Thunder grades: evaluating the first half of the season

We arrive at the All-Star break, and surprisingly, amazingly, the Thunder are playing like the best team in the league. Which players have stepped up the most?

The Oklahoma City Thunder head into All-Star weekend with only one All-Star representative, but the league's best record and most importantly, a winning run against the best teams throughout the league all without their #2 man, Russell Westbrook.

In lieu of evaluating the Thunder's 3-0 record this past week (Knicks, Trail Blazers, Lakers), we take a look back at how each player has performed during this surprising but remarkable first portion of the season.

***

Durant_medium

KEVIN DURANT Games Played PPG REB AST BL ST TO +/-
(Average Stats) 54 31.5 7.8 5.5 0.8 1.5 3.6 +6.5
JUAN Grade_aplus_medium This is the easiest grade of the night. Kevin Durant is the favorite to win the MVP this season (although, I'm not counting out LeBron) and he's dominating the league. His performance in January was amongst the all-time greats and he's carried his team despite having Westbrook battle injuries this season. He's the best player on the court every night and he's making sure everybody remembers that. If he continues to play at this pace, the Thunder might just be playing in June.
SHERMAN Grade_aplus_medium Is it possible for the 2nd best player in the entire world to make The Leap? The kingdom has belonged to LeBron James for the past 4 years. Everyone knows this. Durant has been firmly entrenched in the #2 spot, yet here we are, watching this guy elevate his game month by month so that he's actually in the MVP conversation with LeBron while James is still in his prime. I can't think of a single player in recent history who could lay claim to such a thing, we are watching it unfold.

Westbrook_medium

RUSSELL WESTBROOK Games Played PPG REB AST BL ST TO +/-
(Average Stats) 25 21.3 6.0 7.0 0.1 1.8 4.0 +3.8
JUAN Grade_a_medium Russell Westbrook hadn't missed a single game until last year's playoff series against Houston, but he's been hit with the injury bug ever since. When he was on the floor this season, the team was dominant. Westbrook and Durant are still the league's most potent duo and they know it. When off the court, Westbrook has done a great job of still traveling with the team and soaking in any information he can get while sitting on the sideline. I'm a huge believer that this stint on the sideline, will help Russell down the stretch.
SHERMAN Grade_a_medium
Russell Westbrook has only played in 25 games this season, and to be honest, has yet to truly regain his full form. His jump shot is still spotty, he still is a bit turnover prone, and his movement is not fully back. Yet without hesitation he deserves an 'A' because even while he has not been on the court in body, he has been in spirit. Every time we see OKC charge back from a deficit, every time we see them put the hammer down on an elite team, we are seeing the fingerprint of Westbrook. He helped set the culture in OKC, and the Thunder's ascent is the byproduct of that.
Sefolosha_medium

THABO SEFOLOSHA Games Played PPG REB AST BL ST TO +/-
(Average Stats) 51 6.8 3.8 1.5 0.3 1.4 0.9 +2.7
JUAN Grade_cplus_medium
Thabo Sefolosha has had a bit of an inconsistent first-half of the season on the offensive side of the ball. The problem with that is, that sometimes he lets his lack of scoring, hold him back on defense, and that can't happen. He's been a little more effective as of late, but his ability to make shots is crucial to this teams' success, especially in the playoffs.
SHERMAN Grade_bminus_medium
Sefolosha has gone through the type of season that makes me feel bad for him as a player as well as a member of the team. He's in a contract season playing for a championship contender, and if we had to guess, the pressure has impacted his performance. Thabo has struggled doing the things that he has proven that he is adept at and it makes his future with the team uncertain. To the Thunder's credit, they have never stopped believing in his importance, and I hope that they don't give up on him as the trade deadline approaches.

