So let’s say Russell Westbrook misses the 27 games and returns right after the All-Star break. What would be a good record in those 27 for the Thunder?
They’re already 2-0, but put OKC at 15-12 over those 27, which I think is probably somewhat of a pessimistic outlook, especially considering how good they’re capable of playing as evidenced Sunday against Houston. But at 15-12, that would mean they’d be 38-17 through 55 games. Last season through 55, they were 40-15.
What I see them going is something more like 18-9, maybe even 20-7. They’ve got a few difficult games in there and they’re sure to lose a dumb one or two, but they’ve got a bunch of games against the East and a decent number against mediocre to bad teams. So let’s say 18-9. That means OKC’s 41-14 through 55, and still well on pace to finish on top of, or at least in the top two of the West.
The Thunder have done themselves quite the favor by spotting a 25-5 record and winning 20 of their last 22. The race for the top of the West is going to be ridiculous and it might take more than 60 wins. But the Spurs appear to have a few regular season holes and surely the Blazers can’t maintain this, right? (Right!?!)
So maybe something like 56-59 will get it done. And assuming the Thunder can play moderately well, defend their home court and win the games they should, another 60-win season could be accomplished.
1. Kevin Durant (last week: 2)
This Derek Fisher quote about KD is so simple, yet so perfectly descriptive of him: “Everything that you need and want your best player to be, that’s what he is.”
2. Russell Westbrook (last week: 1)
Lots of questions have come in concerning Westbrook’s situation. Let’s look at a few:
“One question I did not hear on the teleconference was, ‘What was the area of concern?’ The second surgery was purportedly to remove a loose stitch. Was the third surgery for a tear in the meniscus? Was any part of the meniscus removed? What was this problem area which surfaced eight months after the original injury? All that we know is that there was swelling and a surgery took place. We do not know what corrective actions were taken.” — Bart R.
Here’s what Presti recited both in his teleconference and in the press release: “There was an area of concern that had not previously existed, nor was detectable in the previous procedures” and because of it, he needed a knee scope. What is the area? Good luck figuring that out. I listened intently to every word Presti said about it and his explanations about why Westbrook played on Christmas despite having had the MRI and didn’t understand it. I feel like we need an “Explain It Like I’m Five” translator for him.
“Do you think the Westbrook situation adds to the trade possibilities for OKC, what type of moves do you see the Thunder making.” — @Baumdw
I think it’s premature to start talking trades with the Westbrook thing. But at the same time, if there’s a chance of more future issues with Westbrook’s knee this season, to the point where the postseason could be in question, it’s worth looking at.
Thing is, at this point, who are you comfortable trading? We’re all super excited with Jackson, Lamb and Jones — you really want to give one of them up for a veteran rental? I think the solution here is signing a veteran guard (Daniel Gibson?) for a short time to try and get by in terms of depth. But making a big trade? That just seems unlikely, unless there are larger concerns we’re not privy to.
“Is this going to mess up Russ’s career?” — David L.
It’s a scary question. Three surgeries in eight months is bad. But consider: One was to repair the torn meniscus, which was successful. The other two were minor procedures to reduce swelling. If we’ve learned anything, it’s that when Westbrook has been on the floor, there haven’t been any signs of him not being himself. He’s explosive, athletic, aggressive and effective.
The question is, is this “managing” as Presti called it going to have Westbrook sitting back-to-backs and playing fewer minutes? But as of now, too early to really freak out and start saying panicky things about his career. Remember: His meniscus was fully repaired. The organization has repeated that 500 times. He was playing pain free. So let’s just think about those things.
3. Jeremy Lamb (last week: 7)
Lamb’s week: 15.0 points on 60.7 percent shooting (17-28), 50 percent from 3 (6-12), 3.0 rebounds and 3.0 assists.
And it’s not just the numbers. It’s the way he’s playing. I keep saying it, but Lamb plays with an unselfishness that’s kind of jarring. He looks like he should be a gunner. He looks like he should take bad shots. But he swings the ball when he doesn’t have a shot, he cuts off the ball, he shoots when he’s open. And he’s so good in the two-man game. I asked him last night why he’s been so effective in it:
“We have great big men that set screens and our big men can hit that short jumper, they can hit a floater, they can pass out of the two-man. When you have a shooter coming off and a big man that can shoot, it makes it tough because you have to guard both and you can’t take everything away from the two-man game when you have two players that do their job. The big man has to do all the dirty work. He has to get open, has to set the screens and all that. I just come off hard and read my defender.”
