Thunder vs Heat 2012 NBA Finals: Final Player Grades

The 2012 NBA Finals are in the book and OKC fans are left with a summer to think about all the 'what-if's' that could have altered the trajectory of the series (there were many). Above all else though, the sentiment that I carry after watching those 5 games is this - the Thunder simply did not play very well. To be sure part of that had to do with what the Miami Heat were doing, but in the end when the key plays were there to be made, Miami made them and OKC did not. The Thunder did not have anyone who stepped up like Shane Battier and his early play, or even a 1 game anomaly like Mike Miller put together in Game 5 (7-8 shooting from 3-point range). In the end that is what really made the difference between two teams whose final scores (with the exception of Game 5) were but a few possessions apart.

Round 1 Final Player Grades

Round 2 Final Player Grades

Round 3 Final Player Grades

***

KEVIN DURANT

30.6 PPG on 55% shooting, 6.0 REB, 2.2 AST, 1BL 1.4 ST, 3.8 TO


Grade Comments
Zorgon's Grade

Grade_aminus_medium

For some reason, I usually don't notice Kevin Durant on the floor, until the game is on the line. His scores aren't overtly amazing most of the time, and his defense doesn't pop out at you like that of Serge Ibaka or Thabo Sefolosha. But for the most part, I think Durant got it done during these finals. Some like to harp on how he wasn't aggressive enough, or how he didn't take games over. Well, I would argue that the performances of LeBron and Wade weren't any better, and that he did his team a great service by not forcing any bad shots (unlike...you know....that guy). But his game outside of the scoring department was kind of meh. His defense on LeBron was fantastic, but his defense against quicker PGs like Chalmers and Cole was terrible, and he didn't play pressure very well. His rebounding was down from previous series, and he dribbled it around a bit too much. So while I don't really fault him for losing this series, I do think that if he tightened up his overall game, we might have won one or two more games.
Sherman' Grade Grade_bplus_medium Kevin Durant had a funny kind of series and we'll remember it in a funny kind of way. If you look at his performance, the numbers don't lie. When Durant was on the court and engaged, he was all but unstoppable. He wasn't tossing up 30 jumpers a game to get his average; KD's points were coming in the same efficient way that we've come to expect that have shown his growth in offensive discernment. And yet, I leave the Finals as a whole thinking that he left an entire higher level of play (and maybe 2 levels) on the table because he didn't quite know how to tap into it. No disrespect to LeBron James, who did an outstanding job against Durant throughout, but there were enough times when James was NOT guarding Durant where KD was not able to capitalize. Furthermore, he still has a tendency to zone out when he's not playing on-ball defense, and his lack of rebounding gave the Heat added opportunities to stay in games. The two additional levels - one physical, one mental - are there. That's the next step.

RUSSELL WESTBROOK

27.0 PPG on 43% shooting, 6.4 REB, 6.6 AST, 0.4 BL, 1.0 ST, 2.2 TO


Grade Comments
Zorgon's Grade

Grade_a_medium

Russell Westbrook is totally awesome, and if you think differently, you're wrong. Because I'm the greatest person in the world, and I'm always right! But seriously, I can't believe the amount of determination this guy has while he's out there on the floor. If he sees any type of opening at all, he charges for it with all of his might. And during this series, he played smart. His shooting percentage was a little bit low, but his defense was more focused then usual, he scored tons of points, and his turnovers were down. He hustled for more rebounds then we've ever seen him grab, and his assists were almost back up to pre-2011 levels. He's never played a game that's just been this all-around good, and I give him every credit for doing his part to help his team with this series. If he wasn't there, the Thunder wouldn't have even gotten close to winning a game.
Sherman's Grade Grade_bplus_medium Russell Westbrook had an interesting coming out party in these Finals, and by the look of things people remain divided as ever when thinking about him. His fans will point to his one-man wrecking ball of a game in Game 4, how he carried the team for 4 quarters before making a critical mistake in tragic fashion. His detractors will still argue that he takes too many shots, and too many shots for Westbrook means not enough for Durant. Both are right, and both are wrong. Me, I don't care about either. What I see, and what I know, is that the kid has a fierce competitive spirit inside of him (what Kobe calls the 'dog') and he's going to continue to charge toward the goal like Sherman's march to the sea. A team can absorb plenty of collateral damage as long as a player as talented as Westbrook cares as much as he does.

