It’s been quite a season for the Oklahoma City Thunder. Coming off a Western Conference Finals berth, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook were looking to take the next step as they gained another year of experience.
The lockout halted all basketball action for a while until the new CBA was settled. Finally, ten teams including the Thunder, opened up the season on Christmas Day relieving the six-month wait for basketball fans across the country.
The excitement in Oklahoma City was greater than it has ever been. For the first time since moving from Seattle, this franchise was a favorite to represent the West in the NBA Finals. They got off to an incredible start, winning 16 of their first 19 games and solidifying themselves as championship contenders.
The Thunder hit an early speed bump when backup point guard Eric Maynor went down for the season with a torn ACL. An already shaky bench situation was thrown for a loop. Reggie Jackson had to suffice as Westbrook picked up more minutes.
The season went on and the Thunder won more games. Then Thabo Sefolosha went down for around six weeks, forcing Daequan Cook to start while James Harden continued to come off the bench.
Both Durant and Westbrook gained All-Star nominations, with Harden just missing out. The Thunder went into the break at 27-7 and were on their way for the #1 seed in the conference.
A 7-5 start once the season resumed brought the team back down to Earth. Wins against the Miami Heat, Los Angeles Lakers, and Chicago Bulls in an eight-day period were the peak of the season. Kevin Durant looked like the MVP and the Thunder were settled in the top spot in the West.
Unfortunately, they lost their next three games leading to a 7-7 finish in which they ended up as the #2 seed in the conference. Still, 47 wins in a shortened season isn’t half bad and the Thunder have a great shot at making the NBA Finals.
Their road to the Finals begins on Saturday against either the Denver Nuggets or defending champion Dallas Mavericks, whom they beat 2-1 and 3-1 in the season series, respectively.
Now let’s give these guys some grades.
Kevin Durant- A+ 28.0pts/8.0reb/3.5ast/1.4stl/1.2blk 26.2 PER
Having established himself as one of the elite players in the league with many individual awards, Kevin Durant is ready to take his achievements to a team level. He quickly turned the Thunder into a legit Finals contender with an MVP-type season.
Unless Kobe Bryant scores 38 or more points tonight, KD will win his third straight scoring title, and will most likely be selected to the All-NBA team again.
He set career highs in rebounds, assists, and FG%. What really made this season different for Durant was his improvement defensively. His isolation defense is ranked 20th in the league, at 0.57 points per possession compared to 0.74 last season.
The main reason that Durant most likely will not win the MVP is because of LeBron’s defensive advantage. Even so, the gap is closing, with his athleticism and length Kevin can be a top notch defender which will lead to a few MVPs and hopefully some NBA titles.
Quite possibly the high point of the season for the Thunder star was scoring a career best 51 points against Denver in February. He had four 40+-point games to go along 18 double doubles. Missing that elusive triple double, Durant came within three assists three times.
Now, all of these stats and awards will mean nothing if the Thunder get knocked out in the first round of the playoffs. Basketball is a team game, and Durant will need to be a leader to take his team all the way.
Russell Westbrook- A 23.6pts/4.6reb/5.5ast/1.7stl 22.9 PER
Another great season for Russell Westbrook. Coming off a playoff run where he gained a lot of criticism for his shooting tendencies, Westbrook put that all behind him and played wonderfully.
He was rewarded with a second straight All-Star appearance while he continues to improve his play.
Shooting the ball at a higher rate, he raised his FG% 15 points. Although this led to a pretty significant drop in his AST%, his turnover rate dropped from 15.9 to 14.2.
As Westbrook continues to cutback on the turnovers, his play will get much better and more efficient. The Thunder run one of the most isolation dependent offenses in the league, which will lead to a lower Assist/Turnover ratio. Just over thirteen percent of the plays run are isolations, usually by Durant, Westbrook, or Harden.
For a point guard on one of the top teams in the league, you would think it’s surprising that Westbrook only had four games with double-digit assists, and none with more than 11. Honestly, I don’t see that as a problem for the Thunder. They are going to score at any rate, and he is really more of a shoot first point guard.
What to look for from Westbrook going into the playoffs is how spread out the scoring is. The Thunder will be under a huge spotlight due to their star power, and people will pay attention to how many shots he takes in relation to Durant. As long as they are both in the upper teens-20s, and are making shots, it shouldn’t be a problem.
James Harden- A 16.8pts/4.1reb/3.7ast/1.0stl 21.1 PER
Five days ago the Thunder were in great shape going into the playoffs. Nobody was injured and the players were getting ready to make a playoff run. Then Harden took an elbow to the head from Ron Artest (he was suspended 7 games), missing the final two games of the season while recovering from a concussion.
