The Thunder have three days off after returning home from a challenging six-game road trip. Oklahoma City has played nine of its last 10 away from home, and went 7-3 in that stretch. The three losses coming of course in the recent six-game roadie against the Nuggets, Warriors and Lakers.
So was it successful? Before they took off for Dallas, I figured 3-3 would be acceptable, 4-2 good and five more wins excellent. So, if I were grading, I’d give it a strong “meh.”
Thing is though, the Thunder were probably six or seven plays from being 5-1 on the trip, but that’s sort of the point — it’s hard to win on the road. Against Denver, obviously that could’ve gone either way. Against the Warriors, a handful of plays in the last three minutes got OKC. The game against the Lakers was really the only one they got beat.
The Thunder have been a solid road team this season overall (15-8), but not especially stellar. The road trip was fine, but not great. The lesson: Home court advantage would likely be appreciated in the postseason.
1. Kevin Durant (Last week: 2)
A recent thing I’ve seen a few people write/complain about: That Kevin Durant draws an absurdly big number of fouls, many of which they feel aren’t fouls. Now, when it comes to officiating, our biases often get in the ways of our eyes. I’m as guilty of it as anyone, though I do my best to see the game for what it is, to take the plays on the floor at face value.
(Note: Durant is tied for second in the league for free throw attempts per game at 9.4. James Harden is first at 10.1.)
Sure, stars get calls, but I think one of the reasons people feel that way is because stars also are the ones handling, attacking and scoring the most. So called “star calls” happen because Durant, LeBron, Kobe and Melo are all the ones attacking the rim or taking shots. You don’t see Steve Blake get a star call because all he’s doing is hovering around the 3-point line for a kickout.
Does Durant get a lot of calls? Of course. But I see two big reasons for that: 1) He’s excellent at drawing contact, or at least contact that appears to be a foul and 2) nobody can guard him. The first is part of basketball. The free throw line is part of the game and getting to it is smart. Especially when you shoot 91 percent from there. It’s basically free points, which I think is kind of the idea.
The second part is simply that defenders can’t really check KD so they try and push the limits of acceptable defense and use their hands, body and whatever else to try and impede Durant. That’s why the best offensive players often draw more foul calls. They are being used the most and it’s hard to guard them. It’s not rocket science.
2. Russell Westbrook (Last week: 1)
What a strange month January has been for Russell Westbrook. His numbers are mostly stellar: 24.5 points, 7.8 assists, 5.5 rebounds, 43 percent shooting. But prior to him breaking out back-to-back big assist games last week against the Kings and Lakers, Westbrook’s scoring was up and the assists down to about six a game. Before last week, he had only two double-digit assist games in January, while he had nine total the previous two months.
He was brilliant against the Clippers, woeful against the Warriors, awesome against the Kings, then I-don’t-know-what against the Lakers. Basically, your average week on the Russell Coaster.
Also, a great point someone made to me on Twitter: A lot of times we can kind of measure the value of a player because they miss a game and we see how much their absence impacted the team. We saw it happen to the Clippers the other night without Chris Paul. But we’ve never seen what the Thunder would look like without Russell Westbrook. He’s never missed a game. We don’t know what the team would look like with Reggie Jackson or Eric Maynor running the team for 40 minutes would look like. We don’t know how that would impact Durant. We don’t know what would happen to the offense.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s an amazing, underrated part of Westbrook that he’s so reliable and tough, but it also kind of keeps us from getting a glimpse into his true value. If that makes sense.
3. Kevin Martin (Last week: 3)
If the road trip was good to anyone, it was Kevin Martin. He seems to have found himself a bit away from home. His home-road splits were pretty stunning, but in the six-game trip Martin averaged 15.1 points on 51.6 percent shooting and 54.4 percent from 3. He seemed to really find a grip on handling the second unit, taking a bit more command of the team when he was the lone scorer on the floor. Definitely encouraging.
4. Kendrick Perkins (Last week: 5)
Don’t want to alarm anyone, but Perk scored in double figures twice last week. His rebounding numbers dipped and he was a complete non-factor against the Clippers, but he defended Dwight Howard really well, was solid against DeMarcus Cousins and very strong against the Warriors. Considering his role and what the Thunder need from him, Perk was good last week.
5. Serge Ibaka (Last week: 4)
For whatever reason, Ibaka doesn’t seem to be owning the paint so much this season. He’s averaging 2.8 blocks per game, still good for second in the league, but that’s less than nearly a full block per game compared to last season. Compare his game logs last season to this one and there are far fewer strings of six, four, eight, six, five, three, three, five kind of block games in there. He’s still protecting the rim well and is obviously a threat, but he’s not exactly the kind of paint monster he was.
Maybe it’s because opposing teams have wised up and diverted their offense away from him, maybe it’s because he’s trying to not be as reckless with his help defense that he’s not abandoning his position to try and swat a shot. Who knows, but the numbers are down.
6. Thabo Sefolosha (Last week: 6)
Did you know that Thabo is having probably the best offensive season of his career? It’s true. He’s averaging a career-best 7.3 points on a career-best 47.4 percent shooting and 40.0 percent from 3. Is that the Russell/Durant Evolution Effect, or is Thabo just having a good year?
7. Nick Collison (Last week: 7)
A couple of people sent me this stat because Basketball-Reference just released detailed lineup data this week: Russell Westbrook and Nick Collison were the best two-man lineup in the entire league last season. This season, the best is Collison and Durant. I’m no genius, but I see a common thread here with those two lineups. MVP, is all I’m saying.
8. Reggie Jackson (Last week: 9)
A few people have sent me this stat: The Thunder were 21-4 with Eric Maynor as the backup point guard and are 13-7 with Jackson at that position. I don’t see how Jackson is at all related to that record. Because we all know Maynor wasn’t exactly contributing greatly to those 21 wins he played in.
9. DeAndre Liggins (Last week: 8)
I think the new car smell is starting to fade a bit.
10. Hasheem Thabeet (Last week: 10)
When Thabeet was playing strong minutes early in the season and Thunder fans were like, “Holy cow, Thabeet! Could he be our backup center?!” my buddy Ben Golliver of Blazersedge and SI.com kept warning me. Just wait, he said. I think Thabeet is still more useful and competent than most anyone anticipated, but he’s definitely come down a bit. I think Scott Brooks is slowly weening him out of the rotation as he plays Nick Collison more at the backup 5.
On the road trip, Thabeet played a total of 29 minutes, and that’s with 16 of them coming in the blowout of the Kings. On the road trip, he pulled in a total of three rebounds.
11. Perry Jones III (Last week: 11)
Jones is an extremely intriguing young talent that I’m still very excited about, but I’m really starting to wonder what his future with the Thunder is going to look like.
12. Eric Maynor (Last week: 13)
Inactives: Daniel Orton, Jeremy Lamb