The Oklahoma City Thunder have been one of the best teams so far this season. They are 39-14 giving them the second best record in the NBA behind only the San Antonio Spurs.
The Thunder look better than they were a year ago despite trading away their third best player right before the start of the season.
After a few weeks of getting to know their new players, the Thunder picked up right where they left off last season.
The Thunder are on that short list of teams with a legitimate chance to win an NBA title. They are still considered the favorites in the Western Conference and all that’s left now is finishing strong and getting that No. 1 seed.
How has each player performed in the first half of the season? We look at and grade each one right here:
Kevin Durant – 29.2 PPG, 7.4 RPG, 4.4 APG, 1.6 SPG, 1.2 BPG – A+
Durant has looked like the MVP for most of this season and if it wasn’t for LeBron James he would definitely be considered the frontrunner. He has improved his game in just about every facet. He is a better passer and playmaker now. He is more committed as a defender and rebounder. He’s even improved as a shooter and is on pace to become just the seventh player in NBA history to shoot at least 50 percent from the field, 40 percent from the three-point line and 90 percent from the free throw line. The Thunder can’t have expected more from Durant so far this season.
Russell Westbrook – 22.6 PPG, 8.1 APG, 5.1 RPG, 1.9 SPG – B+
Like Durant, Westbrook has improved quite a bit this season too. With the loss of Harden, Westbrook went back to being more of a distributor this season bumping his assists up to 8.1 per game from 5.5 last year. He’s been critical in the development of Serge Ibaka and has improved a ton at getting Durant more touches. He brings it every night on the defensive end as well playing with the same passion he always has. He got off to a slow start shooting the ball this season but has steadily improved since. He still has his moments where you just shake your head at the decisions he makes but it’s safe to say that he is playing the best basketball of his career this season.
Serge Ibaka – 13.4 PPG, 7.9 RPG, 2.9 BPG – A
Ibaka has improved the most this season of any Thunder player and he has needed to with the departure of Harden. His jump shot feels automatic at times and he’s expanded his offensive game to include a few post moves and drives to the basket. Defensively, his blocks are a little down and he still has a ways to go in defending the pick-and-roll and savvy post-up players. Ibaka is getting there though and the quicker he learns to become a true defensive anchor, the closer the Thunder will get to winning a title.
Kevin Martin – 15.0 PPG, 2.3 RPG, 1.3 APG, 1.0 SPG – B+
Martin has exceeded the expectations of many in filling the Harden void as the Thunder’s sixth man. He is scoring nearly as much as Harden did and fits in better with Durant and Westbrook in some respects because he is a deadly spot-up shooter that doesn’t need the ball to be effective. Martin is more of a liability than Harden though and there are certainly times when the Thunder miss the beard. Martin can’t play defense and when he is having an off shooting night, it’s hard for him to find any way to contribute. Martin loves being in OKC and hopes to stay with the Thunder in the future. The way he plays the rest of the season and into the playoffs will determine that.
Kendrick Perkins – 4.6 PPG, 5.9 RPG, 1.5 APG, 1.2 BPG – C+
Perkins is often looked at as the biggest thing that is holding this Thunder team back and for good reason. The Thunder are much better offensively when he isn’t on the floor and they aren’t much better defensively with him out there. Perkins does the little things though and they do have some kind of value. He’s been better this year too in terms of making those little shots around the rim and even the occasional midrange jump shot which is always a wide-open look for him.
Thabo Sefolosha – 7.3 PPG, 3.9 RPG, 1.6 APG, 1.4 SPG – B
Sefolosha has seen a real increase in minutes and responsibility with Harden gone. He has looked to be more aggressive on offense and some nights he shows he is capable. Sefolosha is shooting just over 40 percent from downtown this season and that is something he can hopefully keep up into the playoffs since he will be needed to play more than he did last year. The defense is still elite from Sefolosha and if he can just keep up playing well on the offensive side, he will remain a very valuable asset for the Thunder.
