Power Ranking Every Key OKC Thunder Player Before Season's End
Just when the Oklahoma City Thunder get Russell Westbrook back, they’re forced to play without two other starters: Kendrick Perkins and Thabo Sefolosha. The good news is that we’ve had a chance to see meaningful minutes from every key contributor, so let’s evaluate how they’ve performed this season.
These power rankings attempt to discern how well each player has done based partially on the numbers but also subjectively based on how important they’ve been to OKC’s success this year.
There is no surprise that Kevin Durant is at No. 1 (spoiler alert!), but there are a few interesting takeaways from this ranking of the top 10 players.
For starters, the depth on this team is impressive. Perry Jones and Steven Adams are consistent features in the rotation, but neither of them crack the list because of the sheer talent ahead of them.
Secondly, you’ll see a couple of important players that are relatively low on the list compared to where they should be: Thabo Sefolosha and Jeremy Lamb. Why are they so low? Click through to find out.
With plenty of skilled role players and veteran leadership to go along with two top-10 players, OKC is ready for a title run, but everyone on this list needs to do their job for that to happen.
Note: All player stats and Player Efficiency Ratings are accurate as of Mar. 18, 2014 and are courtesy of ESPN.com.
10. Kendrick Perkins, C
Stats: 19.7 minutes, 3.4 points, 5.0 rebounds, 0.5 blocks, 6.2 PER
There are plenty of Kendrick Perkins haters out there who will argue that the center doesn’t belong in the top 10 ahead of Perry Jones and Steven Adams. His numbers (including his absolutely abysmal PER) certainly don’t help his case, and to be honest you could argue that side and convince me.
But even in the modern age of analytics where we can figure out relatively meaningless numbers like how far a player has run over the course of a season, there are some things that numbers can’t capture.
Kendrick Perkins is a prime example.
His numbers don’t show how important he is as the leader of the OKC defense, barking out commands and helping his teammates stay on the same page. There’s also something to be said for the toughness he brings as an enforcer.
Then there are the things that numbers actually can track, like how great he is on the defensive end per SynergySports:
|Play Type||Points per Possession Allowed||NBA Rank|
|P&R Roll Man||0.75||N/A|
Perkins’ value has decreased since his glory days with the Boston Celtics, but he’s still a necessary matchup play against the true centers in the game, and he’s been the most important defensive player for the Thunder.
For that reason, he leapfrogs Perry Jones and Steven Adams in the rankings, but the fact that he’s detrimental to the offense keeps him below everybody you’re going to read about.
9. Jeremy Lamb, SG
Stats: 20.4 minutes, 8.9 points (43% FG, 35% 3P), 2.6 rebounds, 13.8 PER
Jeremy Lamb started the year shooting the lights out from beyond the arc, but his percentages have plummeted over the season:
As his shooting has decreased, so has his place in these power rankings because his greatest value to the team is perimeter shooting.
He still provides a better all-around game and boasts infinitely more athleticism than Perkins which is why Lamb comes in at No. 9, but if his dry spell continues he may even fall out of the top 10 by season’s end.
8. Thabo Sefolosha, SG
Stats: 26.4 minutes, 6.7 points (43% FG, 35% 3P), 1.4 steals, 11.0 PER
Earlier in the season, Jeremy Lamb’s three-point shooting outweighed Thabo Sefolosha’s defense, so I had the sophomore ahead of the wily vet. Thanks to Lamb’s cold streak, that’s no longer the case and Sefolosha’s elite perimeter defense gives him a comfortable cushion over Lamb.
With his length and tenacity, Sefolosha’s defense will be crucial for any playoff success, but his lack of offense (and more importantly perimeter shooting) is a concern.
Floor spacing is necessary for a Thunder offense that relies on the isolation prowess of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, and OKC don’t get that spacing from either of their top shooting guards.
7. Nick Collison, PF
Stats: 16.7 minutes, 4.2 points (56% FG), 3.6 rebounds, 12.0 PER
Talk about a guy where the numbers do lie. Nick Collison is so important to the Thunder that he would probably jump up a couple of spots on this list if his numbers were slightly better.
Collison gives the Thunder a third big man that can play good defense while providing an offensive spark. He doesn’t do it with points or assists, but he’s such a good passer, screener and offensive rebounder that he gives a huge boost to the OKC offense.
How big of a boost? The Thunder score 107.8 points per 100 possessions when he’s off the court (which is great) but that jumps to 117.5 points per 100 possessions when he’s on the court (which is flat out ridiculous).
His effort on both ends of the court is contagious, and he’s been a steadying presence in a season where the usual stalwarts have missed a fair amount of time.
6. Derek Fisher, PG
Stats: 16.7 minutes, 5.2 points (40% FG, 39% 3P), 10.8 PER
Coach Brooks’ decision to give Derek Fisher significant minutes can be infuriating, but it’s stretches like the last month that you see why it’s the right decision.
