Already, some are fretting about an early theme: The Thunder are 6-0 in games which they are favored, but 0-3 in games in which they are not.
Reading between the lines for you here, the emerging worry is that the Thunder can be the mediocre/below mediocre teams, but against the elites, they fizzle.
The three games they lost though:
- All on the road
- One without Russell Westbrook
- One with only a half from Serge Ibaka
- One on a buzzer-beater
Last season, a little trend built that the Thunder had issues beating the NBA’s top level contenders, but for the most part that didn’t have any real impact on their postseason chances. But with a six-game homestand coming, with four against really good teams, and three of them against the teams that have beaten them, we should have an opportunity to learn a lot about this team in the next two weeks.
There are easy, obvious excuses built in so far for their failures, but you can look at things in a negative way too if that’s your thing. Included in the six games they won:
- One against the 1-10 Jazz, and they squeaked by
- One against the Mavs, who were coming off a back-to-back
- One in an improbable, lucky comeback against the Wizards
So really, 6-3 is a pretty fair record for OKC so far, and honestly, not all that bad either. A few breaks and they might be 8-1, but a few the other way and maybe they’re 4-5. This team is good and they’ve always had a habit out of sometimes just doing enough to win in games. But that’s the NBA. Look at the Heat’s 66 wins last season. A lot of them were games they probably should’ve lost, but there’s an art to winning and the Thunder have kind of mastered it. They make the plays in crunchtime, they come up with stops, they have two of the best players in the world and they just find ways to score more points.
But the next week and a half or so, we’re going to learn some stuff. And I have a feeling it’ll just be confirmation what most of you should already know: This team is still very good.
1. Serge Ibaka (last week: 2)
Ibaka’s last four games: 20.0 points, 11.8 rebounds, 2.5 blocks and 62.7 percent shooting from the field. And that includes only playing 17 minutes against the Clippers. Not counting that game, Ibaka has had only two single-digit rebounding games this season, and he had nine in both of those.
Is this just a hot streak of good basketball, or Ibaka starting to realize his complete potential? I think it’s the latter. Ibaka has been tremendous the past two seasons, but he’s evolving. His rebounding is giving Scott Brooks more options with lineups, and it’s keeping Ibaka on the floor more. There’s a lot of chatter about the Thunder and a third scoring option and while Ibaka is the obvious choice, I don’t think he necessarily needs to be that. Because Ibaka doesn’t necessarily create his own points, outside of getting on the offensive glass.
But as just a high quality big to play alongside Westbrook and Durant, Ibaka is rapidly becoming something that could be the Thunder’s X-factor. And plus, there’s this: Ibaka signed a four-year, $49 million deal last summer. If he’s going to average 15-10-3 this season, which is what he’s trending towards, the Thunder might have one of the best contracts in the league.
Random thing: Ibaka has 56 makes this season, with 18 of them being assisted by Kevin Durant, 11 of them assisted by Russell Westbrook and eight coming from Reggie Jackson.
2. Kevin Durant (last week: 1)
KD’s just a 46-36-89 shooter right now. What is wrong with this guy?
3. Russell Westbrook (last week: 3)
Surprising statistic in your classic early small sample size theater: The Thunder are a -0.8 per 100 possessions with Westbrook on the floor, and a +5.4 with him off it. The problem area has been OKC’s defensive fall off. The offense is at its very best with Westbrook, posting an efficiency of 109.1. With him off, the offensive efficiency plummets to 96.4. But defensively, per 100 OKC is allowing 107.9 with Westbrook on, and just 90.6 with him off. Something to keep an eye on.
Another thing: Westbrook still has struggled to finish at the rim this season (just 44.2 percent), but his midrange game appears to be more lethal than ever. Via SportVU, Westbrook is second in the league points off of pull-up jumpers at 11.4 a game, only behind Stephen Curry (12.1). Fun thing about that: Curry is taking 1.7 more pull-ups a game than Westbrook, meaning Russ is more effective in midrange pull-ups than Curry. So far.
From 15-19 feet, Westbrook is 10-18 on the season. And when he gets that going any given night, it opens up everything else for him and he becomes one of the three or four toughest covers in the entire league.
4. Reggie Jackson (last week: 5)
So maybe my prediction of Jackson as Sixth Man of the Year was a little bold. Or probably, just premature. Jackson has been on the plus side of solid so far this season, but he just hasn’t been overwhelmingly impactful. And I mean that in a way that’s going to catch eyes and national attention. He’s averaging 9.3 points, 4.0 assists and 3.6 rebounds and per 36, those numbers jump to 14.5 points, 6.2 assists and 5.5 rebounds.
Jackson’s getting just 23.2 minutes, which is way up from last season’s 14.2, which is great. And it’s obvious that Scott Brooks sees him as much more than just Westbrook’s backup. He’s played alongside Westbrook a quality amount and has had more opportunity to take command of the second unit.
But much like the Thunder had to transition with James Harden, Jackson’s eventually going to need to be handed more offensive responsibility. Whether that comes via more minutes, or just more time on the ball, he’s too good to not utilize as much as possible. I’ve been on the train that Jackson is a poor man’s Harden for a while and that Brooks should probably just use him in almost the exact same way. And as the season goes along and Jackson builds that trust, maybe that comes.
Because with Jackson on the floor, the numbers have been rather staggering so far this season. A +12.0 per 100 with him on, a -7.1 with him off. Kind of hard to ignore that, even if it is still way early.