Nick Collison – 5.4 PPG, 4.3 RPG, 1.4 APG – A
Collison essentially does no wrong on the basketball court. When it comes to decision-making and Basketball IQ, he is among the best in the entire league. He knows his role with OKC and plays it to a tee. The only thing you’d like to see from Collison is more of him. With Perkins and Ibaka ahead of him in the rotation, Collison often will play 20 minutes or less. But when he’s out there, the Thunder nearly always outscore their opponents and Collison is the biggest reason why.
Reggie Jackson – 4.0 PPG, 2.2 RPG, 1.6 APG – B+
Jackson has surprised more than just about anyone on the team. He took over the backup point guard role from Eric Maynor in mid-December and has been doing a great job with it. He looked lost last season and rarely made any kind of positive impact at all but now he is becoming a kind of force when he’s on the floor. He is a tremendous athlete for his position and very good defender. He’s improving at getting to the rim and finishing and finding his teammates for good shots. He is a valuable player for the Thunder this season which is hard to believe after seeing his rookie campaign.
Hasheem Thabeet – 2.5 PPG, 2.8 RPG, 0.9 BPG – B
When the Thunder acquired Thabeet this offseason, he wasn’t expected to play much this season. Cole Aldrich was expected to be the backup center but then when he was included in the Harden trade to Houston, it opened up the door for Thabeet. Thabeet has impressed for the most part this year. He does a solid job while he’s out there finishing inside better than he ever has in his career and as a defensive presence. He picks up fouls as quickly as anyone and probably won’t be getting much run in the playoffs but what he’s done for the Thunder so far this season cannot be overlooked.
DeAndre Liggins – 1.5 PPG, 1.5 RPG, 0.5 SPG – B+
Liggins was acquired by the Thunder this season and not even expected to make the final roster. He played well in the D-League and was given a chance by Scott Brooks and Liggins has never disappointed. He plays with heart and hustle at all times and always seems to be making things happen. He gets into the passing lanes on defense and is active as a cutter on offense. He’s found his niche and role with the Thunder and may even be called upon in the playoffs when the Thunder need another wing defender on the floor.
Eric Maynor – 2.8 PPG, 2.0APG, 0.5 RPG – C-
Maynor’s return as the backup point guard was highly anticipated this season especially because the Thunder were losing their best playmaker from last year in Harden. Maynor has been a disappointment shooting just 31.3 percent from the field and 32.6 percent from three. He looks slow and is unable to get by his defender and create as often as the Thunder would like and it has resulted in him losing his job to Jackson. With the Thunder likely not keeping Maynor after this season, there is a good chance he will be dealt at the trade deadline.
Perry Jones, III – 1.7 PPG, 0.4 RPG – C
Jones didn’t get as much of a chance to crack the Thunder rotation as some thought he would this season. He’s just a rookie and looks it at times. He seems lost and just trying to fit in more than anything while he’s on the floor. He is an insane athlete though. From foot speed to his vertical leap, he may be the Thunder’s best athlete not named Russell Westbrook. He’s just a rookie though and probably won’t be making much of an impact in the second half of the season.
Jeremy Lamb – 1.7 PPG, 0.4 RPG – D
Lamb has been spending more time in the D-League than with the Thunder. He’s been killing it in the D-League too scoring over 20 points per game but has still been unable to get much of a chance in OKC. Lamb came to the Thunder as part of the Harden trade and was the No. 12 overall pick in the 2012 NBA Draft. He has shown signs of being a scorer and good outside shooter but until he proves himself as a defender, he probably won’t be getting much run with the Thunder.
Daniel Orton – 2.0 PPG, 1.7 RPG – C
Orton has played less than anyone for the Thunder this season. Like Lamb, he has spent most of his time this year with the Tulsa 66ers. In Orton’s limited minutes, he has shown some promising signs. He is a big body that moves very well for his size. He has a decent touch around the rim and can offensive rebound. He could definitely evolve into a solid role player down the road. The Thunder just don’t have a need for him right now.
Overall – A
You can’t ask for much more from the Thunder this season. Their only real downfall has been losing both meetings with the Miami Heat this season and looking kind of helpless in those losses. Aside from that, the Thunder really look like the best team in the Western Conference and like they are going to make it back to the NBA Finals.