The Thunder are winning games by an average of 9.5 points. That’s 1.5 points better than the next closest team (Spurs). In terms of historical precedent, that’s pretty darn good.
Here’s margin of victory for the last 11 NBA champions:
- 2011-12 Miami Heat: 6.0
- 2010-11 Dallas Mavericks: 4.2
- 2009-10 Los Angeles Lakers: 4.7
- 2008-09 Los Angeles Lakers: 7.3
- 2007-08 Boston Celtics: 10.3
- 2006-07 San Antonio Spurs: 8.4
- 2005-06 Miami Heat: 3.9
- 2004-05 San Antonio Spurs: 7.8
- 2003-04 Detroit Pistons: 5.8
- 2002-03 San Antonio Spurs: 5.4
- 2001-02 Los Angeles Lakers: 7.1
Margin of victory is not necessarily the best indicator of a forthcoming NBA champion, but the Thunder are currently headed for a close to all-time number. The past 11 seasons, only the Celtics had a better than 9.5 margin. Historically speaking, if the Thunder maintain their margin of victory, it would be better than the 1987 Lakers, 1986 Celtics, 1991 Bulls, 1988 Lakers and 1999 Spurs. For reference, the greatest team ever, the 1996 Bulls had a margin of victory of 12.2.
Point is, this Thunder team is pretty good. Last season, their margin was 6.5. So in that regard, they’ve improved. Quite a lot.
1. Kevin Durant (Last week: 1)
It’s been kind of a strange few weeks for KD. Statistically speaking, he’s still producing, albeit a bit less efficiently. It’s just that he’s seemed a tad, what’s the word, selective?
Before he scored 31 on 19 shots against the Mavs on Sunday, Durant didn’t take more than 16 shots his previous five games. And before that, he went four straight games with 20 or more shots. It might be unrelated and coincidental. but in those games with 20 or more attempts, KD shot just 42.5 percent from the floor. In the five games after, he shot 49.2 percent. (It should be noted, two of those games were blowouts where KD sat the fourth.)
But even Sunday against Dallas, Durant had taken only eight shots entering the fourth quarter. It was hard to deny that something was up. He’d been turning the ball over more and shooting less. So what’s been the deal? Is the 50-40-90 thing in his head? Or could it just be that he’s a little bored and is ready for the postseason? Or is it simply just a little late season slump, something a lot of Team USA guys seem to be dealing with right now?
Who knows, but KD definitely appeared to be his old dominant offensive self in the fourth quarter against the Mavs, taking over a game that he had previously been coasting in. I think part of this might be because Durant has been able to chill a bit because of Russell Westbrook’s rise to a dominant scorer that can carry a team. KD is such an unselfish player that I think he has no problem taking a back seat and sort of relaxing.
Even with his so-called down time, KD still averaged 26.5 points on 53.3-38.4-90.2 percentages. Even when he’s bad, he’s so, so, so good.
2. Russell Westbrook (Last week: 2)
Because of Durant’s slip in play — and by “slip” I mean that he’s not been completely otherworldly for a change — Westbrook has really blossomed. You wouldn’t have to struggle to make a case that he’s been OKC’s best player the last month and a half. He’s followed up maybe the best month of his career in February with another strong March thus far.
One thing that’s definitely been a casualty of Westbrook’s scoring surge has been his assist numbers. He’s only had two double-digit assist nights since Feb. 1, after having 13 the three months previous. That doesn’t bother me one bit, but for those dumb-dumbs that like to use his assist numbers as a reference for his supposed selfishness, it would be nice if that came up a little.
3. Serge Ibaka (Last week: 3)
Not that I expect Ibaka to put up 18-16-3 on a nightly basis, but the kind of impact he had against the Mavs on Sunday is how he should be playing on a nightly basis. Ibaka’s size and athleticism puts him in a rare tier of NBA athletes, and it’s something he needs to use to impact the game more routinely. It’s something David Thorpe perfectly pointed out about Westbrook — that he plays athletic. Ibaka needs to do the same.
He’s reestablished himself as OKC’s third best player and finally had that look of maybe being the best player on the floor at times against Dallas. We forget that this is officially Ibaka’s breakout season and that he’s only going to build from here. Last week he averaged 15.2 points on 65.7 percent shooting. He was a beast on the boards, protected the paint and was aggressive with his own offense. That’s the Serge Ibaka that can have enough of an impact to take the Thunder to another level in the postseason.
