The changeup of a roster that went to the NBA Finals in 2012 had many worried that this team would be ruined for the future, but all appears well now. Kevin Martin has settled nicely into the “James Harden” role on this team, and superstars Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook are each having career years.
This team is flying sky-high heading into Christmas and the New Year, and, although the season is still young, there is really nowhere else a team would rather be.
All figures and statistics accurate as of December 14, 2012.
2012-13 Stats: 2.1 points, 50 percent three-point shooting
Jeremy Lamb has not seen much playing time for the Oklahoma City Thunder, who already have a set rotation. However, he has shown promise in his game. Enough promise, in fact, that it is not crazy to think that he will be playing regular minutes by the time next season gets here.
The advantage to starting your career with a team like Oklahoma City is that you get to develop your game without the pressure of being depended on to win. In five games for the Tulsa 66ers, the Thunder’s D-League affiliate, Lamb has averaged 22.2 points, 5.4 rebounds and three assists per game.
Lamb has not done much, but he also has not gotten much playing time at the NBA level. Based on his D-League success and his small NBA sample size, he gets a slightly above-average grade.
2012-13 Stats: 1.2 points, 1.4 rebounds
Although some may have expected Perry Jones III to have an immediate impact on this team, it is clear now that he will have to undergo an adjustment period before he is ready to become a solid contributor.
He has not looked great during his very limited time on the court, and he has even looked a bit uncomfortable and unsure of himself. In two games in the D-League he played better, but his performance still was nothing mind-blowing.
Jones still has major upside and is still years away from achieving bust status. However, based on his performance so far, this grade is probably being generous. He will get there, but it will take him longer than an equally young player like Jeremy Lamb.
2012-13 Stats: 2.1 points, 1.1 rebounds, 55.6 percent three-point shooting
When Eric Maynor injured his knee and ended up missing almost all of the 2011-12 NBA season, Reggie Jackson was shoved into the role of backup point guard. He clearly was not ready then, which is why the team brought in Derek Fisher to fill the role.
While he still is probably not quite ready, it is clear that he is getting better. Jackson is a dynamic combo guard (much like Russell Westbrook) who uses his athleticism to play his game.
That big-play ability was on display in a recent Thunder game vs. New Orleans, when Jackson acted as the spark plug the team needed to overcome a bad night. That type of role is probably his future for the team, and showing an ability to do it this early is a good sign.
2012-13 Stats: 3.0 points, 3.5 rebounds, 69 percent field-goal shooting
It appears that Hasheem Thabeet may have finally found a place where he can have a career in the NBA. His career up to this point has been disappointing at every turn, and this recent stint in Oklahoma City has been his best play for a team by far.
Granted, he is nowhere near starting for this team, but he is making very good use of the minutes he is playing for this team. He only gets a little over 12 minutes of playing time per game, but he has been an improvement for the team over past backup centers like Nazr Mohammed and Cole Aldrich.
Thabeet has been active, finally using his ridiculous length for some good use. He has been especially good on the defensive end, giving the Thunder second unit a player who can protect the rim.
2012-13 Stats: 3.8 points, 2.3 assists
Missing nearly a year with an injury throws a player off his game, but most fans had to expect Eric Maynor to rebound back to his former self faster than he has.
He has shot just 31 percent from the field, and his minutes are suffering because of it. Part of that is playing behind a superstar in Russell Westbrook, but part of it also has to be the fact that he is not playing well.
Needless to say, if Maynor’s play does improve soon, it could very well mean more playing time for players like Reggie Jackson and Jeremy Lamb. That cannot be something that Maynor would be happy about, especially since he is headed toward restricted free agency in 2013.
2012-13 Stats: 6.1 points, four rebounds, 64 percent shooting
The truth is that you can just ignore the stats when it comes to Nick Collison. No matter what he is averaging, you can always count on him.
Whether the team needs a big shot, a key rebound or a defensive stop, Collison is almost always contributing positively to the effort with his play. He is a tough veteran who should be the model for young players. Taking charges and setting screens often get overlooked, and that is what Collison does as well.