JAMES HARDEN

12.4 PPG on 38% shooting, 4.8 REB, 3.6 AST, 1.2 ST, 2.4 TO


Grade Comments
Zorgon's Grade

Grade_d_medium

There's no denying that he was the NBA Finals biggest flop. No one can really determine what happened to James Harden. I mean, he was critical in the conference finals, so I don't know how the pressure could have gotten to him. But his defense was the worst part of his performance. It's partially a coaching mistake that he was made to guard LeBron James at all, but he was pretty much destroyed in the post and shot over by LeBron constantly. He sometimes forgot his assignment on the perimeter and pressured someone else, often in vain. Offensively, he never attacked the rim during a half-court set, and he missed wide open layups and threes. The only really good things you can say about his performance was that he moved the ball a little bit, and that his rebounds were up. Otherwise, we'll never win an NBA finals with him playing like this.
Sherman's Grade Grade_d_medium
Was it mental fatigue? Chasing LeBron around for 30 minutes a night? The pressure of the Finals? All or none of the above? One of the great mysteries we'll be thinking about as the Thunder head into the off-season is what exactly happened to James Harden in the Finals. He played a grand total of 1 solid half of play. The rest of the time, Harden seemed like he was a step slow in all regards. His shooting rhythm was off, he wasn't reading the plays as quickly as he should, his passes were a half-second slow, and he committed a large number of turnovers trying to force the action unnecessarily. With a team whose success is predicated on 3 key players all playing well, 2 playing good and 1 playing bad is just not going to be good enough.

More grades after the jump.

SERGE IBAKA

7.0 PPG on 42% shooting, 5.2 REB, 0.8 AST, 2.0 BL, 0.4 ST, 0.2 TO


Grade Comments
Zorgon's Grade

Grade_dminus_medium

I don't know why I didn't expect more out of Ibaka in this series. Maybe it was the fact that he'd really only show up for one or two games in earlier series, and that nothing really indicated he would do well in this one. He's quicker and more athletic than Chris Bosh, but he doesn't have the post moves to take advantage of his weak defense in the paint, or the means to punish smaller defenders like Udonis Haslem or Shane Battier. Plus, his streaky jumper was pretty much moot with the smaller guys on him all the time. If Ibaka wants to take his game to the next level, he's got to improve his back to the basket game. But what really killed his performance in this NBA finals was his defense. Early on, he forgot about Shane Battier. Then, Brooks told him he'd sit him on the bench if he let Battier shoot an open shot. So, Ibaka's post presence was gone. Either way, Ibaka's presence was largely negative.
Sherman's Grade Grade_d_medium Harden's Finals performance was an obvious talking point for the Thunder's struggles, but Serge Ibaka's performance was every bit as disappointing in my mind. Ibaka could have had a huge impact on this series. If ever there was a moment when Ibaka had a chance to get better against a weak defensive front line, this was the series to do it. In Game 1 Ibaka proved that nobody could stay with him defensively, and yet his offensive touches declined as the series went on. Offense aside, Ibaka's bread and butter of defense and rebounding was found lacking as well. Despite a Heat offense that was predicated on post-ups and drives, Ibaka did not have a huge impact in defending the rim. Even worse, his 5.2 rebounding average was only the 4th highest on his team, trailing Westbrook. Ibaka's lack of production in the paint on both ends of the court made the games much more difficult than they needed to be and as a result OKC's margin for error was too small to accommodate.