Ibaka_medium

SERGE IBAKA Games Played PPG REB AST BL ST TO +/-
(Average Stats) 54 15.0 8.8 0.9 2.6 0.5 1.5 +4.7
JUAN Grade_a_medium The fact that Serge Ibaka isn't playing in the all-star game is crazy, in my opinion. He's been the second-best active player on the best team in the best conference and there wasn't any room for him on the team. But besides all of that, Ibaka has been terrific. He's always been a great shot-blocker, but now Ibaka and Durant have developed a deadly two-man game and his effectiveness is through the roof. Once Westbrook returns, and his production remains, this might be the best "Big 3" in the league.
SHERMAN Grade_a_medium This is the biggest testament to Ibaka's growth this season. When Westbrook went down last year, Ibaka was expected to scale his game upward to replace the production, and he wasn't ready for it. This time around, he is. He looks completely comfortable on the court, especially on the offensive end, working the 2-man game in a way that we see between guys like Lillard and Aldridge, or LeBron and Bosh. Defensively, he is the biggest reason OKC can go for long stretches limiting opponents to no points. On top of it all, his defensive aggression has finally transferred to his offense.
Perk_medium

KENDRICK PERKINS Games Played PPG REB AST BL ST TO +/-
(Average Stats) 53 3.5 5.0 1.2 0.5 0.5 1.6 +1.2
JUAN Grade_b_medium
Kendrick Perkins is either solid or he makes you want to punch yourself in the face after he gets dribble happy. The good thing this season, is that he's been a little bit more under control, although we know it's going to happen sometimes. He provides a great presence against the bigger teams in the West and he gives the Thunder that "I want to kill you" edge.
SHERMAN Grade_bminus_medium
Perkins is always going to be the one guy that is hot or cold, at least from fans' perspectives. Brooks believes in him implicitly and he is still the locker room veteran that can help the team move forward. The biggest challenge for him the rest of the season though is for him, as a starting center making a lot of money, to realize that he's a role player and be willing to step aside when the team needs it. The win over Miami was his first big test, and there will be more.

Jackson_medium

REGGIE JACKSON Games Played PPG REB AST BL ST TO +/-
(Average Stats) 55 13.6 3.7 4.2 0.1 1.1 2.3 +5.9
JUAN Grade_bplus_medium
Reggie Jackson has had a really productive year. The inconsistency and the headache come with his youth and the pressure of being the starting point guard for a tittle-contender, but he's been excellent filling in for Westbrook. Before the Westbrook injury, he was the leader of the second-unit and it was a huge advantage for the Thunder. Once he returns to that sixth-man role, I expect him to play a little more freely and dominate the opposing backup point guard.
SHERMAN Grade_b_medium
Reggie Jackson has had a promising yet sometimes frustrating experience operating as the de facto starting PG while Westbrook rehabs. There are times, like against the Spurs, when Jackson looks like he's ready to run his own team, yet there are numerous others where he plays looking like he's unmotivated or lost on the court and OKC has to resort to Fisher. It's always important to remember in those moments that he is still a 3rd year guy who started earning rotation minutes only a season ago. He does have a higher ceiling and needs more consistency, but for now his play has helped keep his team moving forward.
Lamb_medium
JEREMY LAMB Games Played PPG REB AST BL ST TO +/-
(Average Stats) 55 10.0 2.7 1.7 0.4 0.7 0.8 +3.9
JUAN Grade_bplus_medium Jeremy Lamb had a lot of pressure coming in because he was involved in the James Harden trade, but he's performed quite well this season. He's been a spark off the bench for the Thunder and he constantly shows fleshless of how good and wide his skill sets are. He always plays hard and he'll have his bench running-mate back when Westbrook returns.
SHERMAN Grade_bplus_medium
Lamb was perhaps the biggest X-factor coming into this season, because the Thunder let go 2 accomplished bench guys in Harden and Kevin Martin and put their trust in the unproven 2nd year guard. Lamb has responded with a level of maturity and competency on both ends of the court. His best attribute - his shooting - has been inconsistent at times, but what has not has been his ability to handle the ball and his defense. OKC may never forget Harden, but Lamb is quickly making a name for himself and making OKC a better team.

