It was an extremely successful pre-season for the Thunder. Most importantly, Oklahoma City got through the entire ordeal without sustaining a major injury. But beyond that, the Thunder were able to finish with a 5-1 record. OKC's only loss came when Durant, Westbrook, and Ibaka sat out.
Speaking of the Big 3, they've been tremendous. Durant, Westbrook, and Ibaka have established game-defining leads nearly every time they've stepped on the floor. Considering that all three have had major surgery in the past two years, that's a wonderful feat. Durant took a couple of games to find his shooting rhythm and stamina, but looked like his old self during the end stretch. Westbrook and Ibaka, meanwhile, have been at a high level throughout.
In terms of the bench, it's looking like Enes Kanter, Dion Waiters, and Mitch McGary are emerging as the Thunder's go-to weapons. Kanter's power game works well in the pick and roll. Waiters is excellent in one on one situations, and in shooting around screens. Mitch McGary is a great ballhandler and shooter for his size.
All six of these players had their share of great pre-season performances. Thanks to YouTube, we can watch almost all of them! Without further ado, here's the top 12 Thunder highlight reels from this October.
12. KD and Westbrook Combined Highlights vs. Mavericks
Because the Thunder were playing the Mavericks, this game was extremely fast paced. Because the Mavericks were sitting most of their stars, it was easy for the Thunder to score. Westbrook especially benefited from this pace of play, and the early part of the highlight reel is all him. Russ gets it going with a couple of steals, and then showcases his ability to use screens and get to the rim. In the 2nd half, KD was finally able to get to the basket for a few nice layups in traffic. Meanwhile, Westbrook had an iso score and a post up score on Jenkins. All in all it's a decent sampling of what both can do, but it wasn't inherently memorable.
11. Kevin Durant vs. Timberwolves (15 Pts, 4 Ast)
This was the first time KD officially took the floor since February. It was clear that Durant wasn't on his previous level yet, but was still ridiculously efficient and productive. Most of this highlight reel is off the catch stuff, though KD does have a couple of moves off the dribble. Almost all of it occurs in the high post. At the end of the day, this game might be a good barometer for what Durant will play like when he's an old man.
10. Mitch McGary vs. Fenerbahce (11 Pts, 2 Ast)
This game served as a reminder of what Mitch can do, but also showcased some new stuff. Most obviously, I had no idea Mitch could shoot the three. Also, I had no idea Mitch could handle it so well in transition. What we already knew is that McGary is a boss near the rim, and can score through contact with ease. There's no way McGary doesn't at least get some regular minutes this season.
9. KD and Westbrook Combined Highlights vs. Fenerbahce
Even though Fenerbahce was the fourth best team in Europe last year, they simply didn't have anybody who could physically compete with Durant and Westbrook. Kostas Sloukas was getting bullied by the stronger Westbrook, while Nikola Kalinic was too slow to deal with KD's footwork.
This reel is probably the best example of Westbrook successfully using his back to the basket game. Seriously, I don't think I've ever seen him do so many post ups. KD gets bonus points for dunking twice and getting Waiters involved.
By far the best moment of this reel comes at 0:56. Westbrook accidentally passes the ball to an opposing defender while driving the lane. Instead of giving up on the play, Westbrook comes right back, steals the ball, and scores. I can't think of anything more Westbrookian.
8. Dion Waiters vs. Fenerbahce (19 Pts, 2 Ast)
Two super deep off the dribble threes define this highlight reel. No matter what team you're playing, those shots are hard to hit. Otherwise, we saw a little bit of it all. A mandatory crazy stepback. A catch and shoot corner 3. Some transition play. A couple drives to the rim. As long as only half of Dion's shots are crazy, I think he can hit enough to make us happy.
7. Serge Ibaka vs. Timberwolves (18 Pts, 1 Blk)
Lots of cool new-age Ibaka moves in this one. Off-the dribble jumper. Strong post hook. Two threes from the corner. And, most importantly, a heroic block on Zach LaVine at the rim. Seriously, that block would have been all over the highlight shows if this were the regular season.
