Four burning questions: Are the Thunder still favorites in the West?
Four topics for four writers, dissecting some early-season storylines inside Thunderville and across the NBA.
1. Finish this sentence: Russell Westbrook’s play has been ___________ this season.
Darnell Mayberry (beat writer) - Average. Probably sounds harsh considering the dude is averaging a career high in assists to go with 20.5 points. But this is year five for Westbrook and I expected more. Maybe because he showed more in the preseason. But so far he’s been widlly underachieving on the defensive end and his decision-making offensively is still questionable, which has been a big reason he has struggled with his shot.
John Rohde (beat writer) - Predictably perplexing. We’ve learned through the years how well Russell plays is often directly up to Russell. That’s how talented he is. He can do everything well and everything not-so-well, all in the same game. Lately, he has displayed better defense and less selfishness. If he sticks with that combination, he’ll take two major steps toward becoming a top 5 player.
Jenni Carlson (columnist) - Vintage Westbrook. Russ is the savior one minute, the goat the next. We are still looking for that consistent greatness out of the Thunder point guard. (And it’s those moments of sheer wonder that make fans so frustrated when he does something boneheaded.) But I tell you what, he’s been great a lot more this season than he’s ever been before. In my estimation, he’s on the verge of leaving no doubt that he’s the best point guard in the game. That’s right. I said it.
Anthony Slater (sports blogger) - A barometer for OKC. In the Thunder’s eight wins, Westbrook is averaging 22.1 points on a respectable 45 percent shooting. But during OKC’s three losses, the sporadic guard is averaging only 16.3 points on a horrific 29 percent shooting. Those numbers just confirm what we already knew. As Russell Westbrook goes, so go the Thunder. When he’s on, controlling the game with speed and aggression, OKC seems almost unbeatable. When he’s struggling, trying to nullify one missed jumper by cranking up another, the Thunder become vulnerable.
2. What (or who) has been the Thunder’s biggest surprise so far? Disappointment?
Mayberry - I’d have to go with Kevin Martin as the biggest surprise. For him to be averaging 17.6 points without really having more than a backdoor cut drawn up for him is truly incredible. He’s in a contract year, which suggested he would perform well. But he’s been scorching to start this season, most impressively excelling even as Westbrook and Durant go long stretches where they seemingly forget he’s even on their team. As for my biggest disappointment, it would be Eric Maynor. He just hasn’t consistently been in control of the second string like we once knew him capable of being. He’s been inconsistent offensively, subpar defensively and has gotten into the habit of taking 3s more than he takes his man off the dribble to create for others. Maynor was the biggest reason why there was hope that the bench could stay afloat without James Harden. So far he’s been the biggest reason why it has not.
Rohde - The biggest surprise has been Hasheem Thabeet. Of course, when you expect nothing and get something, that’s always a good thing. His confidence seems to grow a bit more each game. Who knows what next spring might bring? The biggest disappointment has been Perry Jones III, although he hasn’t hurt the team because he’s so far down the bench. An athletic addition who seemed like a quick fit at training camp and in the preseason, the kid now looks petrified. He needs more time than anticipated. Again, he’s not harming the team, but he’s not helping, either.
Carlson - Biggest surprise has been Nick Collison. Just when you thought the super sub was doing all that he could, he goes and does more. This season, he’s added to his offensive game to try to help make up for the loss of James Harden. Biggest disappointment has been Perry Jones III. I know, I know, he’s only a rookie, and Scott Brooks has shown that he slow plays rookies. But after the way PJ3 played in the summer league, it’s shocking that he has yet to get any significant minutes. I think that time is coming. I’m just surprised it hasn’t come yet.
Slater - Kevin Martin’s got to be the biggest surprise. As Darnell said, he’s fit seamlessly into an offense that’s almost geared against getting him his typical shots. I mean, the dude is averaging 17.6 points in 29 minutes this year. Remember James Harden’s incredible bench efficiency last year? He only averaged 16.8 points in 31 minutes. And Martin is shooting 53.6 PERCENT from three. That’s second-most in the league (behind red-hot O.J. Mayo) for anyone shooting at least 3.5 per game. Will it last? That’s has to be a worry for the Thunder. In his nine previous years, Martin never shot better than 41.5 percent from deep. And biggest disappointment? I’ll go with Kendrick Perkins. He’s averaging 4.5 points and 4.6 rebounds. That’s his lowest output since 2004-05, eight seasons ago.
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