As of Christmas Day, the Oklahoma City Thunder were tied for the best record in the NBA. Behind their superstar duo of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, OKC has stormed out of the gates, and the team as whole deserves an A+ for its start to the season. But what about each individual player? Look no further, as these are the year-end grades for the top 10 Thunder players.
The grades are based on each player's statistical output (factoring in playing time) but also how well they've fulfilled their roles on the team. Not every player is going to score 25-plus points per game, but there are other things that need to be done and every player has his role.
For example, Westbrook's numbers are better than everybody else except Durant, but he still can improve his efficiency and turnovers as he works back into NBA form after his injury-induced layoff. As a result, he has a lower grade than Reggie Jackson, despite his more impressive stats.
These grades are an attempt to qualify each player's performance and gauge how every key role player is doing.
Note: All statistics are accurate as of Dec. 25, 2012.
Per-Game Stats: 9.2 minutes, 3.8 points (57.1 FG%, 46.2 3P%), 1.8 rebounds, 17.2 PER
Perry Jones didn't do much other than cheer from the bench in his rookie year, but there have been signs of a blossoming rotation piece early in his sophomore season. The minutes still haven't come on a consistent basis, but he's shown flashes of the potential that had him listed as a top-five pick early in his college career before poor effort and a lack of focus caused him to plummet down draft boards right into OKC's lap.
He's playing much more relaxed and instinctive basketball this season, not trying to do too much or trying to make a play whenever he has the ball. He's the best three-point shooter (percentage-wise) on the roster, and that's a huge part of his path to more playing time.
That's not the biggest aspect, however.
According to Darnell Mayberry of The Oklahoman, head coach Scott Brooks views Jones as his "utility defender."
With size, length and quickness, Jones can develop into a pesky perimeter defender who could destroy pick-and-rolls with his ability to switch on just about anybody.
His defense is already paying off, as he played crunch-time minutes in a close game against the Toronto Raptors. Jones' contributions haven't been large in absolute terms, but he's been very efficient and has taken a gigantic step from his rookie year. He has the chance to become a crucial cog for OKC in the near future.
Per-Game Stats: 18.1 minutes, 2.9 points (46.7 FG%), 3.6 rebounds, 0.5 blocks, 5.8 PER
Kendrick Perkins has been pretty terrible on the court this season. The numbers are awful, he looks slow (partly due to the speed on the Thunder roster, but mostly due to the fact that he's, well, slow) and any offensive game that he ever had seems to have deserted him.
His play has been "F-worthy," but there is one reason that he avoids a failing grade. Perkins is a perfect example of someone who fills his role to a tee.
He's the enforcer.
Both on the court and, apparently, off it considering how he kicked Joakim Noah out of the Thunder locker room.
It's a small thing, and it shouldn't be blown out of proportion, but it's the perfect example of why OKC needs Perkins. Maybe the Thunder don't need him on the court (certainly not for 18 minutes a game given his current production), but every championship team needs that "bad guy."
The Thunder are mostly a team made up of "good guys," with Durant front and center of that. Perkins gives the team its edge (with sizable contributions from Westbrook).
If you commit a hard foul on Durant or Westbrook, Perkins is going to have something to say and you better watch out the next time you come down the lane. Perkins is the guy who will commit a "playoff foul." He's the guy who is the verbal leader on defense and makes sure everybody is playing hard.
His production has certainly suffered, but don't look at those numbers and make the mistake of thinking that he's worthless. He shouldn't be playing so much, but he's a necessary part of the team.
Per-Game Stats: 16.2 minutes, 3.8 points (45.9 FG%), 4.8 rebounds, 1.0 blocks, 12.8 PER
Steven Adams is just a rookie, but he's already made it obvious that he gets under people's skin with his physical style of play. Vince Carter and Jordan Hamilton were ejected for retaliating to Adams' (totally legal) physicality.
The New Zealand native wasn't expected to be such a major contributor, but he's already become a big part of Coach Brooks' rotation. He can protect the rim, run with his super athletic teammates and finish with either hand in the paint.
Additionally, he's shown the ability to play excellent post defense and is giving up just 0.68 points per possession on post-up plays according to Synergy Sports (subscription required).
Right now, he's a nice big man to bring off the bench, but in the future he could become a high-quality big and take Perkins' spot in the starting lineup.
Per-Game Stats: 17.4 minutes, 4.5 points (53.6 FG%), 3.5 rebounds, 11.1 PER
Nick Collison will never wow you with his numbers, but you can't help but notice him when you watch the Thunder play. He shows a high motor by diving for loose balls (as shown above) and taking charges.
Additionally, he's an underrated passer and moves well without the ball to find scoring positions thanks to all the attention drawn by Durant and Westbrook.
