If the first half of the season for the Oklahoma City Thunder could be defined by one game, Thursday’s comeback victory over the lowly Los Angeles Lakers would probably be it. In a game that saw the Thunder trailing until late in the fourth quarter, the team came back to get the win behind strong bench play and the mighty hand of Kevin Durant.
The Thunder enter the All-Star break at 43-12, the best record in the NBA. This feat has been accomplished despite the absence of one of the league’s most electric players in Russell Westbrook. Throughout his injury, the team has showed its depth on the bench, and many of the young players have taken giant leaps in their development that even general manager Sam Presti may not have expected yet.
With the league taking a short break, all eyes will turn to New Orleans, where Durant, Reggie Jackson, Steven Adams and head coach Scott Brooks will be to represent their team in the festivities. Taking this break into mind, here are the midseason grades for the Western Conference-leading Oklahoma City Thunder.
Steven Adams, Center – C
The consolation prize of the James Harden trade, the rookie out of Pittsburgh has impressed early and often with his quick development. Brooks originally believed that Adams would be a project player who would take a few years to develop, but he has become a strong contributor, especially defensively, when matchups work out.
Nick Collison, Power Forward – C+
Collison has remained the consummate professional in yet another year as the Kendrick Perkins replacement off the bench. He has never been a stat sheet stuffer, but it is his effort and hustle plays, including his newfound pick and roll game with Reggie Jackson, that don’t show up in the box score and really help the team.
Kevin Durant, Small Forward – A+
Is there any explanation needed for this one? The Slim Reaper has increased his already impressive career averages, and is the clear MVP favorite on his way to a potentially historic year in terms of efficiency. He had an 11 game streak of 30 or more points and is well on his way to another scoring title. He has carried the team without Westbrook and should continue to thrive once his backcourt running mate returns.
Derek Fisher, Point Guard – B-
I was one of the Fisher doubters before the season. Sure, he is a great veteran presence in the locker room, but his tendency to jack up threes and the playing time that he would be taking from the emerging Reggie Jackson made me indifferent at best when it came to his resigning. But Fisher has proven me wrong. He has had a great year off of the bench, and those threes that he takes are going in at a much higher rate than in previous years, headlined by his 5-5 for 15 points from deep against the Miami Heat.
Serge Ibaka, Power Forward – A-
Ibaka has been one of the strong points in a sometimes inconsistent Thunder lineup. His career averages have also increased, and he has developed a deadly outside jumper. He stepped into the second scorer role without problems with Westbrook gone, all while maintaining his defensive dominance that he is known for.
Reggie Jackson, Point Guard – B+
When the Thunder traded Eric Maynor to the Trail Blazers two years ago, it was because the front office believed in the potential of the Boston College product. Jackson has lived up to those stats in his time as a starter, averaging 13.6 points and 4.2 assists per game this season. He has proven to be a scorer when needed and will likely take the sixth man role back once Westbrook reclaims his starting job. He has struggled at times with running the team, but has been an integral part of the success without Westbrook.
Perry Jones III, Small Forward/Power Forward – C-
Although his playing time hasn’t been constant, he has shown flashes of potential when he gets the opportunity to play. He has a long way to go, occasionally making youthful mistakes, but has shown enough potential that Brooks still has enough faith in him to give him playing time.
Jeremy Lamb, Shooting Guard – B+
Similar to Jackson, Lamb has taken a giant leap in production this year. Following the loss of Kevin Martin to free agency in the offseason, many wondered if the Thunder could thrive with their main perimeter shooting threat being a player who spent most of last season in the D League. However, Lamb, the prize gem of the Harden trade, has far exceeded expectations, providing a strong scoring threat, as well as playing strong defense to compliment it.
Kendrick Perkins, Center – D-
The only reason he doesn’t get an F is because he shows up on defense every once in a while. Oh, and that one game against the Clippers where he actually hit a long jumper late in the 4th quarter. Otherwise, he is still the most undeserving starter in the West with a monstrosity of a contract saddling him to the team. I love his heart, but it only can take him so far.
Thabo Sefolosha, Shooting Guard – C-
Sefolosha has stepped up his game from the disaster that was the beginning of the year, but he is still not his usual self. The defensive stopper that he was in seasons past just doesn’t show up every night anymore. His scoring averages, though never his strong point, are down as well. His struggles have given way to more playing time for Lamb and Fisher, as well. On the bright side, his poor play this season may enable the Thunder to bring him back on a cheaper contract.
Hasheem Thabeet, Center – D
Thabeet only sees action during garbage time, and even then he doesn’t impress. It’s a shame to see that a player who had so much potential as a lottery pick has become no more than an afterthought. But hey, at least he’s always laughing on the bench.
Russell Westbrook, Point Guard – A-
Grading Westbrook is hard since he hasn’t been on the court much. So this grade is a combination of his play when he has been healthy and his wardrobe when he doesn’t, a big step up from the outfits he came to press conferences in during the NBA Finals a few years ago.
The team has performed admirably through February. With the trade deadline coming up, Sam Presti may be looking to make a move to bring in a perimeter shooter. No matter what the roster looks like, the return of Russell Westbrook is going to make this team a continued contender and a serious title threat.
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