4. Serge Ibaka (last week: 4)
Ibaka was a monster on the boards the first month of the season, and continued through a lot of December. But he’s tailed off some recently. After having eight double-digit rebounding games in November, he’s had six in December, but hasn’t registered one in four games. His previous longest drought from double-figure rebounds was two. He had nine against the Bobcats, but just six, three and five in the other three games.
I don’t mean it to sound like this is a concern or anything. It’s just proof that it’s pretty hard to sustain that kind of rebounding consistently over an 82-game schedule. And it’s not like the Thunder are hurting because of it. OKC’s No. 1 in the league in total rebounds a game (47.4), No. 1 by a large margin in rebounding margin (+5.4) and No. 1 in rebound percentage (53 percent). So they’re doing alright there.
5. Reggie Jackson (last week: 3)
After going 4-19 against the Bobcats, Jackson went 7-12 for 16 points against the Rockets. That’s a really good sign from a young player. He went from pressing and forcing it a bit to relaxing and playing his game in a 48-hour span.
6. Thabo Sefolosha (last week: 9)
Thabo scored 14 in the season opener against the Jazz, then went 19 games without scoring in double-figures. In his first 20 games, he hit 10 total 3s. He’s hit eight in his last six games, including at least one in each game.
7. Kendrick Perkins (last week: 11)
I had this in last night’s recap, but I asked Perk if he wishes there were more low post players in the league like Dwight Howard so he could show what he can still do more often. And he said something that I think is really interesting.
“At the same time, if it’s not, just got to do a better job on the pick-and-roll coverage or something like that. That’s what having a good team is all about, so you can matchup with any team.”
What Perk is basically acknowledging there is you have to have a team that can play other ways. Perk knows what he’s best at. He can defend the hell out of the low block. But against smaller, quicker bigs that play in the pick-and-roll, he’s not as effective. So like he said, you’ve got to have a roster built that can play different ways. Nick Collison is one of the best pick-and-roll defenders in basketball. Serge Ibaka is a versatile forward that can play the 5. It’s not up to Perk to play a new way — he’s not going to be getting any better; he is what he is. It’s up to Scott Brooks to make sure he’s got everyone in a position they can most succeed in.
8. Nick Collison (last week: 5)
Three assists in each of his last three games. Maybe he should be the backup point guard until Russ comes back.
9. Perry Jones (last week: 8)
Enough about trying to figure out how to get Jones more minutes. Let’s start talking about how to get him into the dunk contest. I’m already envisioning a dunk where he takes off, lands with both feet on top of the backboard, then dives through the rim like it’s a hulu hoop. I swear, the way Jones leaps, it looks like he’s in NBA Jam.
10. Steven Adams (last week: 6)
Let’s redraft the first round of last June’s draft. Where does Adams go this time around? Nobody taken behind Adams is jumping him. But ahead of the No. 12 slot where he was selected? Keeping in mind we’re all prisoners of the moment and are ignoring the future, probably ahead of Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Cody Zeller, Nerlens Noel, Alex Len, Otto Porter and Anthony Bennett, right? You could make a case for Adams to be a top five pick, I think.
So while when the pick landed on No. 12, it looked like the Thunder got poor value for Harden. But if Adams is top six pick worthy, not so bad, eh?
11. Derek Fisher (last week: 10)
It’s weird. Derek Fisher as a spot shooting guard that bulldogs opposing guards for a few minutes a half? Don’t really have a problem with it. But Derek Fisher playing the position he has his entire career as a backup point guard for extended minutes in each half? Have a problem with it.
12. Ryan Gomes (last week: 13)
I have to say, Ryan Gomes appears to be quite the upgrade over Ronnie Brewer.
13. Andre Roberson (last week: 14)
14. Hasheem Thabeet (last week: 12)
In terms of bench mobbing, these guys are starting to get there. Thabeet has always been high quality, but Roberson, Jones and others are starting to pick up on it.