To describe the last week as merely “eventful” would be an insult to the legions of adverbs and adjectives available to encapsulate the whirlwind week for the Thunder.
However, with respect to the games, the big story was how Russell Westbrook got a hold of the nuclear launch codes and decided to launch. Early reports on the fallout show significant concern in Phoenix, New Orleans, and even Dallas, San Antonio, and Los Angeles.
- Beat the Dallas Mavericks at home, 104-89
- Beat the Charlotte Hornets in Charlotte, 110-103
- Beat the Denver Nuggets at home, 119-94
THE BEST PLAYER
Russell Westbrook. This week, Russell “the nuclear option” Westbrook had per game averages of 29 points, 12 assists, and seven rebounds on 52 percent shooting, 40 percent from three, and 93 percent from the free throw line. Per ESPN Stats and Info, Westbrook’s season averages of 26 points, seven assists, and six rebounds would put him in elite company, as only five other players have done so over a season: Oscar Robertson, Lebron James, John Havlicek, Michael Jordan, and Larry Bird.
What’s so special about Westbrook, and why he merits consideration in the MVP discussion, is that he can affect the game like so few players in the NBA. Not only do the stats paint a rosy picture (Russ is responsible for over 43 of the Thunder’s points per game this year, only one other player is responsible for more, James Harden), but he’s the fuel that feeds the Thunder’s engine. The game against Denver is an excellent example of this, not only did Russell load up on stats in bulk as if he was shopping at Costco, but he pushed the pace, played aggressive, and forced the rest of the team keep up (which they did, very well). Even when he was on the bench, he was in high gear waving his towel, fist pumping, and yelling.
Westbrook’s play should give every Thunder fan a lot of confidence going forward, even without Kevin Durant.
THE BEST PERFORMANCE
Russell Westbrook against the Nuggets. You know he had a good week when you could offer a compelling argument that any one of his performances was the “best.” Russ had a double double in every game (points and assists), and flat-out owned the court when he was out there. But I’m going to label his performance against the Nuggets as his best of the week. In just 27 minutes, Westbrook had 21 points, 17 assists, eight rebounds. In other words, Westbrook was very good in very little time.
For all the hate on Westbrook as a “shoot first, ask questions later” point guard, he’s become extremely adept and finding players and making great passes. Especially on the break, Westbrook always has his eyes up, surveying the floor, and he makes excellent passes. I mean, look at this guy’s eyes!
Honorable mentions: Serge Ibaka’s 21 point, 22 rebound game against the Mavericks, which was the first 20-20 game in Thunder history; Enes Kanter’s 20-point, 12-rebound game against the Nuggets; and every single Steve Novak quote to the media since the trade.
THE BEST PLAY
The Thunder’s defense is never going to overwhelm an opponent with schemes. The Thunder’s defense is an effort and energy defense, hounding opponents into reckless and rushed possessions with Ibaka a backstop to clean up everything that gets through to the paint. This play against the Nuggets captures what I’m talking about. Ty Lawson pushes the ball and is stood up by newly-acquired Kyle Singler, forcing Lawson to throw a terrible pass at the feet of Wilson Chandler. After a scrum, Jusuf Nurkic gets the ball and, again, Singler shows off some defensive prowess, forcing the miss. Chandler grabs the miss and is hounded by Ibaka and Westbrook with Ibaka blocking Chandler’s attempt. Chandler gets it back and is again swatted by Ibaka. Three attempts at the rim, three misses. Nice try, though, Denver.
Honorable mention: How about this outlet pass from Enes Kanter to Serge Ibaka?
THE WORST PLAYER
Dion Waiters. Honestly, there’s not a player who was glaringly awful this week. While Westbrook deserves much of the praise he’s receiving in droves, these were really team victories, with everyone contributing in their own way. Even the new guys have immediately come in, understood their role, and made a difference. But Dion’s inconsistency, poor decision making, and irrational confidence make him the most difficult Thunder player to watch. Even in Dion’s so-called “good games,” perception is largely driven by whether his step-back jumpers fall. For example, Dion scored 17 against Denver on a solid 7-15 shooting night, but most of his points came outside of the paint, and he was an atrocious 2-7 in the restricted area. While, I’m not ready to give up on Waiters yet, as I think there are some things he does well and if he can make smarter decisions he will be a nice piece off the bench, there’s little doubt he’s currently the worst player on the team earning rotation minutes.
THE WORST PERFORMANCE
Perry Jones against the Mavericks. As a result of the trades the Thunder pulled at the deadline, the Thunder were down to 10 available players against the Mavericks. As a result, Perry “I really did score 32 points against the Clippers” Jones got some meaningful minutes, and unless you were carefully watching the game, you would not have noticed. In 10 minutes action, Perry missed two shots, committed two fouls, and grabbed a solitary uncontested rebound. I know, I know, limited minutes, but for comparison’s sake look what Andre Roberson did in just 11 minutes against Denver: two points, three rebounds, two steals, and three assists. Perry Jones would call that stat line a good month.
THE WORST PLAY
I love Andre’s defense. He’s all over the place. Again, in just 11 minutes against Denver he made a solid contribution. But boy is he bad at three pointers, especially at home. In the first quarter against the Mavericks, Nick Collison finds Andre wide open on the wing from 3, and Andre misses everything, like truly everything (that pose, though!). Somehow, Roberson is 1-27 from three at home this season. I’d be curious to see how many airballs Andre has chucked up this year. Wait, nevermind.
Honorable mention: Russell and Singler need to work on their handshake game a little.
- Against Indiana on February 24
- At Phoenix on February 26
- At Portland on February 27
- At the Los Angeles Lakers on March 1
Follow John on Twitter at @ajohnnapier.