4. Kendrick Perkins (Last week: 5)
KD made the statement recently that Perk should be All-Defense this season. Which All-Defense? I don’t know. But is there any validity to this? I realize, it kind of sounds mildly ridiculous on the surface, but there is at least an argument to be made. The stats kind of bear it out — Perk’s defensive rating is 98.0, which is very solid — and when Perk is on the floor opposing teams shot just 52.7 percent from the field inside of five feet (which is very good).
In isolation, opposing players shoot just 29.4 percent against Perk, 40.5 percent in post-ups and 35.4 percent overall. Overall, opposing player average 0.73 points per play against Perk. For comparison, last season’s Defensive Player of the Year Tyson Chandler is allowing 38.8 percent overall, 36 percent in isolation, 34.6 percent in post-ups and 0.78 points per play. Defending the pick-and-roll, opposing teams average 0.61 points per play against Perk, 0.74 against Chandler.
Perk doesn’t have the big traditional stats like rebounds or blocks, but if you pay attention when he’s on the floor, he’s outstanding defending opposing bigs in isolation as well as most pick-and-roll situations. It’s easy to rag on Perk because he’s clumsy, not much of an offensive threat and doesn’t rebound, but in terms of straightforward interior defense, he’s extremely good.
For example, this week defending both Tim Duncan and Al Jefferson, Perk did tremendous work on both, forcing them away from the basket, turning five foot shots into eight foot shots. In some situations, Perk doesn’t really have a place on the floor (cough, Miami). But in select circumstances, he’s almost invaluable defensively.
5. Kevin Martin (Last week: 6)
One of the most confusing things about this season has been how Martin seems to have fit best with the Thunder earlier in the season than later. Isn’t that opposite of the “it’s just going to take some time” stuff we all heard about him fitting?
Consider: In Martin’s first two months with the Thunder, he scored 20 or more points six times. He hasn’t score at least 20 since Feb. 6 against the Warriors. That’s 17 games. He’s slowly being weened out it seems. The team is becoming more and more Durant and Westbrook focused, with Martin almost an offensive afterthought. It’s kind of weird, right? Here’s a thing about it though: Martin’s shot attempts haven’t exactly slipped much. He’s still taking almost 10 a game. He’s just not making a lot of those shots he was making.
6. Reggie Jackson (Last week: 4)
Kevin Durant was asked who he thought the most underrated offensive player on the team recently and he picked Jackson, saying he might even be the second best on the roster. Yep, meaning on Westbrook’s level. Sounds bold, but you can see the flashes and KD has the luxury of watching Jackson torch his unit in practice.
I’ve recently started wondering if Jackson could sort of replicate James Harden’s role as a creative scoring force off the bench. Obviously he’s not the same kind of skilled offensive player as Harden, but Jackson can play both guard spots, is a good finisher and a decent jumpshooter.
Scott Brooks always said last season he viewed Harden as a combo guard and not a shooting guard, so I asked him if he thought of Jackson in the same way. Brooks said he sees Jackson as more of a point guard, which is fine, as long as he’s not strictly limited to being Westbrook’s backup for the next few years. He needs room to grow, room to expand his game. He’s building his confidence and along with it, the Thunder are getting glimpses of a dynamic bench option.
7. Nick Collison (Last week: 7)
Scott Brooks too was asked before the game against the Magic who he thought the most underrated offensive player on the team is and he picked Collison, citing a 2003 NCAA tournament game where he watched him drop 33 on Duke.
8. Thabo Sefolosha (Last week: 8)
Thabo is headed for a second consecutive year of better than 40 percent shooting from 3. I don’t think he gets near enough recognition for this.
9. Perry Jones III (Last week: N/A)
We’ll always have those 11 minutes against the Magic.
10. Derek Fisher (Last week: 9)
I feel like I need to ask this again: Why is Derek Fisher a shooting guard for the Thunder? WHY.
11. Hasheem Thabeet (Last week: 10)
Thabeet’s been out with a back injury the past two games. Clearly, because he’s worn down from carrying this team.
12. Ronnie Brewer (Last week: 11)
Wait, who’s Ronnie Brewer? Is he on the Thunder?
Inactives: Daniel Orton, Jeremy Lamb, DeAndre Liggins