6. Russell Westbrook vs. Timberwolves (14 Pts, 13 Ast)
What makes this highlight reel special is that is showcases Westbrook working with Enes Kanter and Mitch McGary. t's important for Russ to get familiarity with the whole lineup, as he'll likely be logging the most minutes this season. It was just the first game of the pre-season, so almost all of the plays are just basic high screen and rolls or transition scores. But the simplicity is a testament to just how dynamic a Westbrook pick and roll is. If you leave space, Russ shoots. If you go for the shot, Russ drives and had momentum. If you double Russ, Kanter and McGary are amazing around the basket. And if all that fails, there's usually dudes in the corners ready for a shot.
On a side note, it's pretty funny how the Timberwolves arena feed is constantly cutting to this angle that shows all of the player's butts. Seriously, I can't see the action!
5. Serge Ibaka vs. Jazz (16 Pts, 5 Blk)
This was a good performance from Serge. We've seen some of it before, for sure. The mid-range jumpers and help defense blocks are nothing new. But what about Ibaka's newfound ability to drive to the basket? He's actually a bit of a threat off the dribble. Also gotta love Ibaka's harsh one on one blocks against Derrick Favors and Rodney Hood.
4. Russell Westbrook vs. Nuggets (17 Pts, 12 Ast)
These highlights are combined with those of Emmanuel Mudiay, allowing us to compare the styles of the two point guards. Westbrook is all about quickness and surprise. You never know when Russ is about to flip the switch and just burst past his man for an instant score or pass. Mudiay, on the other hand, operates at a much more consistent speed.
Because Westbrook was focused on taking away the three point shot, Mudiay was able to take lots of open mid-range shots off the dribble. But really, that was about all Mudiay had. Westbrook had three times as many assists.
Most importantly, I think Westbrook did a great job of working within the play during this game. There were lots of occasions where Russ would pass the ball, get it back, and then pass it again for the assist. It's a great way to distract the defense and get Westbrook into scoring position.
3. Kevin Durant vs. Jazz (29 Pts)
This game against the Jazz wasn't really a pre-season game. Both teams stuck to their regular rotations for the most part, and the fourth quarter battle was really intense. In what is hopefully a foreshadowing of things to come, Kevin Durant scored 12 critical fourth quarter points that assuredly won OKC the game. Funnily enough, most of the fourth quarter points aren't the most impressive of the highlight reel. The spin cycle jumper on Hood is nice, but then there's just two catch and shoot threes, a weak side cut, and a mismatch on Gobert.
Don't get me wrong, I'm not trying to disparage KD for simplifying his game late. Rather, I admire the fact that KD was able to score so easily, despite the fact that he had the biggest target on his back.
Really though, the first half is where KD pulls off all the cool moves. Nothing jaw dropping, but a lot of advanced footwork. As KD ages, it's a skillset you like to see.
2. Russell Westbrook vs. Jazz (21 Pts, 10 Reb, 10 Ast)
This highlight reel can be split into two different halves, for sure. During the first half, Westbrook was in full on beast attack mode. Russ went at his defender and the rim constantly, generating points with his athleticism. Considering Westbrook spent the entire game guarded by Trey Burke and Raul Neto, using athleticism is a sound strategy. But the second half saw a much more passive Russ. This version of Russ was willing to space the perimeter, grab boards, and work around screens. Then, all of a sudden, with 2:15 to go in the fourth, Russ flips the switch again and drives to the rim. Awesome, awesome stuff.
Undoubtedly, the best part of this highlight reel is when Westbrook salvages an airballed Roberson jumper and turns it into a made Singler three. Or could it be when Russ scores an And 1 over Burke and Hayward's double team? Aaaagh, can't decide.
Regardless, the triple double definitely has to sit as Westbrook's best performance.
1. Kevin Durant vs Nuggets (23 Pts, 4 Ast)
This was the first game where we knew KD had truly returned to prominence. Sure, KD played in a few decent games before this one. But Durant looked a couple steps behind his normal self in those games. Normally effortless jumpers weren't going in, and the stamina definitely wasn't there. But in this game against the Nuggets, we finally got to see all of the classic moves. The pick and roll from Westbrook. The tough finish in the lane after using space to get past his man. Nasty crossovers. Effortless turnaround jumpers. Crazy off-balance in-between shots. Heck, even the classic catch and shoot three.
I don't care how bad the Nugget defense is, because this night was about KD finding his stride more than anything else. Considering how important that is to OKC's future, I think this is the best highlight reel of the pre-season.
What was your favorite pre-season highlight? Drop a comment and let us know!