It was a long and intriguing week for the Oklahoma City Thunder, one that featured almost everything imaginable. Buzzer beaters, funerals, ejections, comebacks, and more buzzer beaters were commonplace in a week that was tough to swallow for Thunder fans. However, when sifting through the debris of what is left of a disappointing 2-2 week, there are some very interesting ideas that could play a big part in the immediate future for the Thunder.
1. Steven Adams is making a splash
Nobody was sure what to expect when the Thunder took the 7 footer out of Pittsburgh with the 12th overall pick in the draft. This was the pick that they got in the James Harden deal, and with Kevin Martin leaving for free agency, Thunder fans are hoping that Adams will be able to make the deal somewhat more even. Through the first nine games, Adams is averaging 5.3 points, 5.2 rebounds, and 1.2 blocks in 18.9 minutes. He has impressed me with how quickly he has adapted to the NBA game, and showed that he can handle the starting role when incumbent starter Kendrick Perkins missed two games to attend his grandfather’s funeral. If he continues to develop over this season, it may be Adams, and not Jeremy Lamb, that goes down as the key addition from the Harden trade.
2. The Thunder have the comeback gene…
Down eight points entering the fourth quarter against the Wizards last Sunday, the Thunder roared back to win in overtime. The more impressive number in this comeback is 10. The Wizards led, 92-82, with 3:26 left in the game, but they scored only two baskets in the final three minutes and allowed Kevin Durant to bring the Thunder back into the game. Playing without Russell Westbrook, who was ejected for drawing two technical fouls, Durant led a 14-4 run, including hitting the game tying three with seconds left in regulation. He also hit the go-ahead free throws that won the game in overtime.
3. …But sometimes Iggy goes off
Heartbreak was the only way to describe it. In 2.3 seconds, Andre Iguodala managed to send the Golden State Warriors crowd from a stunned silence into pandemonium. After Russell Westbrook’s crazy three completed a late Thunder comeback to take the lead with 2.3 seconds left, Iguodala came out of the timeout and sunk a baseline fadeaway as time expired over the outstretched arm of Thabo Sefolosha. The Thunder showed extreme resilience in coming back from a 14 point fourth quarter deficit. Westbrook led the way with 31 points, and really took over in the fourth as Durant was playing with five fouls. Serge Ibaka also had a strong performance, with 27 points and 13 rebounds. In the long run, what really doomed the Thunder was turnovers. They had 19 overall, which gave the Warriors more opportunities to do what they do best: shoot.
4. Serge Ibaka is a grown man
One week into the season, I was ready to lay into Serge Ibaka for his sub par play. Especially with Westbrook’s absence in the first two games, Ibaka really needed to step up in the scoring department. He was averaging less than 10 points per game at the start of the season, and was shooting very poorly from the field. This week was the big change. He scored 25 against the Wizards and 27 against the Warriors. He had 13 points against the Clippers before he got ejected in the second quarter. The ejections on both sides, Ibaka for the Thunder and Matt Barnes for the Clippers, were completely unwarranted, and it really hurt the Thunder. I don’t care whether or not he had a clenched fist. No punches were thrown, and a brief shoving match should never lead to an ejection. These guys play basketball for a living, you can’t expect them to not be into the game. All of that aside, Ibaka was having a monster first half, having yet to miss a shot from the field, and his ejection turned a Thunder blowout into a Clippers comeback. Also of note for Ibaka this week is a new career high in rebounds that he set, with 20 on Saturday against the Bucks.
5. What if…
Just a thought here. With Omer Asik’s request to be traded by the Rockets due to his movement to the bench, an interesting trade possibility emerges. The Rockets have space to absorb some extra salary space without hitting the luxury tax level, so what if the Thunder could unload Kendrick Perkins’ contract, along with a draft pick or the cheap contract of a young and promising player such as, say, Perry Jones III to get Asik away from the Rockets? The Rockets would get an athletic big man who can thrive on the perimeter and give Dwight Howard more space in the low post. The Thunder would not only rid themselves of a contract that is not worth it anymore in Perkins, but add a center who plays hard nosed basketball, works great off of the pick and roll, and can score if needed to. Essentially, they would add another Nick Collison to the roster, which can never be a bad thing. This would also ease the pressure on Steven Adams to develop into the starter too quickly. I know it’s a long shot…but a guy can dream, can’t he?
The Thunder may not have emerged from this week with the record they would have liked, but they have learned a lot about what their team is capable of and who is ready to step up. This week, the Thunder will stay at home to take on the Denver Nuggets, Los Angeles Clippers, and Utah Jazz. With the progression of the team and the advantage of playing in the Chesapeake Arena, I expect nothing less than a 3-0 week.