Man, how could you not be excited about the Thunder right now? After a bunch of intense games against fearsome rivals, the Thunder have finally stepped up to the plate and dominated an inferior opponent. From start to finish, it was clear that the Thunder were the superior team. There's something to be said for following a cellar dweller team, challenging superior opponents every single night. But I have to admit, standing alone at the top, however brief it may be, is pretty friggin' sweet.
Tonight was Russell Westbrook's coming out party. In the context of his larger career, 18 points might seem a bit measly. But given that he only played 25 minutes and was coming off some terrible performances, it looks pristine. He only had two turnovers, and he dominated the slower and softer Steve Nash. The only real concern about his performance tonight was his lack of assists. He seems to be sharing ballhandling duties much more with James Harden and Eric Maynor.
Speaking of ballhandling, the Thunder were extremely sloppy on that front today. The team totaled a whopping 25 turnovers. I know the game of any run and gun team is to force turnovers in order to maximize their offensive opportunities, but 25 is still a bit too high. The Thunder were throwing cross-court passes, getting their pockets picked, and were a bit too ambitious when on the break. If there is to be a new theme to the Thunder's woes this year that was not present last year, I would cite turnovers as that new problem.
Below: More Analysis, Awards!
Until the third quarter, Kevin Durant wasn't very involved offensively. Spotting his high turnover numbers last season, Alvin Gentry decided to double-team him nearly the entire time. Rather than force the issue, Durant either left himself uninvolved offensively or passed the ball off. The non-interference worked, as it gave every other member of the team to shine. But his non-interference didn't last for long. When the team was facing a minor Suns comeback at the end of the third, he sealed the deal with a couple of free throws and a deadly three.
But even when Durant wasn't in the game, the Thunder were still dominating. The main run came in the second, with James Harden basically running the offense. He called plays for himself, created opportunities down low for Mohammed, and even kicked it out to Cook for a couple of threes.
Honestly, I wouldn't mind seeing a small experiment with Harden running the point and Westbrook playing the role of SG. Now, don't shoot me and call me Jim Traber. First of all, I don't think it should be a permanent change, just something that we should experiment with. Also, I think it's warranted moreso by the demonstration of Harden's ability, rather than a lack of ability shown by Westbrook. There's still some questions surrounding it's validity, because we don't know how well Harden can work from the top of the circle, and we have no idea how Westbrook would respond to the change. Anyway, it was just a thought.
Our first 2011-2012 regular season look at Cole Aldrich, Reggie Jackson, and Lazar Hayward came tonight. To be honest, all of their performances were subpar, at best. Lazar Hayward was a relatively efficient scorer, but one of his scores came off of a easy fast break he didn't help create, and the two shots he missed were badly off the mark. One of his shots actually airballed. Reggie Jackson wasn't really remarkable, and missed a couple of threes. And what I mostly remember about Cole Aldrich is that amazing mohawk of his. Can every Thunder player get one? Except Nick Collison. That'd just be weird.
The Suns fall to 1-3, and are in a four-way tied for 11th in the West. The Thunder improve to 5-0, and stand alone at the top of the West.
Thunder Wonder: Russell Westbrook, 18 Points, 4 Assists, 2 Steals, Only 2 Turnovers
Thunder Down Under: Nick Collison, 11 Points, 4 Rebounds, 1 Block
Thunder Blunder: Eric Maynor, 4 Missed Shots, 4 Turnovers
Thunder Plunderer: Marcin Gortat, 12 Points, 6 Rebounds, 4 Steals, 2 Blocks
Next Game: At the Dallas Mavericks, Sunday, January 2nd, 7:30 PM Central Standard Time