The Thunder are now 14-6 without Russell Westbrook. Pretty darn good.
But they’re undefeated in franchise history without both Westbrook and Kevin Durant. So are they better off without their two stars question mark exclamation mark question mark?
1a. Kevin Durant (last week: 1)
KD is going plain ballistic right now. What’s now being referred to as the Slim Reaper Era, Durant is averaging 36.2 points, 7.6 rebounds and 5.9 assists with 53-39-88 shooting splits in the 16 recent games without Russell Westbrook. He’s got four 40-point games, one 50-point game, and a triple-double. The last two weeks, he’s averaging 38.7 points on 60-48-87 splits, with 6.4 rebounds and 6.4 assists.
But here’s an interesting question: Is he really playing that much better than normal? Or is he just seeing more of the offense than usual, which is allowing him to post absurd, jaw-dropping numbers? Since Dec. 26, which is the beginning of this Reaper Era, Durant is taking 22.2 shots a game, compared to 18.3 pre-Reaper. His usage rate has gone from 27.9 in the games prior to Dec. 26, to 33.2 since. His true shooting is up from 62.8 percent to 66.5 percent, and eFG% from 54.2 to 58.9. Durant’s playing better, there’s no question. But maybe the clearer explanation for this is that he’s not sharing a a third of the offense with another player anymore. (Westbrook’s usage rate is 31.2 this season.)
Obviously, this isn’t to take anything away from Durant’s recent stretch. It’s more to illustrate that he’s played brilliantly all season long. What’s made this recent run so eye-popping is the fact he’s doing it as a lone wolf, meaning he’s having to attack defenses with them doubling and tripling him. And of course, all the big shots, the fourth quarters, the dagger 3s.
Plus there’s the impressive fact that should be noted that Durant has increased his attempts and usage, and not just maintained his efficiency, but increased upon it. There’s no question that KD is playing at maybe the highest level of his career. Point is though, he’s kind of sort of played similar to this all the time the last few years, just with a smaller share of the offense to use.
But without Westbrook, it’s really just what so many of us have always been curious about. Durant’s conscious has been reduced, so he’s firing away a bit more liberally. And again, he’s not sharing anything. Even any kind of thought to yourself about the Thunder being better off without Westbrook is incredibly stupid, so don’t say it out loud, but with the way Durant’s played lately, I do think it’s worthwhile to ask: Have the Thunder been getting all they can out of KD?
Also, some more stat porn about Durant: He’s the league most lethal scorer. Duh. But per SportVU, he only averages 3.2 total minutes of actual gametime possessing the ball. KD’s averaging 0.47 points per touch this season (No. 1 in the league among players that have played at least 30 games), meaning basically 50 percent of the time Durant literally gets his hands on the basketball, it produces points. Insanity. During this 10-game streak of at least 30 points every night, KD’s taken 226 total shots, and scored 382 points. That’s 1.7 points per shot attempt. What.
Oh, and one more for good measure: KD recovers 74.4 percent of rebounds he has a chance at, No. 1 in the league. When those go-go-gadget arms get close to a board, they reel it in.
1b. Royal Ivey (last week: 1)
The Thunder are 7-0 since they signed Ivey. Also: Durant’s averages since Ivey joined the team (seven games): 38.7 points on 60-48-87 splits, with 6.4 rebounds and 6.4 assists.
And they didn’t re-sign him.
You’re dead to me, Presti.
2. Serge Ibaka (last week: 2)
It might be too late for Ibaka, but there’s no question he’s played like an All-Star the last two weeks. During this seven-game win streak, Ibaka is averaging 18.9 points on 62.1 percent shooting, and 50 percent from 3, with 8.7 rebounds and 3.1 blocks.
That’s pretty good.
3. Reggie Jackson (last week: 3)
Against the 76ers, Jackson played really poorly, but before that, he had a run of seven straight games in double-figures. His performance against the Spurs was spectacular, and exciting for potential future reasons, and against the Celtics he turned around a poor start to finish with eight assists.
Jackson as a starter has performed admirably, but he very clearly is more conditioned for his bench role. So maybe this whole Westbrook out thing could be beneficial for the Thunder in the long run. Jackson has played well enough, but not so overly wonderful that he’s cemented himself as a $10 million a year player. He might still get there, especially if he explodes in the postseason, but right now the Thunder are getting best-case stuff. Jackson is playing good enough for the Thunder to win, but not so well that his price tag is skyrocketing.