Collison takes smart shots, doesn't turn the ball over and is a coach's dream. He's also a leader of the team, a valuable commodity on such a young team.
Per-Game Stats: 20.7 minutes, 9.4 points (46.2 FG%, 39.3 3P%), 0.6 steals, 14.7 PER
Jeremy Lamb was the centerpiece of the James Harden trade, and he's been excellent for the Thunder this season. The front office took a risk by choosing not to acquire a veteran player to come off the bench, and Lamb has rewarded that faith.
His offensive prowess off the bench has been a big part of the Thunder's success, but it is his three-point shooting that has been his greatest asset. With two superstars drawing so much defensive attention, there are always going to be open threes in OKC.
There were serious questions entering the season as to who would knock those threes down this season, but Lamb has stepped up in a big way.
According to Synergy Sports, he's shooting 43.9 percent on spot-up threes, which is providing the necessary spacing for the OKC offense to flourish.
He's also been a solid defender, using his length and athleticism to stymie his man.
Per-Game Stats: 25.5 minutes, 6.2 points (41.4 FG%, 29.2 3P%), 1.3 steals, 10.3 PER
Thabo Sefolosha hasn't found his stride offensively yet. His field-goal percentage isn't good enough, but his three-point stroke has been nonexistent and is a worry. Sefolosha has shot over 40 percent from downtown for the past two seasons, so hopefully it's just a rut that he has to get out of.
According to Synergy Sports, he's only hitting 23.5 percent of his spot-up threes, which needs to improve considering how much playing time he's receiving.
As always, however, he makes up for his offensive shortcomings with elite defense. He's been especially tremendous defending pick-and-roll ball-handlers and isolation plays, allowing only 0.59 and 0.46 points per possession, respectively, per Synergy Sports.
The offense needs to improve, but his defense is invaluable to OKC's championship aspirations.
Per-Game Stats: 24.8 minutes, 12.3 points (47.1 FG%), 3.5 assists, 0.9 steals, 17.1 PER
Jackson has been nothing short of spectacular this season. After he stepped into the starting role in last year's playoffs, big things were expected of Jackson, and big things he has delivered.
The numbers are decent, but his impact goes way beyond statistics. He is the leader of the second unit, gives OKC a jolt of energy off the bench and allows the Thunder to sit Westbrook without losing much in terms of an attacking mentality and ability to put pressure on opposing defenses.
Coach Brooks has shown faith in the youngster, giving him freedom to play his game and create for others. The Boston College product is doing that fabulously.
He's been dangerous off the pick-and-roll, scoring 0.89 points per possession (ranked 20th in the league) according to Synergy Sports.
Furthermore, his defensive tenacity has been stupendous. The one negative aspect of his play has been that it might be too good. The Thunder are faced with the difficult prospect of trying to keep him in OKC when he could very well earn a lot of money on the open market.
Per-Game Stats: 32.4 minutes, 14.0 points (50.8 FG%, 38.9 3P%), 9.3 rebounds, 2.4 blocks, 18.0 PER
Serge Ibaka started the season with two very shaky performances, but he's been excellent with Westbrook back in the lineup.
His offensive game has taken another step with range all the way out to three-point land, and he's been a devastating pick-and-pop player this season.
On defense, he offers elite rim protection and tremendous pick-and-roll defense (0.78 points per possession allowed to pick-and-roll big men, via Synergy Sports).
Ibaka is averaging career highs in points, rebounds and assists, and he has partially stepped up as the third option of offense at times.
Per-Game Stats: 33.0 minutes, 21.6 points (42.7 FG%), 5.7 rebounds, 6.8 assists, 1.8 steals, 4.1 TO, 21.4 PER
Westbrook's return was incredible, but he's still getting back to his all-world form. The fact that the above numbers are below his talent level shows just how phenomenal Westbrook has been over the past few years, but the Thunder need him to be more efficient.
His field-goal shooting and turnovers are the two aspects that need to improve, but there are signs that they will over time as Westbrook gets fully acclimated to NBA basketball after such an extended layoff.
He's still one of the best all-around players in the game, but there is room for improvement until he's back to the level we know he can reach.
Per-Game Stats: 37.9 minutes, 28.1 points (48.6 FG%, 41.2 3P%), 8.1 rebounds, 4.7 assists, 1.6 steals, 27.7 PER
Durant is putting together arguably the best season of his career, averaging career highs in rebounds, assists and steals. He hasn't replicated (yet) the shooting efficiency from last season, but his percentages are increasing and he could very well put together another 50-40-90 season when it's all said and done.
He's still the league's leading scorer, but Durant has placed a greater emphasis on his all-around game and facilitating for his teammates.
Durant's numbers stack up well against LeBron James' numbers, and he's making a legit MVP case. That tells you all you need to know about how well he's playing this year.