The Thunder are back at it again.
The Oklahoma City Thunder have some fresh faces in the rotation this season, but the results they're getting haven't changed. The Thunder are once again perched near the top of the Western Conference and are one of just two teams that are both scoring and defending at a top-10 rate (the other being the San Antonio Spurs, per NBA.com).
There have been some surprises this season, though. The starting lineup has been shaky (at best), a player originally assumed to be D-League-bound has been one of the team's biggest contributors and even established (read: really old) players like Derek Fisher have shown off a few new tricks.
Keeping all that in mind, it's time to hand out grades to each key OKC player, judging them both on their expectations coming into the season and the role they've played in the Thunder's overall success. Let's get to it.
All stats accurate as of 11/27/2013 and courtesy of Basketball-Reference unless specifically stated otherwise.
Westbrook hasn't been very efficient, but his presence alone has provided a big boost.
Westbrook's averages—22 points, five assists and five rebounds per game—look good, but his true shooting percentage is at 50 (nearly a career low), and he's hitting just 46 percent of his shots at the rim, per NBA.com.
That's not a huge concern moving forward—he's actually averaging more of those shots per game than he did last season, and he's too good not to start hitting them at a decent rate. For now, though, it's hard to give Westbrook a great grade, especially since his handle's been a bit shaky as well—his 4.7 turnovers a game are a career high.
The Thunder need Sefolosha to get back to last season's form.
Thabo Sefolosha was one of the league's top “three-and-D” wings last season, but he's seemingly forgotten how to do both to start the season.
The Thunder are being outscored by nearly 12 points per 100 possessions with Sefolosha on the court, and he's hitting just 27 percent from three. OKC had one of the most effective starting lineups in the league last season, per NBA.com, and Sefolosha's ability to hit from deep was a big part of that.
At the moment, the Thunder starters are playing three on five offensively, which just won't cut it.
On the other end, Sefolosha has been giving up too many easy threes. The Thunder wall off the strong side defensively and force teams to beat them with outside jumpers. Unfortunately, Sefolosha has overdone it this season, collapsing unnecessarily into the paint far too often and giving up a lot of easy looks to three-point shooters.
Sefolosha's defense can mostly be chalked up to mental mistakes and should correct itself. But he has to pick up the shooting for OKC's starting lineup to regain anywhere near last year's form.
Apparently, Durant can get even better.
Not all that much to say about Kevin Durant, honestly. He's been about what you'd expect—really, really, really good.
Durant is averaging 29 points, seven rebounds and five assists per game on 62 percent true shooting. Believe it or not, though, he's not shooting all that well from the field (for him, anyways).
Durant has started this year off hitting just 37 percent of his threes and 46 percent from the field overall, offsetting those numbers by getting to the line a ridiculous (and league-leading) 12.5 times per game.
Maybe the best way to sum up Durant's season so far would be to point out that he's racked up four games of 30-plus points, six-plus assists and six-plus rebounds this season. The most such games he's had in any other year is five, per NBA.com/Stats. Somehow, Durant just keeps on getting better.
Ibaka's playing the best basketball of his life.
Serge Ibaka had a rough time of it in Russell Westbrook's absence, but he's bounced back nicely, averaging 16 points and 10 rebounds per game on 64 percent true shooting since Westbrook's return, via NBA.com. In fact, in light of Westbrook's struggles, Ibaka has probably been the second-best player on the team so far this year.
Offensively, Ibaka is starting to mix it up. He's still hitting that pick-and-pop mid-range jumper that he's become known for, but he's thrown in more hard rolls to the hoop, and it's made him much more dangerous—he currently ranks ninth in the league in pick-and-roll efficiency, per Synergy Sports Technology.
Most importantly for the Thunder, Ibaka has emerged as a legitimate small-ball force. OKC is outscoring teams by over 25 points per 100 possessions with Ibaka at the 5, via 82games.com, and there's a good chance he overtakes Nick Collison as the team's go-to center when it chooses to go small.
Perkins has struggled out of the gate.
Yuck. Despite what you may hear, Kendrick Perkins was a valuable role player last season. He provided good, if not elite, defense and didn't mind being a (deserved) afterthought on the other end.
Unfortunately, Perkins hasn't played well defensively this season, and considering his offensive limitations...that's a problem.
The Thunder are being outscored by nearly nine points per 100 possessions when Perkins is on the court, per 82games.com, and some advanced metrics peg him as OKC's worst offensive and defensive player. Not so good.
Perkins' minutes have already been slashed to 18 per game compared to 25 per game last season. And with Steven Adams and Serge Ibaka both looming as better options at center, he may lose even more floor time if he doesn't pick up his play.
If there's one thing Reggie Jackson can do, it's get to the rim.
Reggie Jackson's numbers are only so-so, but boy are the Thunder great when he's on the court.
OKC is a whopping 25 points per 100 possessions better with Jackson on the floor, and he's played in nearly every strong lineup it's put out this season, per NBA.com.