Adams_medium

STEVEN ADAMS Games Played PPG REB AST BL ST TO +/-
(Average Stats) 55 3.3 4.2 0.6 0.8 0.5 1.0 +0.3
JUAN Grade_b_medium Steven Adams has had a solid first-half of his rookie season. His really good performance in the preseason had fans calling for him to start over Perkins, but keeping him on the bench was the smart decision. Adams has a knack for getting his opponents to rage and that's great. The only thing is, he needs to stop picking up cheap fouls.
SHERMAN Grade_b_medium
It is good to have Adams on this team. Despite the fact that he's still extremely raw, doesn't always know what is going on, and is often times too aggressive, his mere presence on the court has pushed the OKC front court higher. As a rookie, he is getting rotation minutes, which has challenged Perkins to elevate his own game. There will be a time when Adams is likely the starting center. That time is not yet, but his positive influence on the team is significant. Plus, his Kiwi fanbase is mean as bro.
Collison_medium

NICK COLLISON Games Played PPG REB AST BL ST TO +/-
(Average Stats) 54 4.4 3.6 1.3 0.4 0.3 0.8 +5.4
JUAN Grade_bplus_medium Nick Collison gives you winning seconds every time he's out there on the court. He's had the responsibility to stabilize the second-unit after Reggie Jackson got inserted into the starting lineup and he's done a fine job. We know what Nick is going to bring to the team in April, May and June.
SHERMAN Grade_bplus_medium
Collison's season stats go down but his impact on the team continues to go up. It is no coincidence that the Thunder bench, inconsistent a year ago, is now frequently the unit that is the reason why the Thunder win games. They evaporate deficits and go on runs as they outpace the opposition. Collison is always right in the middle of it, and it has been his impact both on fellow big man Adams as well as his 2-man game with Lamb that has been central to the 2nd unit's success.

Fisher_medium

DEREK FISHER Games Played PPG REB AST BL ST TO +/-
(Average Stats) 54 5.0 1.4 1.4 0.0 0.7 0.6 +3.8
JUAN Grade_a_medium A lot of us owe Derek Fisher an apology. At the beginning of the season, we all dreaded whenever Scott Brooks inserted Fisher into the game, but he's been great this year. He's knocking down his three's and the bigger the game, the better he plays. We also can't forget the leadership that he brings on the court, as well as off the court. Much like Collison, we know what D-Fish will bring to the table during the playoffs.
SHERMAN Grade_a_medium
Fisher has been perhaps the biggest revelation of the bench unit this season. I have been critical of his usage in the past, but in my defense, that criticism was justified because he was receiving a disproportionate level of minutes per production. In this new year however? Fisher is having a remarkable run in what is likely the final year of his career. He is now shooting 38% from 3-point range, including a remarkable 47% in the month of February, helping turn OKC's one weakness - 3-point shooting - into a strength. Hats off to him.

Jones_medium

PERRY JONES III Games Played PPG REB AST BL ST TO +/-
(Average Stats) 44 3.5 1.7 0.4 0.4 0.3 0.3 +1.4
JUAN Grade_b_medium Perry Jones has had a decent first half of the season. Sometimes you see flashes of a guy who was great at Baylor, but then sometimes you see a guy who lacks confidence. It's all about consistency for Perry Jones and hopefully he can find it in the second half of the season.
SHERMAN Grade_b_medium Jones has shown flashes of brilliance interspersed with youthful inconsistency. He has the talent, but still has a lot of work to do, especially on offense. Where he earns a passing grade however is on the defensive end of the court and in doing all of the little things that help his team win. He was a decisive factor in OKC's win over the Heat, playing 30 minutes against the champs and helping to shut down Miami's 5-out system. He definitely has a place in this rotation and he simply needs to focus on what he does well.

