Last season, the Thunder started 1-2, then won 20 of 22 to get to 21-4 before losing two straight at Christmas.
This season, they started 5-3 and have won 14 of 15 to get to 19-4.
So with all the offseason grumbles and questions and worries, the Thunder are on track to possibly repeat their incredibly good 2012-13 regular season. And if they can, you know, not lose their second best player in the postseason, we may get a glimpse of what was supposed to happen last season.
Except — and I wrote this for the Daily Dime last night — I think this Thunder team is without a doubt the deepest, most talented yet. Kevin Durant is reaching new levels, and he’s still two or three years away from his prime. Russell Westbrook is rounding into form, and Serge Ibaka has taken leaps forward. Add in the talent of Reggie Jackson, Jeremy Lamb and Steven Adams, and the Thunder have their best, most complete second unit yet.
The only thing left to wonder is if they’re capable of doing it in the postseason.
1. Kevin Durant (last week: 1)
Currently, KD is averaging 28.5 points, 8.3 rebounds and 4.9 assists per game. Players in NBA history to average 28-8-5 (or 4.9) in a season: Wilt Chamberlain (twice), Oscar Robertson (four times), Larry Bird (twice), Elgin Baylor, Michael Jordan and John Havlicek. As you can see, LeBron’s name is absent from that list. He’s never had a season of 28-8-5.
Now, he has had seasons of 29.7/7.3/8.6 and 30/7.9/7.2, so it’s not like KD’s having a superior season to anything LeBron’s ever done. It’s more to just illustrate that for all the noise about there being a monumental chasm between the two and that Durant can never reach LeBron’s level as a complete player, KD’s doing things LeBron never has. Like the 50-40-90 last season.
And if you’re wondering if Durant can sustain it, last season he averaged 28.1/7.9/4.6. So really, this just looks like another step forward.
Also, KD’s under the 50/40/90 threshold right now (47.5/37.5/88.3) but in December, he’s found his stroke nicely shooting 55.6 percent from the field, 51.6 percent from 3 and 88.2 percent from the line. So KD’s December is close to going 29 points, nine rebounds and five assists on 55-50-90 splits. Hey. Now.
2. Russell Westbrook (last week: 2)
Westbrook’s December so far: 20.7 points, 6.2 rebounds and 8.0 assists while shooting 42.4 percent from the field. I mentioned it after the Laker game, but Westbrook is finding his distribution groove again, playing within the offense as both a passer and a scorer.
The one area of his game though that remains confusing is the number of 3s he’s firing up. He increased his attempts last season quite significantly, going from 196 in 2011-12 (in 66 games, mind you) to 300 last season. This season, he’s on pace to shoot more than 400 as he’s taking over one 3 more a game this season.
Westbrook explained it after the Laker game by saying he’s trying to make defenses respect it more and not go under screens, but I asked him a little more about it last night. He’s taking fewer long 2-pointers and more 3-pointers, so I was curious if that was a conscious decision to try and cut back on a lower efficiency shot.
“Nah, not really, but there’s no need to take long 2s,” Westbrook said. “If you’re going to take a [long] 2, you might as well take a step back and shoot a 3.”
I wondered if maybe the organization — who of course is pretty analytically driven — may have encouraged him on that.
“Nah not really, just something I’ve learned,” he said. “It’s a better percentage if you just back up a step or if you go in a step instead of taking a long 2. It’s a bad shot.”
(Random thing: Westbrook is just 4-20 from 5-9 feet this season. I have no explanation for that.)
3. Reggie Jackson (last week: 3)
Continuing the theme, Jackson in December: 14.7 points, 3.9 rebounds, 3.3 assists in 26.7 minutes. That’s more production than Kevin Martin gave the Thunder last season in more minutes. Right now, without question, the Thunder are better off with Jackson than Martin. And if the Thunder had retained Martin, they’d be in the luxury tax right now and either Jackson’s role would simply be “Westbrook’s backup” and Jeremy Lamb would be in Tulsa.