5. Nick Collison (last week: 6)
The Thunder have played nine games this season, eight of them with Nick Collison. And already, the stats are starting to show for Collison. Per 100 possessions, with Collison on the floor, the Thunder are +8.2, but -1.2 with him on the bench. That’s a huge number.
Collison is an elite defender, but where he’s making the biggest impact right now is on the offensive end. With him on the floor per 100, the Thunder are posting an efficiency of 107.1, but just 100.9 with him off. So much of that is simply because Collison is such a brilliant two-man player, opening up a ton of options in the halfcourt just by running offense through him.
In conclusion, Nick Collison for MVP.
6. Jeremy Lamb (last week: 7)
At this moment, of players that have taken more than 10, Jeremy Lamb is the Thunder’s best 3-point shooter. In fact, he’s shooting 38.7 percent from 3, and just 38.6 percent from the floor. His true shooting is 50.7, which isn’t horrible.
All things considered, I’ve been pleasantly surprised and encouraged with the way Lamb has played through three weeks. He’s knocking down shots and while his shot selection is iffy, he does appear to be an offensive threat and contributor when on the floor. He’s not Harden, he’s not Kevin Martin. But he doesn’t need to be.
7. Steven Adams (last week: 4)
Since his double-double against the Pistons, Adams is averaging 3.2 points and 3.2 rebounds in four games. He played 31 minutes against the Pistons and appeared well on his way to taking over the bulk of the time at center, but he’s 20, 21, 14 and 14 since. So maybe we should all pump the brakes, at least just a tad.
With the word that Omer Asik has requested a trade coming out, a lot of people have asked if the Thunder should go after him. First off, what do you give up? A fellow Western contender isn’t going to be willing to improve your team just to unload an unhappy guy. And don’t say Perk, because what makes you think the Rockets want him, and what makes you think he wouldn’t feel just like Asik? Second, where does he fit? If you were wanting to see Adams develop all season, you can forget that. Asik will expect to start and to play 30 minutes a night.
Asik would be a pretty excellent fit, but it’s not realistic. So quit talking about it.
8. Thabo Sefolosha (last week: 9)
His 3-point shot has failed him thus far, but he did hit 2-3 against the Warriors which might help him get on track. But there’s been a lot of talk about him slipping on the defensive end. Yep, Bradley Beal torched him good. And yep, Andre Iguodala canned that game-winner in his face. But Thabo has been his typically solid self on the defensive end, and he’s even been chipping in big time on the boards.
9. Perry Jones III (last week: 8)
Brooks is in a bit of a pickle with Jones. He’s been really effective when he’s played, but there aren’t too many situations where he fits. But he needs to play, and not just in the first half. If he’s going to drop those corner 3s, and he’s going to finish inside, he’s got to find the floor for some run every night.
Brooks is in a tough spot because while his bench isn’t overly outstanding or anything, it certainly is deep. There are 11 guys on this team that could see minutes any given night and with three guys penciled in to take around 35 each a night, that makes it tough to find time for guys like Jones.
10. Derek Fisher (last week: 11)
I heard some people question why Fisher was even signed. See, I think this is exactly how Brooks should be using him. He’s the third point guard, only to be called upon for regular rotation minutes in case of emergency. And he’s platooning as the 10th/11th man, stepping in when the matchup sees fit or Brooks needs a little perimeter shooting spark.
I’ve always felt that having Fisher on your team isn’t a bad thing. It’s just about not getting carried away with him in critical situations. And I still don’t love him cutting into Jackson or Lamb’s minutes.
11. Andre Roberson (last week: 12)
One start and 13 minutes of action for the rookie. And while he looks like man shopping at Victoria’s Secret on the offensive end, he’s a bulldog on the other side. I think it’s obvious that the coaching staff is grooming him to be Thabo-ish, and that’s what the front office had in mind when they moved up to draft him.
Thabo has really good feel and some nice offensive skill, while Roberson is mostly just directly lines and mechanical. But if he can focus on the 3-point line and then be productive on the offensive glass and in transition, he could make something of himself, and maybe make Thabo expendable in the offseason. Thabo’s 3-point shot is something that developed in the last couple years, so Roberson has a lot of time to work on that.
12. Kendrick Perkins (last week: 10)
Last season, the biggest defense of Perk was that all the advanced numbers showed the Thunder were better on both ends with him on the floor. OKC was a +10.4 per 100 possessions with him on, and a +8.8 with him off. The difference between Perk was definitely in the plus side, but it was also fairly negligible and probably could’ve been chalked up to being more fortuitous that he saw the bulk of his minutes with Westbrook and Durant, rather than a big impact on his own.
This season so far though, it’s bad.
The Thunder are -6.8 points per 100 possessions worse with Perk on the floor, and a +5.8 with him off. His big calling card is interior defense, and OKC’s allowing 48.1 points in the paint per 100 with him on, and 37.6 with him off.
It’s still early and we probably should wait until Christmas, or at least the end of November to really draw a conclusion, but the Thunder’s starting five appears to be reverting back to its 2011-12 self, which isn’t good.
13. Hasheem Thabeet (last week: 14)
Something that always drives me crazy: What makes Roy Hibbert what he is, and Hasheem Thabeet what he is? Is it just hard work? Is it mental? Is it coaching? Is it simple coordination and motor skills? Is it something else? Both guys are 7-3, but one is on his way to being DPOY and the other is rightfully back on the end of the bench. How does that happen?
14. Ryan Gomes (last week: 13)
Remember that one time he started the second half in place for Ibaka? Dub tee eff?
All stats via NBA.com/stats