4. Kendrick Perkins (last week: 7)
The last week, Perk has played some pretty impactful basketball. His rebounding has been better, and his defense against LaMarcus Aldridge was stellar and as important to a Thunder win against the Blazers as KD’s fourth quarter eruption. Credit where it’s due.
Here’s an interesting thing via SportVU: Ibaka this season at the rim is allowing opponents to shoot 43.4 percent, which is very good. Roy Hibbert, who is a lot of folk’s Defensive Player of the Year, is allowing 40.5 percent.
Perk though? He’s allowing 36.8 percent, which among bigs that have appeared in 30 or more games this season, is No. 1 in the league.
Now, here’s a little caveat to that: Perk only sees 3.5 attempts a game at the rim, while Ibaka sees 9.5, meaning Ibaka more routinely contests in the restricted area. (Hibbert sees 9.7.) There aren’t a lot of stats out there that help Perk much, but that’s at least one.
5. Jeremy Lamb (last week: 4)
The game against Boston was very nice for Lamb, but still, his January has been mostly mediocre. He’s only shot better than 50 percent in four of 14 games this month, and is shooting 37.5 percent and 26.7 percent from 3 in January.
Last week, I thought Lamb’s dip in efficiency might’ve been tied to the shaken up second unit as his running buddy Reggie Jackson has been forced into the starting five. Instead of playing most of his minutes alongside Jackson, his point guard is now largely Derek Fisher.
With Fisher on the floor with him (average of 12.8 minutes per game), Lamb is shooting 42.7 percent and 34.1 percent. With him off (9.9 minutes per game), 46.8 percent and 36.1 from 3. But since Dec. 26 when Jackson became a starter, Lamb is playing 17.0 minutes a game with Fisher and only 7.7 without him. And he’s shooting 39.6 percent from the field with Fisher, and 44.4 percent without him.
Compare that to Jackson, who Lamb has played 13.2 minutes with and 9.2 minutes without, he’s shooting 45.3 percent with him on and 37.3 percent from 3. Since Dec. 26 though, Lamb’s only playing 10.1 minutes with Jackson. Mildly interesting.
6. Nick Collison (last week: 5)
First two months, Collison didn’t score in double-figures once. The last six games, he’s done it twice. What does this mean? Is it significant? I don’t know. But I’m choosing to believe it means he’s kickstarting a late run at MVP.
7. Thabo Sefolosha (last week: 6)
The past few weeks, Thabo has definitely played better. But I can’t shake this: The Thunder are almost seven points per 100 possessions better offensively with him on the bench, and 1.6 points better on defense with him off the floor.
8. Derek Fisher (last week: 9)
The common, widely accepted opinion is that Scott Brooks holds the Thunder back because of his addiction to intangibles, specifically with Fisher and Perk. With Perk, there’s really no good argument to defend his minutes outside of the “he does so many small things!” take. The on/off numbers, the adjusted plus/minus, the raw box score stats — they all say Perk is harming more than helping.
Fisher, on the other hands, really just doesn’t pass the eye test. He’s 39 years old, slow, unathletic, doesn’t really have a position, and streaky with his shot. But with Fisher on the floor, the Thunder are a net +11.4. They score 109.1 points per 100, and allow 97.7. Yes, you could make the case that he benefits from the good fortune of playing with a stout second unit, but there’s also this: Via GotBuckets.com, Fisher, per possession, ranks 66th overall in the league in adjusted plus/minus.
Should Fisher be playing 20 minutes a game? Still no, but again, unlike Perk, there actually is some data there to make a case.
9. Steven Adams (last week: 8)
Adams is No. 1 in the league in contested rebound percentage, grabbing 55 percent of all boards that he had to fight for. And his per 36 numbers remain impressive: 9.0 points, 10.1 rebounds and 1.8 blocks. I’m excited about the Kiwi Era.
10. Perry Jones III (last week: 10)
11. Andre Roberson (last week: 11)
12. Hasheem Thabeet (last week: 12)
Thabeet is obviously the captain of the bench mob celebration, and has legit superstar bench mob potential. But he needs to add some towel-waving to his repertoire. And not any towel. He needs like an effing huge beach towel.
Stats via NBA.com/stats