Thunder Player Power Rankings: Beard is feared
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So the Thunder blew their 14-game home winning streak to the Cavs. That’s the blemish on an otherwise quality week for Oklahoma City. It was the type of game that was probably a long-time coming for the Thunder. Because when you win at home like that so often and more times than not, so easily, you take for granted how difficult it is to beat an NBA team.
Kevin Durant called it a learning experience, which is something we knew he’d say, but that’s exactly what it is. Every now and then you need that slap across the face to tell you that if you’re not ready to play, even at home, you’ll lose. The Thunder played a bad game, didn’t execute at all the last five minutes and got beat. You lose, you learn and you move on to the next one.
Now to the rankings:
1. James Harden (Last week: 3)
For a a long while, Harden never could seem to eclipse his 26-point career-high. And then he did it twice in a week, setting a new career-high against Phoenix with 30 and then another new career-high with 33 against Charlotte. Kind of hard to believe those are the first two 30-point games of James Harden’s career. Here’s my favorite part about those two games though: Harden scored a combined 63 points on just 28 shots. The guy knows nothing but scoring at an ultra efficient clip.
2. Kevin Durant (Last week: 1)
I actually had someone ask me on Twitter what was up with KD’s “slump.” Is that really where we’re at with Durant now? He averages 29 points per game but on 45 percent shooting instead of 51 and he’s in a slump? I guess it was enough to drop him down to No. 2 though. This week: 25.2 ppg on 44 percent shooting. WHAT IS WRONG WITH KD?!?!
3. Russell Westbrook (Last week: 2)
Overlooked thing: Since the All-Star break, Westbrook hasn’t turned it over more than three times in a game. His turnovers were a bit out of control leading up to the break with him averaging 4.7 a game in February. So far in March, just two a game. And he’s averaging 25.2 points and 5.8 assists this month on almost 50 percent shooting.
4. Serge Ibaka (Last week: 6)
Here’s Ibaka’s season so far: three double-digit block games, a triple-double, an 18-point 20-rebound game, and a lot of random sitting in the fourth quarter. I understand Scott Brooks loves his smallball lineup and prefers Perk there to defend the post, but he missed it against the Cavs Friday. When Ibaka has that jumper going — which is becoming relatively commonplace — he’s an essential part to the Thunder offense. That release valve in the offense for Westbrook to kick to late in the shot clock is vital to have. You know me, I love what Perk does, but in terms of offensive assistance, there’s no contest between what he brings and what Ibaka brings.
5. Royal Ivey (Last week: 5)
When Thabo returns — something likely to happen in the next week or so — what happens to Ivey? He’s been so very good off the Thunder bench the past few weeks providing energy, effort and defense in places OKC desperately needed it. He’s essentially Thabo-lite — a shorter, not quite as diverse player as Sefolosha — but still, you like to have someone like that on the court. It’s really unlikely Brooks expands to an 11-man rotation once Thabo returns, but having Ivey as a wildcard in his back pocket is a nice luxury.
6. Nick Collison (Last week: 7)
That behind-the-back pass Collison tried against Phoenix is definitely No. 1 in my Thunder Failed Play Power Rankings. But it was his terrific defensive effort on Dirk down the stretch against Dallas that left me impressed with Collison. The Thunder have three worthy defenders to throw at Dirk, with Collison probably being one of the best Dirk defenders in the league. Nice thing to have in the bag for April.
7. Kendrick Perkins (Last week: 4)
After setting a new season-high with 14 boards against Dallas last Monday, Perk only had 13 in his next three games. He played just 18 minutes against the Suns because he couldn’t defend their pick-and-roll well, and wasn’t really effective at all playing the 5 in the smallball lineup that failed against Cleveland. He did have five assists against Charlotte though, and I’m becoming a big fan of his outlet passes.
8. Cole Aldrich (Last week: 8)
In the last two games Aldrich has played — Atlanta and Charlotte — he had 13 rebounds in 24 minutes. That’s pretty good. His activity on the glass is one of many reasons there is to like Aldrich, but here’s another: I think he can score a little in the post. His back-to-the-basket game is far from polished and he really needs a spot-up jumper, something he’ll likely never have, but I don’t mind Aldrich getting a tough on the block. Scott Brooks has said before Aldrich won’t ever be a guy they intentionally run a play for, but I think there’s potential for that. With those long arms and a soft touch, that jump hook is near unblockable. If that sharpens up, that could be a fine weapon off OKC’s bench.
9. Reggie Jackson (Last week: 11)
Finally, I think there are some positive signs that Jackson might be turning a corner. The seven assists against the Bobcats was nice, but it was more his steady play against Cleveland I was impressed with. After Jackson had that nice dunk in traffic, he had a whole new demeanor. He was assertive with the offense, actually telling KD to move to the other side of the floor so he could run a pick-and-roll with Collison. He took command it seemed. He had a little confidence to his game. Good signs.
10. Daequan Cook (Last week: 9)
Scott Brooks says he’s not going to start Royal Ivey instead of Cook and with Thabo’s return coming soon, I think that’s probably the right call. Cook was good early on in starting but it appears he’s lost a little of that edge. His minutes are being trimmed back to what they were before Thabo was injured and he’s still not shooting the ball well. Since he hit 5-of-6 from 3 against Golden State, Cook is just 18-79 from deep. That’s just 22.7 percent. I don’t know if it’s a confidence or comfort thing but OKC needs that little 3-point boost from.
11. Nazr Mohammed (Last week: 10)
Mohammed didn’t play against Dallas, played just five minutes against Phoenix but came back with 15 and 13 against the Cavs and Bobcats. I’m not entirely sure what Scott Brooks’ move was in playing Aldrich those minutes in the second quarter against Charlotte, but if it’s a subtle move to ease him into real rotation minutes, I support it. I like Mohammed and I think he’s a quality backup big. It’s just with how much OKC likes to go small and how active Aldrich is, Mohammed’s role is becoming limited to backing up Perk in specific situations.
12. Lazar Hayward (Last week: N/A)
13. Ryan Reid (Last week: 12)
I already made this joke so forgive me, but seriously, have you ever seen two masked players on the court at the same time on the same team? I think that should be the Thunder’s playoff solidarity move. Instead of bleaching their hair blond or shaving their heads, just everyone wear a mask. You’re telling me that wouldn’t completely freak Marc Gasol out?
Inactives: Eric Maynor, Thabo Sefolosha