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Thunder Player Power Rankings: Humble beginnings

Thunder Player Power Rankings: Humble beginnings
D. Clarke Evans/NBAE/Getty Images

They’re back! The mildly popular and not at all essential Thunder player power rankings!

It was an awkward first week for the Thunder. Three games, two losses. All featuring the same storyline: How does this team move on without James Harden? And here’s the bad news: That storyline isn’t going anywhere. Especially following losses.

Oklahoma City was a play away from being 2-1 to which I ask: Is it just about the results, or about the play? The Thunder played terribly against the Spurs and should’ve won the game. The scoreboard is a funny thing. It can either hide blemishes or make them more noticeable than ever.

Let’s rank the roster after week one.

1. Kevin Durant

KD has clearly committed himself to being a different kind of player in 2012. He wants to rebound, he wants to pass and he wants to score super efficiently. And to me, he’s almost trying too hard to be too perfect. He’s succeeding in a whole lot of ways of filling the box score — he’s averaging 22.7 points, 14.3 rebounds and 6.7 assists, all team highs — but while doing it he’s kind of getting away from who he is.

Durant’s taking about four fewer shots this season than last, and he’s doing it in a way that makes it clear he’s trying to distribute. It could be a product of him trying to become more of a creator without Harden, but he’s obviously fallen in love with making the great assist. Scoring probably hasn’t gotten boring to him per se, but he’s trying to expand himself as a player.

You just don’t want that evolution to hurt the team rather than help. Because while Durant is assisting better than ever, he’s also turning the ball over more. I think KD can bring those down and keep the assist numbers, but the goal each possession is to get a good shot. And anytime the ball leaves Durant’s hands headed at the basket, it’s a pretty good shot.

The rebounding though? That’s a very good thing. KD’s started the season with three straight double-doubles. The most consecutive he’s ever had is five, during the 2010-11 season. The Thunder have always struggled a bit on the defensive glass so KD going down low and helping out is a very welcome sight.

Just score some more points, OK?

2. Kevin Martin

Through three games: 20.7 ppg, 2.0 rpg, 2.3 apg and a PER of 20.3. In terms of production, the Thunder are getting it replaced with Martin and then some.

That was the thing about this trade the whole time: Martin was being completely undersold as a player. The focus was entirely on losing Harden and not what the Thunder were getting in return. And just as a producer of stats, the Thunder have a more-than-worthy replacement.

There’s been so much talk about chemistry but through three games, it looks to me like Martin is settled in. I’m sure there are still some comfort things to work out within the offense, but he looks adapted to being a third scorer, to coming off the bench and taking fewer than 15 shots. There are other problems with the team right now and they don’t have anything to do with Kevin Martin.

One other thought about this whole thing: I mentioned it before, but it really is completely silly to evaluate the trade on a nightly basis based off of what kind of line Harden (or Martin) produced. The Thunder knew James Harden was completely capable of what he’s doing in Houston. It’s just that with the Thunder, you never would have seen it. It wasn’t his role and that’s a credit to Harden to unselfishly fit in. The trade wasn’t about Harden as a player, but about Harden as a commodity. And he was too expensive to keep. That’s it.

3. Russell Westbrook

So far, Westbrook is 1-for-3. One good game, two bad ones.

The Spurs game was downright brutal, the Blazers game was good and the Hawks game was up and down. I don’t know if Westbrook is the one being impacted most by Harden’s departure, or if he’s just getting off to a slow start. Because that’s not new. Westbrook struggled mightily the first week of the season last year, going 6-of-17, 10-of-21 and then 0-of-13 (16-51). His first three games this year: 6-of-21, 13-of-24 and 5-of-18 (24-63). Improvement!

Westbrook isn’t necessarily turning the ball over at a high rate — just 10 through three games — but he is wasting a bunch of possessions. Either with a reckless forced shot or a dumb turnover. Against the Hawks he had nine assists, but those nine assists didn’t reflect the overall carelessness he played with. The assists came as a result of nine very good passes, but he wasn’t in control of the Thunder offense by any stretch.

I’ve said it repeatedly but the Harden trade has placed more of a burden on Durant and Westbrook, and probably more Westbrook than anything. He can do one of three things: 1) Have a come-to-Jesus moment and decide he’s going to cut this wildman stuff out and be more of a pass-first point guard; 2) keep doing his thing but just start doing it better or 3) try and blend it all together. Option three is obviously the best and there are flashes of it. But the Thunder need quality possessions late in games and if Westbrook is he lone ball-handler on the floor, he’s going to have to be the one to engineer them.

4. Serge Ibaka

Against Atlanta Ibaka finally got his shot going a little bit but still, his first week has been pretty disappointing. He hasn’t rebounded all that well — though in his defense, KD’s taking them all away — he hasn’t blocked shots at any great rate and his defense has been pretty soft.

