Heading into a tricky three-game road trip with games against the Clippers, Warriors and Bucks, the Thunder appear to be in a great spot. They’re 5-1, with their only loss being what now seems to have been a bit of an outlier, and with Russell Westbrook back, they seem to be whole again.
But the stunning comeback against the Wizards illustrated the team maybe has matured a little bit without Westbrook. It seemed like every problem the team was having was mostly fixed by his return, but facing a 10-point deficit with four minutes to go and their All-Star point guard in the locker room, the Thunder’s supporting cast sparked a run to forced overtime, and did the job in the extra frame.
After the game, Kevin Durant even said it was “some of the best basketball I’ve been a part of here.” It was obvious how excited he was about the Thunder’s others after the game last night. It’s November and hitting a big transition 3 against the Wizards is a lot different than doing it against the Spurs in May, but you’ve got to start somewhere.
1. Kevin Durant (last week: 2)
Let’s check in on KD’s statistics two weeks into the season. He’s averaged 30.2 points per game (best in the league), 7.3 rebounds, 4.3 assists and has a PER of 29.0. His percentages are “down” from the 50-40-90 class, but hey, it’s early and he’s got some stuff to work on.
Something I was surprised by, though, and it’s way early and too soon to take anything from it, but OKC’s offensive rating with KD on the floor is 101.4 and defensive is 100.4, while with him off the floor it’s 105.2 and 89.6.
2. Serge Ibaka (last week 5)
Ibaka started the season slowly, but he’s good now. His last three games: 17.6 points (on 64.8 percent shooting) and 11.3 rebounds. On the season, Ibaka hasn’t pulled in fewer than nine rebounds in a game, and he’s hit double-digits in four of the six. Last season, Ibaka had 16 double-digit rebounding games. He’s 25 percent of the way to that already.
I don’t know if this is an area Ibaka has legitimately improved at, or if it’s just an early season blip, but it seems like an excellent sign.
3. Russell Westbrook (last week: 1)
Westbrook’s presence alone has improved the Thunder mightily, even if he’s not playing all that wonderfully. He’s averaging 19.0 points, but just 3.8 assists and he’s shooting only 33.8 percent from the floor. The big issue: He’s not finishing at the rim at all. Westbrook is just 13-38 (34.2 percent) at the rim so far, when last season he shot 52.6 percent there.
Not counting 3s, he’s only taken 20 shots outside of the restricted area this season. So he’s attacking, and attacking often, but he’s just not putting them down. I think that’s a clear sign of rust and something not to be worried about.
4. Steven Adams (last week: 7)
So he didn’t keep it going against the Wizards, but still, what a week for the Kiwi. His first career double-double was something to behold, but there’s just a general look and feel to Adams that is impressive. The way he moves, the way he carries himself, the way he plays. He’s physical without trying to be physical. He’s imposing. He isn’t just big, but he plays big.
Adams is rocking a quality PER of 18.78 so far this season and his per 36 numbers are even more impressive: 10.8 points, 10.8 rebounds.
With Adams on the floor, opposing team’s second chance point opportunities go from 6.3 a game to 4.3, and their points in the paint from 25.7 with him on the bench to 12.7 with him on the floor.
The excitement around Adams is bubbling, as evidenced by Scott Brooks’ pregame availability before Sunday’s game. He talked for 10 minutes, and roughly eight of those were answering questions about Adams.
5. Reggie Jackson (last week: 3)
Jackson has been used mostly this season as Westbrook’s backup, though Brooks has made an apparent effort to get them on the floor together more. So far, they’ve played 22 minutes together this season, and in that, they’ve posted an offensive rating of 133.2 with a defensive rating of 92.4. Early, but quality results so far. Last season, Westbrook and Jackson played 161 total minutes together, and most of that came in the last month of the season.
The way Jackson needs to be used, though, is so similar to how Harden was. Because he needs his time on the floor controlling the team on his own to get going, because when he’s on the floor with Westbrook and Durant, he’s mostly a decoy. That’s not a bad thing and with two attacking guards to use, it puts a ton of pressure on opposing defenses.
Jackson’s big hangup is his inconsistency from 3 (he’s just 2-14 this season and hasn’t made one since the Utah game), but he is shooting from midrange much more confidently. He’s only getting 23.7 minutes a game so far, and I think that will creep closer to 26 or 27 by the end of the season. He’s just too good to keep off the floor.
6. Nick Collison (last week: 4)
With Thunder halfcourt offense sometimes becoming an issue, especially late in game, what about just forgoing any kind of set play and just running two-man game with Collison over and over again? Isolate him and Durant, or him and Westbrook, or him and Jackson or him and Perk for all I care. When you put the ball in Collison’s hands running a two-man with someone, good things happen.
7. Jeremy Lamb (last week: 6)
Scott Brooks said a somewhat disturbing thing after Sunday’s game against the Wizards.
“His minutes are right at the level I like them at. Fifteen to sixteen minutes. Tonight he played 20. But those are minutes he’s earned in practice and he’s going to have to continue to improve.”
So Brooks wants to keep Lamb at 15-16 minutes a game. Hopefully, that just means for now, until Lamb proves himself more and installs a bit more confidence. Because with the way he’s performing and the offensive punch he’s capable of bringing, getting him 20 or more seems like a good idea. Especially since he’s currently the only guy outside of Durant that can make a 3.
Lamb per 36 so far this season: 19.1 points, 4.5 rebounds, 1.9 assists, 40 percent from 3, 46.7 percent from the field. Can he maintain that kind of efficiency and productivity? Dunno, but he’s off to a pretty terrific start and seems to be earning more time on the floor.
8. Perry Jones III (last week: 10)
I’ll raise my hand. I was one of the people that was just about ready to write off Jones as an NBA player, or at least one for the Thunder. After a lackluster preseason, it just didn’t seem like whatever it is was there for him. But through six games, he’s been a productive role player, doing his job and performing in spots. He knocked down a big 3 Sunday against the Wizards and put together a quality line. I don’t think Jones is going to be the kind of player that breaks out with big numbers or anything, but he can definitely impact a game positively. And he provides Brooks with a bunch of different lineup options.
9. Thabo Sefolosha (last week: 9)
Well, Thabo finally quit missing 3s. His fix? He just stopped shooting them. After falling to 3-19 from deep on the season with a 1-6 outing against the Pistons, he didn’t attempt one against the Wizards.
10. Kendrick Perkins (last week: 11)
Via Reddit: Before last night’s game, Derrick Rose’s PER, 5.30. Kendrick Perkins’ PER, 5.69. M-V-P! M-V-P!
So far this season though, OKC has struggled with Perk on the floor posting a dismal offensive rating of 95.4 with him on the floor and 106.2 with him off. And they’ve been better so far defensively with him on the bench too (101.3 to 96.7). Something to watch.
11. Derek Fisher (last week: 8)
Fun with early sample sizes: So far this season, the Thunder’s best two-man lineup is Fisher and Perk, posting an offensive rating of 151.8 in six minutes.
One actual Fisher takeaway: I think Scott Brooks is using him really well so far this season. And the fact Brooks is flexing game-to-game with his rotation, using Jones in some situations and Fisher in others is a good thing. I have always thought Fisher could have a positive impact on this team, but he needs to be used in a smart way, not as a 20-minute a night shooting guard.
12. Andre Roberson (last week: 12)
13. Ryan Gomes (last week: 13)
14. Hasheem Thabeet (last week: 14)