DEREK FISHER

5.6 PPG on 42% shooting, 1.6 REB, 0.8 AST, 1.0 ST, 0.0 TO


Grade Comments
Zorgon's Grade

Grade_cminus_medium

Derek Fisher's getting a lot of minutes. Why? I don't know. Miami certainly didn't feel the need to load minutes on Juwan Howard, so I don't know why we kept Fisher on the floor for so long. Sure, he's a better player than Howard is at this point of his career, and he can hit shots. But until the Garbage time of Game 6, he wasn't really a major factor. His shooting is meh, his defense can be terrible or somewhat good, and he contributed very little on-ball movement. Still, at the end of the day, I would have rather than Daequan Cook on the floor, because he provides the size and rebounds on defense that Fisher doesn't. But maybe that's just me.
Sherman's Grade Grade_cplus_medium
Derek Fisher is going to continue to be a lightning rod of diverse opinion long after his time in OKC is done. The secret, and the problem, with Fisher was that his greatest team attribute was always going to be one that was intangible. He was supposed to bring veteran maturity, perspective, and the experience of 5 championships with him, and for all we know, he did. The team overall was much more composed in these playoffs, less likely to have emotional let-downs, and play better in the 4th. How much of it was correlational and how much was causal though? It is hard to say. What we do know though is that when Fisher replaced Reggie Jackson and Cook in the line-up, the Thunder found 2nd unit stability at the expense of offensive punch. We'll have to wait until next season to find out an imperfect answer to this mind-splintering question.

KENDRICK PERKINS

4.8 PPG on 43% shooting, 6.8 REB, 0.0 AST, 0.6 BL, 0.2 ST, 1.2 TO


Grade Comments
Zorgon's Grade

Grade_c_medium

Well, he played with injury, so you've gotta give him a bit of leeway for being such a gamer. But on a strictly performance level, he had one good game this series. He wasn't able to take advantage of the smaller Heat defenders, and his jumper was nowhere to be found. In fact, his presence was nowhere to be found. All I gotta say is that at least his rebounding went up.
Sherman's Grade Grade_cminus_medium We found out that Kendrick Perkins played almost the entire playoffs with a torn groin. While Perk was a gamer in the Lakers and Spurs series despite the injury, the revelation of this news after the Thunder bigs struggled in the Finals becomes all the more stark. If Perkins was not 100% (and he played like it toward the end, getting abused off the dribble by Chris Bosh), then why was he playing so many minutes? This information was maddening to hear, and unfortunately gives credence to one of Brooks' main criticisms, that he stays with his veterans longer than he should.


THABO SEFOLOSHA

4.6 PPG on 30% shooting, 2.0 REB, 1.0 AST, 0.8 BL, 1.4 ST, 0.8 TO


Grade Comments
Zorgon's Grade

Grade_cplus_medium

I think Thabo failed us a bit in this series. The main advantage of his defensive abilities is his awareness to stay in position and not to foul, and his size, which keeps players out of the paint. He always delivers on the first objective, but I felt like he was taken advantage of by Wade. He wasn't really able to get Wade's shooting percentage down enough, and by the latter part of the series, Wade was attacking the paint like no other. Oh, and he can't attack the paint himself. In Europe, his finishes looked really impressive. But in the NBA, he doesn't have the strength, athleticism, or skill to get the ball into the hoop. Some guys can draw the foul, but Thabo just doesn't want to learn that skill for some reason. But, I still have mad respect for the way he plays the game.
Sherman's Grade Grade_bminus_medium
Thabo Sefolosha was given the unenviable task of trying to shut down Dwyane Wade for 4 quarters, and when he was given a break from that, he was assigned to check LeBron. Fun series, eh? Thabo proved he was a baller though, he took the challenge on and even won some battles against both of those men. I think it's still a good move to have Sefolosha in the starting line-up because he brings a defensive focus that is sorely lacking when he's out. That said, Sefolosha had some key moments in the game where he had open looks at the rim and could not finish. He needs to continue to work on the offensive end to make a defense pay when they think they've got Westbrook & Durant under wraps.