Roberson_medium

ANDRE ROBERSON Games Played PPG REB AST BL ST TO +/-
(Average Stats) 22 1.6 2.0 0.4 0.2 0.5 0.5 +1.5
JUAN Grade_b_medium Andre Roberson has spent half his time with the Tulsa 66ers, but he did get a couple of spot starts while with the Thunder. He didn't really make much of an impact, but he's a young guy and he'll figure it out. He'll continue to get playing time in Tulsa and hopefully stay ready in case the Thunder need him in the second half of the season.
SHERMAN Grade_b_medium Here is my prediction. If Roberson makes the playoff roster, he's going to have a moment (and maybe more than one) where he helps win a game. He's even more limited offensively than Jones or Adams, but he does 2 things really, really well - he plays bulldog defense and he rebounds like a maniac. We saw him play a big role in the Thunder's comeback win over the Lakers doing exactly these two things. I continue to believe he's a Tony Allen model type of player, and he can help win games with his skills.

Thabeet_medium

HASHEEM THABEET Games Played PPG REB AST BL ST TO +/-
(Average Stats) 8 1.3 1.9 0.1 0.0 0.0 0.6 -2.1
JUAN Grade_b_medium Hasheem Thabeet doesn't play, but when he does, it's usually because the Thunder are blowing out the other team. Which is very, very good.
SHERMAN Grade_b_medium
Thabeet earns a good grade because he's a good teammate. He cheers his team on, doesn't pout when he doesn't get playing time, and in every sense of the word is an effective 12th man on the bench.

Brooks_medium

SCOTT BROOKS Coaching Grade
JUAN Grade_aplus_medium Scott Brooks should be the frontrunner to win Coach of the Year, in my opinion. Brooks has had to deal with his all-star point guard being down for 30 games and he's kept this team afloat. Unlike years past, he hasn't been reluctant to play his young guys and they haven't let him down so far. He's shown to be willing to change up his preferred lineups in order to get the win, which hasn't always been the case. Aside from a couple of fourth-quarter collapses by the Thunder, Scotty Brooks has done everything just right.
SHERMAN Grade_aplus_medium Every time I get even a little frustrated with Scott Brooks, I remember two things: a) being an NBA coach is really, really hard because in any given play set, 30 things can go wrong yet they are still expected to make the bucket; and b) every fan, regardless of who their team is, gets frustrated with their coach. Here is what I like about Brooks the most - just like his players, he has improved each and every season. He fixes his weaknesses, he trusts in his players, and most importantly, he wins lots and lots of games.

Thunder_medium

TEAM GRADE Record OffRtg DefRtg AstRatio REB% TS% PACE +/-
(Advanced Stats) 43-12 107.6 99.3 16.6 52.9% 56.5% 97.59 +7.4
JUAN Grade_aplus_medium I think it's incredible what the Thunder have done so far. Kevin Durant has turned into an unstoppable force and he's been playing like he has something to prove and he's been dominant. But aside from that, you take a look at some of the guys who have stepped up: Reggie Jackson, Jeremy Lamb and even Derek Fisher. Everyone understands what their role is on the court and they've executed exquisitely. This might be the best team in the NBA, when healthy, and we'll get a chance to see them at full strength again, possibly against the Heat. Exciting times in Oklahoma City.
SHERMAN Grade_aplus_medium
I don't think it is hyperbole to state that the Thunder went so far above and beyond expectations during this opening stretch that this grade is too low. Let's start with the pre-season expectations for this team. People expected a major step backward because the team would be without Westbrook and they were relying on a number of unproven players. The Harden effect would become fully realized. A funny thing happened though. The Thunder as a team grew in ways we always hoped but had not yet seen and Durant morphed into the Slim Reaper. Every game became one where each Thunder player understood their roles and fulfilled them. Instead of receding behind the new chic picks like the Warriors and Rockets, OKC has outpaced them all. And Westbrook is waiting in the wings.

*All player images via US Presswire

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