With all of the perimeter shooters (except for Kevin Durant) struggling, Fisher has been exceptional from downtown which is keeping him on the floor.
While he’s not the fleetest of foot anymore, he has the intelligence and savvy to get the job done defensively while knocking down clutch shots on the other end of the floor.
Like Kendrick Perkins, Fisher brings leadership and toughness to this relatively young (but experienced) team, and the value of that can’t be overstated.
5. Caron Butler, SF
Stats: 26.7 minutes, 8.7 points (36% FG, 36% 3P), 3.7 rebounds, 8.0 PER
Head coach Scott Brooks hasn’t been shy to use his newest toy, but that’s probably because Butler has been tremendous for the Thunder in his limited role.
His numbers don’t really show his impact, but he’s given the team a smart player that can make the right plays at the end of games while providing reliable shooting from beyond the arc and gritty perimeter defense.
Anthony Slater of The Oklahoman gives us an insight into why Brooks loves playing Butler at the end of games:
‘He went out there and played basketball the right way,’ Brooks said after Butler’s first game in a Thunder uniform. ‘If he had a shot, he took it. If he had a pass, he passed it. And we have to continue to add that mentality to our team.’
Butler has already become a part of the crunch-time lineup—although that’s due in part to Perkins’ injury—and he’ll continue to play big minutes in the playoffs.
4. Reggie Jackson, PG
Stats: 28.3 minutes, 13.1 points (44% FG), 3.8 rebounds, 4.0 assists, 1.1 steals, 14.9 PER
Reggie Jackson’s numbers aren’t spectacular, but they reveal a little bit about how diverse his game is and how important he’s been to the Thunder without Russell Westbrook in action.
The expanded role seemed to wear on Jackson as the season went on, but he’s back to being an Energizer bunny off the bench and the role suits him well.
Jackson is so helpful to the Thunder because it means there is a fairly small drop-off when Westbrook goes to the bench. His ability to put pressure on the defense and his newfound patience as a facilitator will really help the second unit tread water when Durant and Westbrook ride the pine.
Jackson is in his own buffer zone on these power rankings and has been for the entire season. He’s head and shoulders above the rest of the roster but clearly behind the three guys you’re about to see.
3. Serge Ibaka, PF
Stats: 32.7 minutes, 15.2 points (54% FG), 8.8 rebounds, 2.6 blocks, 19.9 PER
Serge Ibaka has been absolutely phenomenal for the Thunder. He stepped up in a big way on offense when Westbrook was out and he has always been a dominant game-changer on the defensive end.
There is no reason why he’s averaging less than 10 rebounds per game, but that’s nit-picking considering how pure a shooting stroke he possesses in the mid-range game and the value he brings as a rim-protector.
He falls behind Westbrook on this list because the dynamic point guard affects the game in so many ways, but Westbrook is closer to Ibaka than Durant at the moment and that speaks volumes about how much Ibaka has grown as a player.
I’m not one of those people who thinks the Thunder would be better off without Westbrook—that’s a ludicrous notion—but Ibaka is the more important player because he can cover for everybody on the defensive end.
2. Russell Westbrook, PG
Stats: 31.1 minutes, 21.4 points (43% FG), 5.8 rebounds, 7.2 assists, 4.0 turnovers, 1.9 steals, 24.2 PER
Just look at those numbers. They are insane considering the fact that Russell Westbrook still hasn’t completely knocked the rust off. But that’s how good he is, and that’s why he comes in at No. 2 despite only playing 36 games this season.
Every game, you can see him getting back into the flow. His shot selection gets a little better, he looks more in sync with his teammates (especially the new ones like Steven Adams and Jeremy Lamb) and he’s cutting down on the silly turnovers—turnovers are just a byproduct of the way he plays anyway.
He gives this team an edge as a relentless attacker with the ball in his hands and an electrifying playmaker. The Thunder may have been able to coast without him in the lineup for the regular season, but Westbrook will prove just how important he is in the playoffs as the Thunder embark on their quest for a championship.
1. Kevin Durant, SF
Stats: 38.4 minutes, 31.8 points (51% FG, 40% 3P), 7.6 rebounds, 5.5 assists, 1.4 steals, 30.4 PER
Do I really have to say anything? The only way to really be upset at Kevin Durant is that it’s highly unlikely that he can bring his 87-percent free-throw shooting up to speed in time to finish in the 50-40-90 club for the second consecutive season.
That’s it. That’s the only negative thing I can say about Kevin Durant.
He has gaudy numbers that place him in historic company and he’s been carrying this team through injuries for the entire season.
The man does it all on the court and is the only human being that can be realistically compared to LeBron James.
We are watching the evolution of an all-time great and one of the greatest individual seasons in NBA history. Soak it in people.