Thunder Player Power Rankings: Crunched

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Each week the Thunder roster gets ranked and the games that were get reviewed. Who stood out and who didn’t? Week 14 is now in the books, so how did things for Oklahoma City go?

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With Kyrie Irving torching the Thunder in crunchtime Saturday night, Oklahoma City dropped to just 9-7 in games decided by two possessions or less this season.

For a team that features not only two of the best players in the world, but two of the best closers in the world, 9-7 doesn’t seem to be all that terrific. I know what you’re thinking too: James Harden murmur murmur murmur. Yeah, losing a really great player like Harden certainly has impacted the way the Thunder have performed at times. Except in games decided by two possessions or less last season, the Thunder were 12-11 (For comparison: The Heat are 8-4 in games decided by two possessions or less, the Spurs 11-6.) So I don’t think it’s fair to read into anything there.

(OTHER STAT: The Thunder are 24-0 in games they won by 10 points or more. Seems to me that winning, especially by 10 or more, is an effective strategy and an answer to the two possession thing.)

Here are some team clutch stats (last five minutes of a game with a margin of five or less) for the Thunder:

  • The Thunder are 13-10 in those games. The best record in the league is Miami at 16-6. OKC’s .565 winning percentage is 13th best in the league.
  • OKC’s offensive rating is 116.0. Which is fantastic, but fourth in the league behind Portland (?), the Clippers and Miami.
  • OKC’s defensive rating is 103.3. Which is meh. That ranks 15th in the league. The Pacers are tops with an 80.4 rating. Miami’s is 89.8.
  • The Thunder have only scored 58 points in the paint. That’s 26th in the league.
  • OKC shoots 44.1 percent — sixth in the league.

I think the point is this: In the NBA, winning close games is hard. I think each close game is sort of its own entity too — I don’t necessarily see a trend. The margin between winning a close game and losing is truly like five or six total plays. When those don’t go your way, you lose. When they do, you win. Having great crunchtime players and a great crunchtime plan definitely helps, but there are no guarantees.

Rankings:

1. Kevin Durant (Last week: 1)

Speaking of clutch time, Durant is shouldering quite the crunchtime load for the Thunder right now. His usage in the clutch has skyrocketed, especially over the past few games, all the way up to 44.8 (41.4 last season). In the clutch Durant has been excellent, averaging 41.5 points per 36 on 45 percent shooting.

But my one question is if this is putting too much on KD, especially considering the other weapons OKC has at its disposal.

It’s a catch-22 thing for OKC. On one hand, you want the ball in Durant’s hands in the tight situations. But on the other, you want to make sure you’re utilizing the other four players on the floor, especially the ones that are dangerous like Kevin Martin, Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka. The past few weeks, the Thunder’s cruchtime offense has been about isolating Durant in the high post or on the right wing and letting him operate. Again, ball in KD’s hands = good.

But in Westbrook’s case, he’s being neutered into essentially a ball control quarterback. He’s just walked the ball up the floor and handing it off to KD and then getting out of the way. There are so many critics about Westbrook and taking shots from Durant, especially in the clutch, but it’s not about specifically those two, it’s about what’s best for OKC. And clipping the wings of one of your best scorers and turning him into Christian Ponder when he’s otherwise Colin Kaepernick seems a little strange to me.

Again, the stats show that in the clutch the Thunder’s offense is very good, averaging more points per 100 than they otherwise do the rest of the game. I get the feeling that the sample size is throwing that a bit, but it’s true: The crunchtime defense is more an issue than the offense. Still, creating effective and open looks is the goal and downsizing the power of the Thunder offense — at least on a consistent basis — isn’t the best approach in my mind. Each game is unique and matchups should dictate those decisions instead of it just being The Way It Is.

2. Russell Westbrook (Last week: 2)

I’m definitely over the Russell Eruption, but one last thought on it: Was it immature, stupid and petulant? Definitely. But in basketball, there are these white lines that separate what happens on the floor versus what happens off of it. And on the floor, Westbrook has been brilliant this season, especially the last two games. While his bratty behavior on the bench was ugly and unseemly, it obviously didn’t impact the way he, or  really the team, performed.

