thabo’s place, I’d advise you to kindly zip it. There’s no doubt Liggins was excellent against Portland and you can see what the Thunder love about him. And yeah, there may be more minutes ahead for him in the future. But taking Thabo’s place? Hold on, I need to bang my head against this table for 10 minutes.
8. Serge Ibaka (Last week: 3)
Ibaka set a career-high against the Wizards with 26 points, but it came in a miserable losing effort. Then, for the first time since the opening two games of the season, Ibaka registered back-to-back single-digit games. And hurt his chest and had to miss a game for the first time since Feb. 24, 2010.
9. Reggie Jackson (Last week: 8)
I have no idea what to make of Jackson. One minute I’m thinking he’s a decent solution, the next I’m dreaming of trades or for Eric Maynor to retake the role. I can see the potential in Jackson as a playmaker, but it’s about whether or not he’s playoff worthy. Can the Thunder rely on him to play big minutes in a postseason game? Do you feel confident turning the team over to him for a couple minutes in the Western Conference finals?
10. Hasheem Thabeet (Last week: 10)
Still can’t get over the lineup last night where Thabeet was playing power forward.
11. Perry Jones III (Last week: N/A)
Hey! He played! And had a cool dunk. That was pretty much the extent of Jones’ participation, but still, it was nice to know Scott Brooks hasn’t forgot about his existence.
12. Eric Maynor (Last week: 10)
Should Maynor consider accepting a D-League assignment? He said pretty emphatically that he had no interest in that, but for a guy struggling to recover from an injury and clearly lacking in comfort and confidence, wouldn’t it make sense for him to run to Tulsa and play a couple 35-minute games and get to feeling better?
On the other hand, Maynor is a big part of the Thunder’s locker room. He communicates a ton with Westbrook and Jackson, and has great interaction with everyone. Maybe he sees his value more in being part of the team still.
13. Jeremy Lamb (Last week: N/A)
Kind of thought Lamb might see some minutes this week, but alas, DeAndre Liggins trumped him.
Inactives: Daniel Orton