NICK COLLISON

16.6 MPG, 3.6 PPG on 60% shooting, 4.6 REB, 0.6 AST, 0.2 BL, 0.6 ST, 0.4 TO


Grade Comments
Zorgon's Grade

Grade_b_medium

Nick Collison can score....sometimes. Nick Collison can defend....sometimes. He can also rebound.....sometimes. I don't know, it seems like Nick Collison is never a bad player, and will always try his hardest. But he can never be consistently relied upon to be good. He's far more hesitant than even Thabo Sefolosha, and would never, ever take a bad shot. He can be aggressive on the offensive boards and get a few extra scores, but not all of the time. And his defense always has good positioning, but it wasn't like he was essential against anyone but the spotty Bosh. If this guy was more aggressive in this series, he might have won us a game, or earned more minutes. Otherwise, I don't have a huge problem with Brooks not playing him.
Sherman's Grade Grade_aminus_medium
Nick Collison is going to be the long unanswered enigma from the 2012 Finals. With a big man core of Perkins, Ibaka, and Collison, it seemed readily apparent that Collison was the only guy who was having repeated success on both ends of the court. Perkins was slowed by injury, Ibaka wasn't quite mentally prepared for the moment, and Collison looked like he was outperforming both of them. So why did his minutes drop after a great Game 1 performance where he had 8 points and 10 rebounds in only 21 minutes of action? I just don't get it.


DAEQUAN COOK

0.7 PPG in 3.7 MPG


Grade Comments
Zorgon's Grade

Grade_c_medium

Wherefore art thou, Daequan? Cook just couldn't get any minutes tonight. Despite being part of successful lineups all this season and his ability to hit clutch threes, Brooks considered him to be the odd man out of the rotation during the finals, sitting him in favor of Derek Fisher. But with Derek Fisher as the defacto SG during the finals, and guys like Shane Battier and Mike Miller killing us from three, you have to think we would have benefited from having a bigger body who wasn't so intent on pressuring other players. And I wouldn't have minded seeing him launch up a few threes, either.
Sherman's Grade Grade_c_medium
If Collison is the enigma of the 'known,' then Daequan Cook is the enigma of the 'unknown.' By Game 4 it was obvious that the Heat were going to try to crash down on Durant in any way they could, so other players had to step up. Without Cook on the court though, and with Harden struggling, OKC had no dedicated 3-point shooter on the court to make the Heat pay for their aggressive defense on Durant. Cool's marginalized minutes are just a continuation of how he ended the season, but I felt like this series demonstrated how badly the coaching staff miscalculated in handing all of Cook's minutes over to Fisher.

SCOTT BROOKS


Grade Comments
Zorgon's Grade

Grade_dplus_medium

Brooks is going to get a lot of blame for this finals loss, and rightfully so. As J.A. Sherman said in an earlier article, Brooks doesn't have the level of incompetence that a Vinny Del Negro has, but he still committed some major errors. He failed to account for the constant barrage of threes from the Miami Heat. He failed to take advantage of the Heat's small lineups in any significant way. He let James Harden continually lose to LeBron James on defense. He benched Ibaka for not staying on his assignment, but not anyone else. He gave way too many minutes to Derek Fisher and a struggling James Harden. I don't think he'll ever be a Rick Carlisle or Gregg Popovich, constantly tinkering with lineups to exploit advantages in opposing teams. But he can't be so stagnant in the way he does things. Aside from injury reasons, his starting lineup hasn't changed since February of 2011, and his rotations rarely change in-game. If he could learn to make just a few more adjustments and call better plays, we could be on the winning side of this equation next year. Otherwise, his players showed a lot of guts during this series, and I think he was behind a bit of that. So his series wasn't all bad.
Sherman's Grade Grade_cminus_medium Scott Brooks perhaps got the best lesson of all in these Finals as for how he needs to prepare both his team and his coaching staff. Brooks gets a lot of credit for enabling his team to stay focused throughout during Games 1-4, even though the endings turned sour in 3 of them. However, his rotational decisions, specifically his willingness to stay with Perkins despite the fact that he was injured and not playing well, really hurt the team in games 4 & 5. You simply cannot waste possessions in the Finals, because the game's outcome can turn on the most inconspicuous of things, like sitting both Durant & Westbrook down in the 3rd quarter of Game 3. Brooks has come a long way and still has much to learn, but I hope for his and the team's sake he is allowed to finish what he has begun. I'm sure his counterpart Erik Spoelstra would agree.
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