Now, Harden is cleared to play in the first round, but concussions are always a touchy subject. It’s hard to tell how effected a person is by a hit to the head, whether they can play to their full ability or not. We’ll see how he reacts to the injury when he plays this weekend.
Besides this unfortunate incident, James Harden has had an incredible season. After a great showing in last year’s playoffs, he was met with expectations of becoming that third All-Star caliber player for the Thunder.
He did just that.
Harden is a shoe-in for 6th Man of the Year, along with being a candidate for Most Improved Player. He could start for pretty much any team that isn’t the Heat, Lakers or Spurs, but coming off the bench is what the Thunder need from him. When Durant and Westbrook are out of the game, he gives the team multiple ways to score.
For a while now I have been saying that James Harden is the best passer on the Thunder. He is able to run a quality offense with what little offensive talent the Thunder bench holds, and is given the point in many clutch situations.
Once Eric Maynor went down, Harden was on his own in the backcourt. He either assisted or scored a majority of the points while the bench unit was in the game. Nick Collison was the only other person on the bench to play significant minutes and be productive.
Averaging 16.8 points while shooting 49.1%, Harden just missed out on an All-Star berth. Surely he will make plenty in the future if he keeps on improving at this pace.
In just his third season in the league, Harden has become one of the most efficient scorers in the NBA. His points per possession of 1.12 ranks seventh in the league, his .660 TS% is the best for a backcourt player in the league’s history. True Shooting percentage incorporates FG%, 3P% and FT%, which means he gets to the charity stripe often, and can hit shots from anywhere on the court with consistency.
A prime example of his efficiency is the stat line Harden put up against the Phoenix Suns eight days ago. In one of the most exciting games this season, James Harden scored a career high 40 points on just 17 shots. He hit five of eight 3-point attempts, and all 11 free throw tries.
This type of play is the reason why he will be the X-Factor for the Thunder going into the playoffs. If Durant or Westbrook struggle, they can count on Harden to score and take over the game if necessary.
Serge Ibaka- B+ 9.1pts/7.5reb/0.4ast/0.5stl/3.7blk 19.0 PER
You may have heard this a bit this year. Serge Ibaka has become the blocking king of the league. Averaging close to four blocks per game, he became the first person to block 241 shots since Marcus Camby in 07-08, and that’s even with the shortened season.
The breakout game for the 22(???) year old big man came on a day where the Thunder had two 40+-point scorers. Ibaka collected his first triple double by blocking 11 shots to go along with 14 points and 15 rebounds.
When someone is that dominant in the paint, they usually get looks for Defensive Player of the Year. Certainly people will give Serge votes, but it’s not time for that, yet. He really needs to improve all of the other parts of his defensive game, including pick and rolls, guarding smaller players, and not biting on pump fakes.
What I was really impressed with was Serge’s production on the offensive end. He may have dropped around a point per game from last year, but that really isn’t what matters with all of the scorers on the team.
The way he advanced his game was by adding more ways to score. His post moves are improving at a nice rate, and he has found a mid-ranged jumper. He hit shots from 16-21 feet at 45.5%, up from 41.8% last season. With more practice, his shot selection will improve, increasing his FG% and scoring average.
Against some of the smaller teams, we have seen Ibaka’s minutes go down under 20 due to his struggles guarding players outside the paint. With more time, he will be fit to play 30+ minutes every game.
We will see what Scott Brooks does once the playoffs start. Will he trust Ibaka to play a majority of the game with the season on the line?
Kendrick Perkins- C 5.1pts/6.6reb/1.2ast/0.4stl/1.1blk 8.7 PER
I don’t have a problem with Kendrick Perkins starting and only scoring five points, IF the only shots he gets are off offensive rebounds and the occasional wide open dunk. The worst thing the Thunder can do, is give the ball to Perk in the post, because he has ZERO post moves. It’s painful watching it.
Now on the defensive end, Perkins is really good. He is a solid pick and roll defender, and very good in isolation. That is how the Thunder will get the most out of the former Celtic. Keep him out of the offense and let him do his thing on defense.
This season, Perkins only scored double digit points eight times this year, with all but two of them coming after March 22nd. He also led the league with 13 technical fouls.
Kendrick Perkins doesn’t fill up the stat sheet, but he is still an above average NBA player, and is an able start for a championship contender.
Thabo Sefolosha- B 4.8pts/3.0reb/1.1ast/0.9stl/0.4blk 9.8 PER
Thabo played about just under 2/3 of this shortened season. His foot hindered him; he missed six weeks at the end of January into early March. The Thunder’s defense was affected by his absence, as Sefolosha is one of the premier wing defenders in the league.
Against smaller, faster teams, like the Nuggets, Sefolosha plays a more important part. When he is in along side Durant, Harden, and Westbrook, the Thunder’s defensive rating is better than normal at 1.01 ppp.
