Grading Every Key OKC Thunder Player Heading into NBA All-Star Break
The All-Star is a natural break in the NBA season, and that gives us time to reflect. We can reflect on what we’ve seen in the first half of the season, and general managers can evaluate their rosters and analyze areas where improvement is necessary. To that end, here are grades for every key Oklahoma City Thunder player.
These grades are based on both statistical output and the eye test. As you know, sometimes stats don’t tell the whole story—especially for a guy like Nick Collison.
Then there are other times, where the stats are just mind-boggling (I’m looking at you, Kevin Durant). But all of these grades are based on how each player has performed this season, and the analysis aims to give you an idea of what shortcomings (if any) the player has.
On to the grades!
Note: All stats are courtesy of ESPN.com
Perry Jones III: C
Stats: 12.5 mpg, 3.6 ppg (49.2% FG, 35.1% 3P), 1.8 rpg, 0.4 apg, 11.3 PER
Perry Jones is quietly receiving more minutes, but he’s still one of OKC’s best-kept secrets. He doesn’t show up in the box score, but he makes the right play and provides phenomenal defense.
In fact, his defense has been so outstanding that head coach Scott Brooks has come to rely on him in crucial situations according to Darnell Mayberry of NewsOK:
The first thing [Coach Brooks] said was ‘Perry, you're going to start this half.' And he told me I was guarding LeBron. It made me feel good that he has that trust in me that I can guard LeBron. He could have picked anybody else, but he came and picked me because he believed that I could. And that's exactly what I did.
His length and versatility make him a defensive nightmare, but he's also shown the ability to knock down the three-ball with some consistency. There's plenty of room for improvement, but you have to love Jones' patience on the court and his ability to not force the issue.
Kendrick Perkins: D-
Stats: 19.9 mpg, 3.5 ppg (44.2% FG), 5.1 rpg, 1.2 apg, 0.5 bpg, 6.5 PER
Head coach Scott Brooks finally did what millions of people had been calling for: sit Kendrick Perkins against the Miami Heat. The results were astounding. OKC blew out the two-time defending champions with Perkins on the bench—which reveals something about his play this season.
He’s just too slow and too offensively inept to be a major player against smaller teams. He’ll be vital against the Houston Rockets, Portland Trailblazers, Memphis Grizzlies, San Antonio Spurs and Indiana Pacers because of his defense and communication.
But against more athletic teams, he’s a serious liability. That Miami game also revealed something about Perkins’ character. Something that shows why the Thunder have kept him around and acquired him in the first place. Here’s what he tweeted after playing his fewest minutes since 2006:
What's good my peeps? Great team win. Whatever it takes. Sacrificing is what good teams do. When my name is called I'll be ready. 9 in a row— Kendrick Perkins (@KendrickPerkins) January 30, 2014
Perkins may cause a minor aneurysm every time he attempts a field-goal, but he’s the leader of this Thunder team.
Steven Adams: C-
Stats: 14.6 mpg, 3.5 ppg (48.1% FG), 4.3 rpg, 0.7 apg, 0.8 bpg, 12.1 PER
Steven Adams made OKC fans giddy with his play to open the season, but he hasn’t been able to keep that up—and it’s somewhat puzzling. Right now, he’s a nice backup but his inexperience on the defensive end is keeping him out of the starting spot and a bigger part in the rotation.
Nevertheless, there is plenty to be excited about. Adams has shown physicality, quick feet and an assortment of effective low-post moves.
He just won’t be able to snatch the starting job this season.
Derek Fisher: C
Stats: 16.2 mpg, 4.8 ppg (39.1% FG, 38.0% 3P), 1.3 apg, 0.7 spg, 0.6 TOpg, 9.8 PER
Initially, I was both critical and skeptical about OKC’s decision to re-sign Derek Fisher because…well, he’s a dinosaur. But I’ve been pleasantly surprised with his performance.
If he’s the second point guard in the playoffs, the Thunder will have problems, but he’s perfect as a third point guard to steady the ship and hit big shots.
He demonstrated his ability to show up in big games when he knocked down five three-pointers to fuel an epic Thunder comeback and road win against the Miami Heat. That three-point shooting in particular will be especially valuable when the postseason rolls around.
Fisher’s best days aren’t even visible in his rear-view mirror, but he’s a solid rotation piece for Coach Brooks.
Nick Collison: C+
Stats: 17.4 mpg, 4.4 ppg (55.5% FG), 3.5 rpg, 1.3 apg, 12.4 PER
Nick Collison is just a basketball player. Those statistics listed above don’t look impressive, but the Thunder would be in a dark place without Collison’s hustle, intelligence and leadership.
On offense, he knows his role. He doesn’t take unnecessary shots, is an underrated passer and is very good in the pick-and-roll—as evidenced by his 1.29 points per possession as a pick-and-roll man which is fifth-best in the league per SynergySports.
On defense, he rotates extremely well and helps out his teammates, and protects the rim fairly well by giving up his body and taking charges.
He may look like a very average player, but Collison is far from it.
Thabo Sefolosha: C+
Stats: 26.9 mpg, 6.9 ppg (42.2% FG, 33.3% 3P), 3.8 rpg, 1.4 spg, 11.2 PER
On defense, Thabo Sefolosha has been his usual, excellent self. The lanky defender has been elite in isolation situations, allowing opponents to score only 0.66 points per possession according to Synergy Sports.
Sefolosha’s primary value to this team is his defense, so he’s definitely doing his job. It’s another story on offense, however.
He has completely lost his three-point stroke and has been an unreliable option this season. According to SynergySports, he’s shooting an atrocious 28.4 percent on spot-up three-pointers, which just won’t cut it in the playoffs.
The defense will always be there, but Sefolosha’s meager offensive contributions keep his player grade lower than his teammates that are about to show up on this list.
