The sample size is still a bit thin, but we can see the trends emerging some in the Thunder with, and without, Russell Westbrook.
Throw out the first two games, and the one Westbrook rested. In just this recent stretch after Christmas (six games) the Thunder are 4-2 with losses to the Blazers and Nets, by a combined six points. They could’ve easily won both of those games and really, should have won both of those games. But they also could’ve, and probably should’ve lost to the Timberwolves. So it kind of balances out.
In the six games:
- The Thunder posted an offensive rating of 108.8 and defensive rating of 97.5
- The Thunder have a margin of victory of +9.3, which is massive, but also skewed a bit by two blowout wins over the Celtics and Rockets
- The Pythagorean for wins on the season with the six game sample is 82.4 percent or 67.5 wins (h/t Joe on that one)
- The Thunder’s best lineup (min. 10 minutes) during this stretch has been Fisher, Lamb, Jones, Durant and Collison, who posted an offensive rating of 149.4 and a defensive of 105.1 for a net of 44.3 in 11 minutes.
- The starting five has played 112 minutes together (94 more minutes than the second most used lineup) with an offensive rating of 107.1 and a defensive of 91.6 for a net of 15.5.
- Kevin Durant during these six games: 32.8 points on 51.9 percent shooting, 40.5 percent from 3, 9.5 rebounds, 5.5 assists and 1.2 steals in 37.5 minutes a game
A 4-2 record looks fine, and really, is fine, but it could be better. And it could be worse. If you just look at the numbers, you’d think the Thunder have plodded along well without Westbrook, scoring the ball easily and handling their business in decent fashion. But they’ve had clear problems, some very correctable like turnovers, others not so much like how to survive games on the shoulders of Durant alone.
Even with the issues, though, the Thunder still have a one-game lead in the Western Conference for the No. 1 seed. Like I said when Westbrook went down, the Thunder are in a decent spot because there isn’t a team competing with them likely to run off an hide. The losses to the Blazers and Nets might cost them down the line, but if they can just push ahead winning every four out of six, they’ll be just fine until the prodigal zero returns.
1. Kevin Durant (last week: 1)
I think the two games over the weekend really illustrated the development of Durant’s complete brilliance. One night, he goes Rucker Park, dropping 48 with 32 of it coming in a supernova second half. Twenty-four hours later, he’s setting the tone by creating and distributing, resisting low percentage looks and focusing on scoring within the flow.
Durant dominated both games, just in entirely different ways. He owned Saturday with his scoring touch. He owned Sunday with his control.
2. Jeremy Lamb (last week: 3)
KD on Lamb: “I love everything about Jeremy. What he brings to the table for our team. He can do it all. He’s athletic. He can pass, he can dribble, he can shoot. But I like his intensity, I like his focus, his hard work. With all of that, anything can be done on the court by him.”
That quote came Sunday after Lamb set a new career-high with six assists, the night after putting up a career-high eight rebounds. I’ve always thought of Lamb as a talented scorer and a gifted shooter, someone that would knock down shots when given them. I NEVER saw him developing into a complete basketball player, handling as well as anyone on the team in the pick-and-roll, setting up teammates, crashing the boards, defending on the ball — Lamb is blossoming into the total package bench player.
I said it after the Wolves game, but Kevin Martin, for as wonderfully an efficient scorer he could often be, basically did one thing well. If Martin was 2-9 from the floor, it meant he scored six points that night and didn’t give you much else. Lamb can go 2-9 with four assists and six big defensive rebounds. Forget the scoring touch. Lamb’s biggest impact appears to be his willingness to compete everywhere else.
3. Reggie Jackson (last week: 5)
Jackson as Westbrook’s stand-in these last six: 14.0 points on 42.7 percent shooting, 4.2 rebounds and 4.7 assists. Not great, but not bad either.
And his most recent performance — a career-high 27 on 9-12 shooting — showed what he’s capable of. It’s not that he needs to be Russell Westbrook, frantically attacking the rim and hitting pull-up jumpers en route to 25 a night. It’s that he needs to be Reggie Jackson. Smooth, confident and solid. Jackson has the ability to score 20 a game — I genuinely believe that — but he also is the kind of player that can go 3-12 and make little impact elsewhere.