Thabo can hit 3-pointers at a nice rate. He shot 43.7% from beyond the arc, shooting 1.7 per game. His FT% is also in the upper 80s, so he isn’t a problem late in close games.
Defense wins championships, so Thabo will be an integral part in the Thunder’s run to the Finals.
Nick Collison- B+ 4.5pts/4.3reb/1.3ast/0.5stl/0.4blk 12.1 PER
I have really enjoyed watching Nick Collison come off the bench. He has good chemistry with James Harden, and is a stickler on defense.
When the bench comes in, the main offense run by the unit is either Harden isolation, or the two-man game with Harden and Collison. He may not score much, but he is very effective in running a system and helping players get open shots. Evidenced by his 121 offensive rating (basketball-reference).
I like to think Collison is a similar player as Joakim Noah. He may not have the same talent, but they play the same type of game. Both players have high motors, will do the dirty work necessary to be a factor in the game. Every team needs that guy who hustles 100% of the time, and Nick is that guy for the Thunder.
Daequan Cook- C- 5.5pts/2.1reb/0.3ast/0.4stl/0.2blk 9.2 PER
The thing with PER is, it only takes into account quantifiable stats. So the only defense it uses is blocks and steals, that’s why Perkins and Sefolosha have a lower PER, their defensive skills are more than just statistics.
Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for Daequan Cook. He is nowhere near a quality defensive player, and really isn’t even that good on offense.
Cook is supposed to be a 3-point specialist, that is why, of his 5.2 shots per games, 4 of them are 3-pointers. The best 3-point shooters are in the mid-40% range, above average shooters are in the upper-30s. Generally, if you are only on the team to make 3′s, you should be in one of those two categories.
Daequan Cook shot just 34.6% from range this year. That is not good. It’s not even like he just had a down year, he is a career 36.5% 3-point shooter.
When Thabo went down, and Cook had to step in and start, that’s when it got bad. There was a stretch of six games in the middle of February, where Cook made 4 of 34 attempts from beyond the arc. That is not good.
His minutes will be way down for the playoffs. I would be surprised if he got more than 10 minutes in any game that isn’t a blowout.
Eric Maynor- pts/ reb/ ast/ stl/ blk PER
In case you couldn’t tell, talking about Eric Maynor makes me sad. He was one of the best backup point guards in the league, and was really fun to watch. He would’ve helped this Thunder team out a bunch, by taking some of the load off James Harden with the bench unit, and also spelling Russell Westbrook at times.
Most of all, if Eric Maynor had not torn his ACL after nine games, the Thunder WOULD NOT HAVE DEREK FISHER. More on that coming later.
We can only sit and wait until next year to see Maynor play again. It should be a joyful time, and very Fisher-less.
Nazr Mohammad, Royal Ivey, Reggie Jackson, Cole Aldrich- C
This bench unit was not very productive this year, outside of Harden and Collison. Reggie Jackson was getting some minutes until Fisher showed up. He showed some skill, but apparently not enough, as he hasn’t played much since the Thunder brought in the 5-ringed veteran.
Nazr Mohammad appeared in most games, yet had minimum impact. He scored just 2.7 points and grabbed 2.7 rebounds.
These guys won’t get more than five minutes in any playoff game, barring injury, and shouldn’t have an impact on how the Thunder’s season turns out.
Derek Fisher- D 4.9pts/1.5reb/1.4ast/0.6stl/0.1blk 5.9 PER (20 games for OKC)
Halfway through writing my feelings on Derek Fisher, I decided to quit and save it for another time. It was getting too long, and it needs to be justified.
So I’ll just give some quick little notes on Derek Fisher’s season with the Thunder.
The positive impact Fisher brings to the team is purely his veteran leadership. He has been to the NBA Finals multiple times, and if the Thunder happen to end up there this season, that’s where he will help.
On the court, Fisher has not played well at all. He shot 34.3% from the floor on 5.4 shots. Any respectable player, playing over 15 minutes a game, should be shooting much better. That isn’t even that good for a 3-point%.
His defense isn’t much better. Fisher gets beat by quicker guards all of the time, and doesn’t have much to give on the defensive side of the ball.
I’m not a fan of giving Derek Fisher minutes, but if Coach Brooks isn’t going to play Reggie Jackson, then somebody has to do fill that backup PG spot, and it might as well be him.
Topics: Cole Aldrich, Daequan Cook, Derek Fisher, Eric Maynor, James Harden, Kendrick Perkins, Kevin Durant, Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Nazr Mohammed, Nick Collison, Russell Westbrook, Scott Brooks, Season Grades, Serge Ibaka, Thabo Sefolosha