Jeremy Lamb: B-
Stats: 22 mpg, 9.8 ppg (44.6% FG, 35.6% 3P), 2.7 rpg, 14.7 PER
Jeremy Lamb’s numbers aren’t particularly impressive, but you can’t help but notice him when he’s on the court. He’s still at least a year away from realizing his full potential, but you can see flashes of it now and again and it’s extremely impressive.
What he has brought to the table this year is perimeter shooting—a trait the Thunder desperately need. He came out of the gates with blistering accuracy from downtown, but he’s cooled off since that point.
Regardless, he’s still one of the team’s best spot-up shooters and provides the necessary floor spacing for the OKC offense.
The consistency will come, but you can already see why general manager Sam Presti was willing to trade James Harden for a package that included Lamb as the centerpiece for the future.
Reggie Jackson: B
Stats: 28.3 mpg, 13.5 ppg (44.1% FG, 31.9% 3P), 3.7 rpg, 4.2 apg, 1.1 spg, 2.3 TOpg, 15.7 PER
Reggie Jackson was absolutely phenomenal for the Thunder as the sixth man when Russell Westbrook has been in the lineup. Unfortunately, that has been the exception as opposed to the rule this season.
Forced to step into the starter’s shoes, Jackson has had his fair share of struggles, but the development is clear. Head coach Scott Brooks talked to Anthony Slater of NewsOK about his progress and areas of improvement:
Defensively, he needs to continue to get better. The point guards in this league are so good and they're so offensive minded and there's a pick and roll 60, 70 times a game. That area, he needs to improve.
Brooks was quick to point out, however, that Jackson has impressed as a facilitator and playmaker in Westbrook’s absence:
I think he's improved in that area as far as managing the game. Understanding who's hot, who's not hot, who needs a bucket, who's open and just making sure he continues to make the right decisions. He's done a great job when Russell has been out.
The numbers aren’t staggering, but Jackson has shown enough all-around game and intelligence to be one of the league’s best sixth men once Westbrook is back in action.
Russell Westbrook: A-
Stats: 25 GP, 32.9 mpg, 21.3 ppg (42.4% FG, 30.9% 3P), 6.0 rpg, 7.0 apg, 1.8 spg, 4.0 TOpg, 21.7 PER
Russell Westbrook has become somewhat of a forgotten man in Oklahoma City, but that will quickly change once he gets back on the court.
The fact that Westbrook played so well in his return from injury speaks volumes about his fire and competitiveness, but the rust was clear—which is saying something since his numbers are so excellent anyway.
He’s always been an all-around player, but he needs to improve on that field-goal percentage and those turnovers. Given his previous accomplishments, it’s safe to say that he will once he gets fully adjusted to NBA basketball and gets back in a rhythm.
Serge Ibaka: A
Stats: 32.5 mpg, 15.3 ppg (54.8% FG, 36.8% 3P), 8.8 rpg, 2.5 bpg, 20.1 PER
Serge Ibaka has been a more-than-capable Robin to Kevin Durant’s Batman in Westbrook’s absence. He isn’t putting up gaudy numbers, but he’s averaging career highs in every category except field-goal percentage and blocks.
He’s 18th in the league in rebounds per game, seventh in field-goal percentage and second in blocks—and those numbers don’t even factor in his complete defensive value. According to the SportVU metrics at NBA.com, Ibaka is fifth in the league in opponent field-goal percentage at the rim (more than six attempts per game).
His defense and rim protection have always been elite, but he continues to add to his offensive repertoire and is one of the best mid-range shooters in the game, knocking down 47.8 percent of his shots between the paint and three-point line.
There were some rough games to start the year—especially without Westbrook—but Ibaka has put together the best season of his career. What’s more, he’s only 24! You would like to see a more refined low-post game, but he’s made such major strides in his spot-up shooting and can stretch the floor all the way to beyond the arc.
According to Darnell Mayberry of NewsOK, Ibaka has been motivated by his All-Star snub. He may as well enjoy it while he can. This should be the last time he’s not involved in the All-Star festivities.
Kevin Durant: MVP
Stats: 38.1 mpg, 31.2 ppg (51.2% FG, 41.9% 3P, 88% FT), 7.6 rpg, 5.5 apg, 1.4 spg, 0.9 bpg, 3.5 TOpg, 31.1 PER
Kevin Durant has been so good that he doesn’t even get a grade. He’s wrecking the grade curve for everybody else, so instead let’s just give him the NBA MVP trophy.
Take a trip down memory lane to last season’s playoff series against the Memphis Grizzlies when Durant struggled to carry the entire load without Russell Westbrook.
There are no such concerns this season. Westbrook has only played 25 games, and Durant has his team functioning at peak efficiency like a well-oiled machine.
He’s getting it done at both ends of the floor—even taking the challenge of guarding superstars like LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony for long stretches of recent games.
And then…there’s his scoring.
He leads in the league in putting the ball through the hoop, averaging 4.1 points more than second-place Carmelo Anthony. And while LeBron may be envious of his shot attempts, Durant has displayed freakish efficiency.
He ranks 22nd in field-goal percentage, 13th in three-point percentage and sixth in free-throw percentage (which is even more impressive when you learn that he leads the league in free-throw attempts per game) while straying tantalizingly close to a repeat 50-40-90 season.
“The Slim Reaper” leads the league in PER (with a comfortable 2.5-point advantage over LeBron) with a rating (31.13) that would go down as the 10th-best single-season PER of all-time according to Basketball-Reference.com.
The only men with better seasons? Michael Jordan, Wilt Chamberlain and LeBron James. That’s how good Durant has been.
In the words of Kenny Smith: “Let’s go home, ladies and gentlemen!” This MVP race is already over.
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