As one of the most underrated players in the league, Collison is obviously overlooked often. However, he does not seem to care and neither should we. Just sit back, and watch basketball as it should be played.
2012-13 Stats: 5.0 points, 5.1 rebounds, 1.7 assists
Kendrick Perkins is probably one of the most misunderstood players in the league. While he has been labeled overrated, he has done better at being an active player offensively.
Setting screens is one of the Perkins’ offensive specialties, and he has also become pretty adept at passing out of the post. Needless to say, these skills do not show up on the stat sheet.
Truthfully, Perkins will never average statistically what naysayers say he must to justify what he makes and his starting role. The reason is that he shares the court with two superstars and two other second-tier stars. However, he does provide locker room leadership, something few outsiders can ever really understand.
2012-13 Stats: 6.9 points, 4.4 rebounds, 43.3 percent shooting from three
Thabo Sefolosha is another player who makes most of his contributions on defense and in the locker room. However, he has become better-rounded in recent years. Whereas he was once an offensive liability, he has now become a floor-spreading marksman from three-point range.
Not only has this made Sefolosha much more "playable," it has also made the Thunder a much better team. Taking pressure off of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook is always welcome, especially when it also puts much-needed points on the board.
The biggest reason that Sefolosha’s grade is not higher is the fact that, apart from his long-range shot, he can do nothing else offensively. It is unlikely that part of his game will ever change, given his age and the length of time he has already spent in the NBA.
2012-13 Stats: 15.9 points, 2.4 rebounds, 47.5 percent shooting from three
Kevin Martin could not have transitioned more smoothly into his new role in Oklahoma City.
The 30-year-old is having one of the most efficient seasons of his career, especially from long range. He is also playing decent defense for really the first time, which could just be the effect of being on a team that is actually winning.
Most importantly though, Martin is providing the scoring punch the Thunder needed in James Harden's place. The potent Thunder bench is still intact thanks to his efforts, and he is proving that he was worth the trade it took to bring him to OKC.
2012-13 Stats: 14.0 points, 7.4 rebounds, 3.09 blocks
The player that has improved the most this season is without a doubt Serge Ibaka. The power forward has doubled his scoring from last season and is shooting 58.7 percent from the field.
He has perfected his pick-and-pop jump shot, which has made him and Russell Westbrook a lethal pick-and-roll combo. That is something this team has not had since the days of Nenad Krstic, and even then it was not as good.
Ibaka would be a sure-fire All-Star on a different team where he got more looks on the offensive side, but he could still tempt voters even in his current situation. That possibility is a testament to just how good he has become.
2012-13 Stats: 21.1 points, 8.5 assists, 4.8 rebounds, 1.95 steals
Russell Westbrook is playing the best ball of his career right now, especially when it comes to being a floor general. He is leading and running the offense extremely efficiently.
He is averaging a career-high in assists, which has masked the shooting troubles he has had this season. Still though, Westbrook remains a score-first point guard and that is a role that he will never relinquish.
His status as the league’s best scoring point guard is becoming less arguable, especially given his improved passing abilities. Westbrook still takes a bad shot from time to time, but he is slowly improving into the all-around superstar we know he can be.
2012-13 Stats: 27.3 points, 8.5 rebounds, 4.3 assists, 1.36 blocks
Speaking of players becoming the all-around superstars we expect them to be, Kevin Durant is also having the best season of his career. He is currently a prime candidate to join the 50-40-90 club (field-goal percentage, three-point percentage, free-throw percentage), one of the most exclusive clubs in NBA history.
He also averaging a career-high in assists, helping make up for the lost playmaking ability of James Harden. Last season, it was clear that LeBron James was the better player in the “best player in the world” debate.
This year, however, the battle is much closer. Durant is already this good, and he still is a few years away from hitting his prime. While that delights Thunder fans, it should terrify the rest of the NBA.