Looks like that decision worked out alright.
Another note on Jackson: We all knew that his midrange game was the big missing thing in his progression, and he’s taking a big step there in both taking and making those shots. He’s still over 60 percent inside of five feet, but Jackson has hit 14 of 28 from 10-14 feet and 13 of 25 from 15-19 feet this season. That’s 50 and 52 percent. That’s excellent. He’s also found his 3-point stroke some, hitting 14 of his last 33 from deep.
So that’s not bad. Good luck guarding him, NBA.
4. Serge Ibaka (last week: 4)
Foul trouble against the Magic on Sunday cost Ibaka a stretch of 14 straight games in double-figures, which was the longest run of that in his career. And he’s got 11 double-doubles on the season after having 15 all of last year.
5. Jeremy Lamb (last week: 6)
In December, Lamb is shooting 54.7 percent from the floor, 44 percent from 3 and averaging 10.7 points a game. He’s scored in double-figures six times already this month, after doing it six total times in November.
Here’s a horrible thought, though: Could “Jackson or Lamb?” be the next “Harden or Ibaka?” discussion? I realize they aren’t up for contracts at the same time, but it does seem like it could be difficult to eventually keep both. Let’s not talk about this anymore.
6. Steven Adams (last week: 9)
Something I love about Adams: While his teammates around him are making sure to put on their designer clothes and look fresh with whatever they’ve got, Adams almost always puts on a full sweatsuit with Adidas low-tops after each game. He’s a giant child.
7. Andre Roberson (last week: N/A)
He started in place of Thabo for a few games and showed flashes of potentially becoming Thabo 2.0. His defensive ability is obviously special, but he’s got a ways to go on the other end. But you can be a very good NBA player and stink offensively. Just ask Tony Allen.
8. Perry Jones (last week: 11)
OK, so let’s figure this out: How can Perry Jones find more minutes? Durant’s getting 38, Westbrook and Ibaka are getting 33, Sefolosh’s getting 25.6, Jackson’s almost getting 25 and Lamb’s almost getting 21. Can’t see any of those guys having time trimmed off. Perk is getting 18.4, but he’s not really in Jones’ way. Nick Collison gets 17.1 and sort of is. Derek Fisher is getting 13.4 and depending on matchup, is sort of in the way.
The question is, is trying to throw Jones in there for two minutes a half really worth it? A guy needs a little extended time on the floor to make an impact, so playing Jones less than 10 minutes a game feels like a waste. Best way to do it? Play small 80 percent of the time, use Collison, Adams and Ibaka as your primary centers and interchange Jones and Durant at power forward.
But, like that would ever happen.
9. Nick Collison (last week: 5)
[Insert positive comment here.]
10. Kendrick Perkins (last week: 7)
We’ll always have the night when Kendrick Perkins outscored Kobe Bryant. Amnesty THAT.
11. Thabo Sefolosha (last week: 8)
Roberson isn’t ready yet, and Thabo still has the ability to make plus plays, like his four steals against the Magic. But he seems oddly uncomfortable on the offensive end, and his 3-point shot looks really flat. I know the Thunder see Roberson as maybe the next Thabo, but I’m not so sure that Lamb isn’t the future starter. He’s a lot different than Harden in that he doesn’t need the ball in his hands to be most effective. Lamb plays really well off the ball, fits easily with others and doesn’t appear to have much ego in him.
12. Derek Fisher (last week: 10)
No. 12 in player power rankings this week, No. 1 in smell.
13. Hasheem Thabeet (last week: 13)
Scott Brooks said this on Sunday after the game when talking about depth: “Like Hash. Hash hasn’t played much. He’s a very good player. He can play minutes in this league.” My takeaway: Scott Brooks has a very loose definition of the word “very.”
14. Ryan Gomes (last week: 12)
He currently has a -1.8 PER.