Jackson still has no three-point shot at all (he's hitting just 22 percent), but he's a stellar pick-and-roll guard and has bumped his assist rate up to 29 percent, well over what he posted last year. He'll have to start getting to the line if he's ever going to approach the levels of efficiency James Harden and Kevin Martin posted, but it's been an encouraging start to the season.
Particularly exciting is how well Jackson has played with Russell Westbrook. The Thunder are outscoring teams like crazy when the two are together, and that could be important if the starters continue to struggle.
Lamb's been a nice surprise for the Thunder this season.
Jeremy Lamb's three-point shooting has cooled a bit after a hot start, but it's still hard not to be happy about his season thus far.
Lamb is scoring nine points per game on 53 percent true shooting and 37 percent from three. No, those aren't exactly MVP numbers, but considering how poorly Lamb played in the preseason (he shot 37 percent from the floor and 17 percent from three), Thunder fans will take it in a heartbeat.
Lamb isn't an elite shot creator, but he's decent in the pick-and-roll and has shown a knack for beating defenders on sneaky little cuts off of screens. OKC's big men are (mostly) capable passers, and that's helped Lamb find ways to score off the ball, not unlike what Kevin Martin did last season.
Defensively, Lamb has also been a bit of a surprise. Don't get me wrong, Lamb is no elite defender, but he's been very solid. The Thunder have been better defensively with him on the court, per 82games.com, and thanks to his crazy-long arms, he causes a decent number of turnovers. Good stuff.
Nick Collison has anchored an effective second unit.
Nick Collison is doing pretty much the exact same stuff this season as he does every season for the Thunder.
He's playing solid positional defense, setting a lot of screens, knocking down open mid-range jumpers—basically being the solid role player Thunder fans know and love. Collison has been particularly important offensively, helping both Jeremy Lamb and Reggie Jackson find a lot of open looks.
Collison is a great pick-and-roll player, and he and Lamb in particular have a nice little two-man game based on handoffs and baseline cuts toward the rim.
Collison is the leader of the Thunder's bench squad and has played solid, if not spectacular, ball on both ends. What else is new?
Steven Adams' emergence has been huge for the Thunder.
Steven Adams wasn't expected to be an actual part of the Thunder rotation for at least a year, so the fact that he's not only contributing, but actually getting more minutes than Kendrick Perkins is a huge shock. Huge.
Adams is still pretty raw, but he's worlds better than Perkins offensively. He's capable of catching and finishing, has shown nice touch on hooks with either hand and has a ton of potential in the pick-and-roll. He's also proved to be a deft passer from the post and looks to make a play when he gets the ball around the elbow rather than just send it right back to a guard.
Defensively, though, Adams is a mixed bag. He's mobile and a very good shot-blocker, but he also gets fooled in the pick-and-roll a lot, and it's led to the Thunder being much better defensively when he's on the bench, per 82games.com.
Adams has a tendency to stick to ball-handlers for a second too long after they come off a pick, forcing the other Thunder big to hedge between two players defensively. It's a common mistake for rookies, and Adams will undoubtedly grow out of it, but it has hurt OKC's defense all the same.
Adams has already made his mark on the Thunder rotation and put up a few impressive statistical performances along the way. He's bound to make a lot more rookie mistakes before the season is through, but OKC has seemingly found another draft gem.
That's right, Derek Fisher is playing good defense.
Derek Fisher was supposed to be a decent off-the-bench guard who couldn't play much defense but could knock down a few open jumpers. Part of that's been true—he has been a decent option off the bench—but he's done it in a completely unexpected way.
Fisher is hitting an abysmal 14 percent from three and has made up for it by being the Thunder's best defensive guard this season. Seriously, it's true.
Scott Brooks has thrown Fisher on just about everyone imaginable defensively, and Fisher has responded by holding the 1s and 2s he's faced to a PER of 13.8 and 7.4, respectively, per 82games.com. Fisher has even held his own at the 3 for small stretches.
The Thunder give up nearly 12 points per 100 possessions less when Fisher's on the floor. This should not be possible for a 39-year-old. Fisher's grade gets knocked down because of his terrible shooting, but that's bound to come back eventually, and until then, his defense makes him a valuable piece for OKC.
I can't believe I just wrote that.
Perry Jones has been fantastic in the few minutes he's gotten.
Perry Jones has seen just over 10 minutes a game this season, and he's made the most of every single one of them. In fact, he's looked like the Thunder's most improved player to this point.
Defensively, Jones has been terrific. The Thunder are 11 points per 100 possessions better on the defensive end with Jones on the court, and he's held opposing 3s and 4s to a PER of 2.0 and 0.0 (!!), respectively, per 82games.com. Pretty impressive numbers to say the least.
Jones is a superathlete, and though he's not great at banging in the post, his perimeter defense has been impressive. He's also hitting 60 percent of his threes (though to be fair, he's only taken 10) and hit a big one against the Washington Wizards to help spark a fourth-quarter comeback.
It's hard to make any real conclusions about Jones, considering how limited his playing time has been, but he's been very productive in the minutes he has seen. Scott Brooks isn't going to run an 11-man rotation forever, but if Jones keeps playing like this, he'll be very tough to cut out.