And isn’t that what it’s really about? Westbrook’s explosion looked bad and it created an undesired firestorm that left players and coaches answering questions about it and sent talking heads on their way running to conclusions. But the point is, would it matter if Westbrook threw Gatorade in Mo Cheeks face then lit a chair on fire as long as when he walked across those white lines he played well?

What Westbrook has to understand is that he’s a lightning rod for this stuff and all it does is create a distraction and negativity around the entire team. But for only about a week. This latest Russell Thing will blow over just like the rest of them have. This idea that a dust-up in January is going to change something that’s going to happen in June is so dumb that I’m done talking about this.

3. Kevin Martin (Last week: 3)

Martin finds himself third because no one else behind him really did anything to take the spot away. He averaged 15.5 points on 42.3 percent shooting and 46.1 percent from 3.

4. Serge Ibaka (Last week: 5)

Ibaka played an incredibly soft game against the Grizzlies, putting up just four points and one rebound (though he had six blocks). Then he played a very strong game against the Cavs, putting up 18 points, 12 boards and four blocks. I found it rather strange to against the Cavs that Ibaka didn’t check back into the game until there was about six minutes left, especially with how well he was playing.

5. Nick Collison (Last week: 7)

Collison was so f-wording good against the Grizzlies. He had the fun dunk, but his defense on Zach Randolph was just spectacular. Collison has had some great games this season, but I think that one might’ve been his best.

6. Kendrick Perkins (Last week: 4)

Perk was so good protecting the basket against the Cavs on Saturday that I had multiple “Whoa nice block Serge wait that was Perk what?” moments. One play I was especially impressed with was the one he contested Dion Waiters at the rim who dropped the ball off to Marreese Speights who went up for a dunk but Perk landed and elevated again to block it. I don’t remember seeing Perk get down and then up again that quick really ever since he’s been in OKC.

7. Thabo Sefolosha (Last week: 6)

Thabo’s ranking this week really isn’t his fault. It’s more about him curiously playing only 24 minutes against the Cavs on Saturday. Scott Brooks gets put in a tough spot late in games when he wants to have two big men on the floor because it means he has to choose between Martin and Thabo (since it’s been well-established that Brooks for some reason doesn’t do offense/defense situational subs).

He went with Martin, which is something I’m thinking more and more isn’t wise, because all he is during crunchtime is a spot-up kickout option for Durant (or sometimes, Westbrook). If that’s the case, then doesn’t it make more sense to have Thabo on the floor? He’s not as good a shooter as Martin, but he’s certainly a better defender, especially in versatility. It’s happened a few times this season, but isn’t it something to at least think more about, especially if Martin isn’t going to be involved?

8. Reggie Jackson (Last week: 8)

Per 40 minutes, Jackson is averaging 7.9 rebounds. For comparison, Westbrook is averaging 5.9. Jackson pulls in 2.0 rebounds a game in 10.3 minutes, which is extremely good. He’s proven to be an especially strong rebounder for his position.

9. DeAndre Liggins (Last week: 9)

Liggins has appeared in 16 straight games, which is a considerable achievement when you think about his place on the team back in October. He’s just a spot rotation defender, but still a high energy guy that is always a threat to provide a spark.

Other thing: Liggins picked up technical fouls in both games this past week. With each technical costing him $2,000, that’s quite a chunk out of his game checks. He makes roughly $9,295 per game (before taxes), so for Liggins, a little tech isn’t something to just forget about. That’s real money.

10. Hasheem Thabeet (Last week: 10)

A little better week for Thabeet, at least in that he was somewhat useful in the 22 total minutes he played.

11. Perry Jones III (Last week: 11)

I love the random two-minute runs Jones gets. As if he’s going to make any kind of impact or do anything to nail down a firmer spot in the rotation. What’s the point? If you’re going to play him, play him.

12. Eric Maynor (Last week: 12)

The trade deadline is 17 days away. Are we looking at the final 17 days in a Thunder uniform for Eric Maynor? I lean towards no, but I definitely think if OKC’s going to make a deal, he could be a throw-in piece.

Inactives: Daniel Orton, Jeremy Lamb

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