Here’s five things that stood out from tonight’s Blue-White scrimmage.
1) Kendrick Perkins is back. Everyone hasn’t just been blowing smoke this preseason in speaking so highly of Perk. He looked great. No more lumbering up the court. No more lackluster moves in the post. Perk has regained his athleticism and explosiveness. When he caught the ball, he was confident. And when he made up his mind to make a move he was actually a threat. On an early possession, Perk picked off a Russell Westbrook pass and dribbled three-quarters court for a layup. On another trip, Perk ran the floor hard in transition, caught a pass and dunked with authority. And for perhaps his best move, Perk started on the left block, turned, dribbled twice and scored on a driving layup. He also showed a willingness to take a 15-17 footer, which he’s said he’s worked on. I thought it was a great showing by Perk. Thunder coach Scott Brooks did, too. And Brooks said after the game that Perk will get some touches in the past this season so be on the lookout for that.
2) James Harden is more aggressive. Just what we need to see. The team’s best third option (at worst depending on the day) finally acting like it. Harden had the ball in his hands to initiate the offense throughout much of the three-quarter scrimmage and was the primary point guard for the blue team in the second period. Just like we saw last season, Harden was a surgeon while working off high ball screens and consistently found a way to put pressure on the defense. He was at his best in the drive-and-kick game, setting up Serge Ibaka and Daequan Cook on several occasions off his penetration. Harden also played as if he is now certain that he has the green light. He’ll need to maintain that mentality. That’s going to be important going forward.
3) Russell Westbrook is unstoppable. OK, so that is some extreme hyperbole based on one scrimmage, I know. But, really, it’s not much different than what we were saying last season. Westbrook was in full destroyer mode tonight, toying with his defenders and making tough plays look easy. He turned it over a bit too much (but so did everybody), but looked calmer and more in control. Westbrook didn’t really show off his allegedly improved shooting all that much because he was busy getting to the rim whenever he wanted. He also backed down Eric Maynor a few times and made great decisions out of the post, firing passes on two occasions to Nick Collison and Kevin Durant for wide open looks. It was only a scrimmage, but Westbrook did try to thread the needle on a few possessions. No telling if that will carry over into the season but it could be a problem if it does. I counted 10 points and four assists for Westbrook on the night, but I could be off. But he was by far the best player on the floor.
4) Kevin Durant is comfortable. This was the most relaxed I’ve seen KD at the start of a season. And it’s not even close. He looked decent at times last preseason taking on more of the load offensively, but tonight he looked like it’s what he was supposed to be doing. Again, we’ll see how it translates. But it was clear that Durant was more interested in working on some things he’s been drilling on in camp rather than dominating as he could have easily done. Durant went to the post a few times, misfiring on a turnaround jumper over Daequan Cook and missing a bunny in front of the rim after James Harden flopped in search of a charge. KD also brought the ball up on several occasions, even with Russell Westbrook on the floor with him. The most impressive play KD had was right before the first half buzzer. He had Lazar Hayward guarding him just past halfcourt. He waived off a screen by Byron Mullens and decided to go one-on-one. And just when you thought you’d seen this show before, Durant did something unexpected. First, he went left, not right. Then he drove past the 3-point line without pulling up. He made his way to the free throw line and collapsed the defense before firing a pass to a wide open Ryan Reid on the baseline. Reid went up and got hacked to go to the free throw line. I swear nobody else in the gym even saw Reid in the vicinity. But KD found him. It was the type of play superstars are routinely expected to make.
5) Serge Ibaka’s hands haven’t gotten better. I really didn’t want to include this. Matter of fact, I was hoping to not have to mention this big ugly elephant at all this season. Unfortunately, Ibaka returned with the same problematic paws we saw last season. He just struggles to catch the ball on the go. I can’t explain it. James Harden had to be disgusted with Ibaka tonight. Because Ibaka blew at least two pretty feeds from Harden out of the aforementioned drive and kicks. Why does this matter so much? Ibaka could become a nice weapon in the pick-and-roll game if he could snare the ball cleanly. He’s a fantastic finisher but his fumbles make him a liability. If he could figure out how to catch it cleanly on the move it would only add to his offensive arsenal and turn him into a pick-and-pop and pick-and-roll threat. Right now, though, it appears dumping it to Ibaka on the move is just a turnover waiting to happen.
A few nuggets…
- Forget Perk’s offense. What about his defense, right? Well, it was hard to get a good sense of where Perk is defensively. Check back on Christmas night after he goes up against Dwight Howard. Tonight, it was Nazr Mohammed and Cole Aldrich, who aren’t exactly low-post scoring threats and didn’t really get any touches on the block.
- I know Eric Maynor was good from 3-point range last year. But for some reason he hoisted two really deep ones. One might have been at the end of the shot clock. I couldn’t really see from my seat. (The clock was on the floor at both baselines.) Just a strange sight.
- Lazar Hayward is a gunner!!! OK, so that was just tonight. I’m sure he’ll settle down and play his role once the games start. But my man was firing away tonight. The first time he touched it, he put it up. He did, however, score it on a nice two-dribble pull-up. He finished with five points by my count, including a nice looking stroke from 3.
- Coach Scott Brooks on Hayward: “I think Zar is going to bring us some toughness. Right now, we’ve only been together for a couple of days. But he brings toughness. He brings effort. He brings a competitive spirit every day in practice. I don’t know what the minutes are going to be like for him. But the only way you can get minutes is by working hard in practice, and he’s a guy that does that.”
- Rookie guard Reggie Jackson sat out tonight while his groin injury he sustained last week continues to heal. He practiced today for the first time at the team’s light session this morning. But the team is proceeding with caution so there are no setbacks. Brooks didn’t sound like he would play Jackson on Sunday in the preseason opener, although Jackson hoped to be well enough to get some tick by then.
- It was only a scrimmage and still KD was overheard complaining about coming out when coach Mark Bryant replaced him for the first time with 4:48 remaining in the second quarter. The guy just loves to play.
- The Thunder waived Marcus Dove tonight. Not sure about the timing, but it had to happen at some point. Maybe Dove has another opportunity, whether it’s with another NBA team, the D-League or overseas. Or maybe the Thunder just didn’t want to take 18 players to Dallas.
- Thabo Sefolosha finished with 11 points by my count. He had some nice cuts to the baskets and did a nice job working his way to the foul line. But for those scoring at home, he made a 3 and air-balled another from the top of the arc.
- Serge Ibaka had the highlight of the night when he posterized Nazr Mohammed with a dunk from the right baseline. I was disappointed in Naz. He’s a vet. By now, he should know better than to challenge Ibaka.
- Brooks mixed up the teams a bit in the third quarter. But for the first half it was Maynor, Cook, Harden, Ibaka, Perk, Mullens, Hayward and Anthony Goods on the blue team and Westbrook, Sefolosha, KD, Collison, Mohammed, Aldrich Ryan Reid and Ivey on the white team. In the third quarter, Westbrook, KD, Cook, Ibaka and Perk were on the blue team and Maynor, Harden, Sefolosha, Ivey, Collison, Mohammed and Aldrich were on the white team.
- According to the official score, the white team won 51-37.