Observations From Friday’s Blue-White Scrimmage
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.
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