OKC Thunder Report Card as team enters stretch

JANUARY 7: Shai Gilgeous-Alexander #2 and Chris Paul #3 of the OKC Thunder looks on during the game (Photo by Zach Beeker/NBAE via Getty Images)
JANUARY 7: Shai Gilgeous-Alexander #2 and Chris Paul #3 of the OKC Thunder looks on during the game (Photo by Zach Beeker/NBAE via Getty Images) /
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OKC Thunder
Nerlens Noel #9 of the OKC Thunder practices a free throw during a NBA game against the New Orleans Pelicans. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images) /

B+. . C. Oklahoma City Thunder. NERLENS NOEL

Turning over a new leaf:

The start of Nerlens Noel‘s career was hampered by injury and dogged by issues off court. He had a reputation of being difficult and a problem child in the locker room.

Yet, none of that has shown to be the case in OKC. In fact, if anything Noel has demonstrated a willingness to do whatever is necessary for the team to win on the court. Away from the hardwood he’s embraced the leadership role and helped many of the youngsters with their development.

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With the Thunder, Noel has found a home. In his two seasons with OKC, he’s proven he can play a part in the success and not be a deterrent to the on or off court activities of his teammates.

Another obvious factor is how vital he is to the reserve unit plus he offers a very different style of center from Adams for Donovan to utilize. His length and agility serve up answers for defending speedy, driving squads and his rim protection is on another level.

The recent loss to the Lakers pinpointed how important his role is on the squad as the Thunder couldn’t keep LA off the glass which resulted in quick transition outlets and copious second-chance scoring opportunities.

Noel has played in 46 of the 55 pre-break games with averages of 7.8 points, 5.2 rebounds, 1.1 assists and a field goal percentage of 67.3 percent. His hustle stats are impressive as he snags 1.0 steal and team-high 1.5 blocks per game.

While Noel can learn from Adams in terms of screen setting and defense the one area Steven could learn from Nerlens is free throw form as he shoots at a quality 79.5 percent clip.

It’s unlikely the Thunder will be lucky enough to get a third season from him under the same financial economies, but he’s definitely proved to be a vital cog in the machine and seemingly likes being here.

.As the OKC Thunder enters the stretch each of these players is key to the team’s success. The goal will be to climb as high as they can on the ladder, stay healthy and prepare the other supplementary contributors for the playoffs.

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What are your thoughts on these core players? Would you give a higher or lower grade? Let us know in the comments section.