Westbrook’s unique relentlessness means a 3-18 shooting game doesn’t stop him from doing something else. You can’t ask Jackson to develop that, because very few humans have what Russ has. The Thunder just need Jackson to be himself and do what he does.
4. Serge Ibaka (last week: 4)
Ibaka without Westbrook the last six games: 12.7 points on 54.4 percent shooting, 7.2 rebounds and 2.0 blocks. Not quite to the same level he performs with Westbrook as his point guard, but certainly better than the shell he was without him in the postseason.
Ibaka’s bread and butter though is from 15-19 feet, and in those six games he’s taken just 19 shots, which is just 3.1 a game, down from his season average of 3.9. He’s still shooting 52.4 percent from that range in the six games without Westbrook (up from his season percentage of 47.0), he’s just not getting as many of those looks.
Another interesting thing: In these six recent games, 75.7 of Ibaka’s baskets have been assist, slightly down from 78.7 on the season. In the six games, 13 of those assists have come from Reggie Jackson, six from Durant. The idea is that Westbrook is the one that gets Ibaka all his looks, but there’s this: On the season, Durant has assisted more baskets for Ibaka than anyone else (53). Westbrook is second with 47. Obviously Westbrook has played fewer games, but Durant has clearly taken on some of the responsibility to make sure Ibaka gets his looks.
5. Nick Collison (last week: 8)
Team plus/minus update: With Collison on the floor, the Thunder are +17.8 points per 100 possessions, and just a +3.3 with him off. By far the best on the team.
Something interesting about those numbers, though: The Thunder’s top five on/off guys are all from the bench (Jackson, Jones, Fisher, Lamb). Collison is just the king of all of them.
6. Perry Jones (last week: 9)
There’s something amazing about Jones and his ability to visibly impact a game on night, then complete blend in another. For example: He’s on the books with 10 trillion this season, and was a rebound away from another one the other night the Wolves. But then he has games like against the Nets or the Wolves where he’s stealing passes, getting on the offensive glass and knocking down shots.
7. Derek Fisher (last week: 11)
Check this: Since Dec. 21, Fisher has hit 11-of-23 from 3. In three games in January, he’s averaging 9.3 points and 3.3 assists with 50 percent shooting from 3 in 22.0 minutes a game.
Does he still play too much? Yes, because when he’s on the floor, often times either Lamb or Jackson is on the bench. But you can’t deny that Fisher has played well the past couple weeks, contributing in positive ways.
8. Steven Adams (last week: 10)
Had he not rolled an ankle, he was headed for a second double-double of the season, something a Thunder center hasn’t done in two seasons.
Question: What would Adams average playing 25 minutes a game? I think 6.0 points, 8.0 rebounds and 1.5 blocks sounds reasonable. Maybe even better than that. Per 36 can be deceiving, but Adams per 36 is averaging 9.6 points, 10.3 rebounds and 2.1 blocks. I could see Adams having at least a double-double a week, and a few big nights of 14 points and 15 boards.
I am excited for the future.
9. Kendrick Perkins (last week: 7)
With Perk scoring 12 points Sunday, it brought up the question from a lot of folks what his career-high is. It’s 26. He dropped that against the Bucks when he was with the Celtics in 2009. With the Thunder, his career-high is 17.
So basically what I’m saying here is, clear outs on clear outs for Perk you guys. Get the man the damn ball.
10. Thabo Sefolosha (last week: 6)
Thabo appeared to be coming around a bit offensively, putting up consecutive double-digit scoring games against the Bobcats and Rockets, but his last two he’s a combined 3-15 from the floor and 2-9 from 3.
11. Hasheem Thabeet (last week: 14)
Saw him play in an actual NBA game yesterday. True story.
12. Andre Roberson (last week: 13)
13. Ryan Gomes (last week: 12)
One guy played this week, one guy didn’t.
Inactive: Russell Westbrook