Plenty of time to go and making sweeping generalizations at this point is silly, but Ibaka was poised to become much more of a featured offensive player in this rebuilt team. And against the Hawks when possessions became critical, Ibaka was mostly ignored despite having his jumper going. Ibaka could be a lot of what ails Westbrook. If those two can connect on a solid two-man game, there’s a pick-and-pop outlet or at least a dangerous go-to set the Thunder can run.

5. Nick Collison

Stats are such a funny thing. I’ve spent a lot of time with the first four guys using them but when it comes to Collison, we don’t care. He’s averaging just 2.7 rpg, but we don’t mind. Because for whatever reason, we notice all the other things he’s doing on the floor. I don’t know why it works that way, but it’s true. Collison is such a good pick-and-roll defender and a guy that does little things that you brush off anything the box score says about him.

The only thing I don’t like about his stats so far is that he’s getting only 22 minutes a game.

6. Thabo Sefolosha

I don’t think we’re far away from a real debate brewing about OKC’s starting lineup. Via NBA.com, OKC’s starting five is scoring just 90.5 points per 100 possessions, while with Kevin Martin on the floor, it’s 106.9 per 100. Obviously offense wasn’t really the problem against the Hawks, but the point remains: Should Martin start?

That debate was settled pretty easily with Harden last season when Scott Brooks tried him in placed of an injured Thabo and it clearly didn’t work well. Harden needed that time alone as an alpha with the second unit to get himself into the flow of the game. We don’t know if Martin’s the same kind of player, but on first glance, I wouldn’t think so. Harden needed the ball to get involved. Martin doesn’t. He can strictly spot up and shoot.

No one should question Thabo’s value to the team, but he really is a defensive specialist. He’s comes in very handy in certain matchups, but here’s my question: If Scott Brooks preaches being a defensive team and that was supposedly the major issue Sunday against the Hawks, then why did he go with Martin and not Thabo the last six minutes of the game?

7. Kendrick Perkins

The “Bash Perk Bandwagon” is filling up earlier than usual this season. But give him credit with this: Against the Blazers, LaMarcus Aldridge struggled to find any offensive rhythm, going just 10-of-22 from the floor. That was from Perk’s annoyance, as well as his defense.

Perk is Perk and you’d think Thunder fans would accept him as the player he is by now. He’s not a low post threat, he’s not a double-double machine and he’s not going to pull in 15 rebounds. He’s a tough guy that sets good screens, defends the post as well as anyone in the league and adds a little mean streak to OKC’s defense. That’s it.

8. Hasheem Thabeet

Maybe it’s because my expectations for him were so low — like as in, “I wonder if he can actually run up and down the court” low — but Thabeet has been a pleasant surprise thus far. He’s been passable as a backup center and in some situations, has truly contributed. As long as he’s in a role where it’s three or four minutes of just doing a specific job, he can be an acceptable contributor.

9. Eric Maynor

The knee is an easy excuse, but for whatever reason, Maynor just hasn’t really been himself early on this season. Against the Hawks, he looked incredibly uncomfortable. I noticed him blowing into his hands the whole time he was on the floor, almost like it was a nervous tick. He was really bad defensively and wasn’t creating plays, splashing 3s and getting the offense into anything good.

He’s healthy, but I do think there’s some rust being rubbed off right now. At least I hope that’s all it is.

10. Reggie Jackson

I don’t know what Scott Brook’s plan for him is, but he’s clearly trying to work him in to some situations as an off-guard. Like I said, I don’t know what to expect from that.

11. Jeremy Lamb

He’s 1-for-1 and judging solely on that one shot, he’s amazing.

The Thunder aren’t in a position where they can really try out young players and let them get experience because there’s too much depth and wins are at stake. It’s not like four years ago when the final results didn’t matter as much. I’d love to see Lamb too, but the team isn’t really built for that right now.

12. Perry Jones III

I really expected to see more of him. He played a few minutes against Portland, but clearly isn’t part of the regular rotation, which is disappointing.

One thought on OKC’s player development: Durant, Westbrook, Ibaka and Harden all obviously came along incredibly in OKC’s system, a credit to their player develop. But they didn’t do it as guys waiting on the end of the bench, only using practices and garbage time. They did it by playing in games. At the time, the luxury for the Thunder were that final results didn’t matter much, so playing the young kids was fine. Things have changed now.

Players like Cole Aldrich and Byron Mullens didn’t see that same surplus of time, which makes me wonder if that’s why they never really expanded their talents. And it makes me worry about stunting the growth of players like Lamb and Jones. The best experience and best way to improve is time on the floor.

But how can they get that when there are games to be won and talented players ahead of them? At what point is Jeremy Lamb going to be good enough for Scott Brooks to use him? What does he need to see in practice from him? If they’re truly invested in him, would the Thunder be better served in the long term just going through some growing pains with him on the floor? That’s what they did with Harden…

13. DeAndre Liggins

Wasn’t it fun talking about him so much in the preseason? Because now, we’re probably much done with those conversations.

14. Daniel Orton

One thing Orton really needs to work on: His 3-point bench celebrations.