The Oklahoman's Darnell Mayberry took questions on the Oklahoma City Thunder today in his Power Lunch Chat. Join our Power Lunch Chat's Monday-Friday at 11 a.m. on NewsOK.com/Sports. Here's a recap of today's Q&A:
ON THE THUNDER'S 2012-2013 SEASON IN GENERAL:
What’s the feel of this team for you so far in the season, and do you like their chances of making a special run like last year?
I think this team is growing up and maturing. It's an important step and one we all knew the players needed to take after the Finals. They now look hungry and willing to sacrifice in the needed ways to make another run. So I don't see why they won't.
What record, over the next 20 games, would make you think, "The Thunder has benefited by playing an easy schedule primarily at home — they still have lots of work to do."
10-10. Because this clearly is not a .500 team. This next stretch is so brutal that 14-6 would even be acceptable.
How many road wins over next two months?
Next two months? Not sure. I know 15 of the next 22 are on the road. Of those 15, I expect the Thunder to get at least 10 wins.
ON RUSSELL WESTBROOK:
What was your assessment of Russell Westbrook’s defense on Tony Parker for most of the evening? And did you agree with Brooks starting him on Parker?
I didn't think it was very good. Westbrook was active, but that often can be misleading. Just because he's jumping up into his man and flying around doesn't mean it's good defense. He got beat on multiple occasions and gambled on others, which put pressure on the rest of his teammates. But Westbrook had several other steals and deflections that helped turn the tide and give the Thunder the edge. So all in all, I'd say he was slightly above average. I didn't mind Brooks starting the game with Westbrook on Parker. Brooks lately has been saying Westbrook is playing like an All-NBA Defensive Team defender. If that's the case, then Westbrook should be able to consistently guard his position.
Is Westbrook capable of being seriously injured? That fall last night looked pretty bad.
Wolverine doesn't get hurt.
When will Westbrook start shooting better?
I wouldn't worry about it. The Thunder has played 24 games. He's had some good shooting nights. So we know it's in him. But for now I think the main thing is he's playing under control more than he ever has and not turning matchups into personal battles. That's a huge step in his maturity and something I think is more significant than his shooting percentages.
ON KEVIN DURANT:
Do you think KD will continue to defer this much in the Playoffs?
If the team is winning, yes. His mentality isn't try to win by scoring 30 every night. His mentality seems to be what is the best way for me to help my team win. If that means scoring 20, Durant is fine with that. But it's important to note that in a tight game, Durant wants the ball. He'll still make the right play when it's there. But that deferring stuff goes out of the window for the most part.
ON SERGE IBAKA:
Screen and roll with Ibaka was probably the most fun thing to watch last night. Agree?
Nowhere near the most fun ... that was Ibaka roaring to the crowd.
If the fight broke out Serge Ibaka vs. Stephen Jackson on Pay-Per-View, who would you take?
Ibaka's got the reach and weight advantage.
Serge doesn't seem bothered by these "tough guys" in the league like Artest, Jackson, Z Bo, etc. I don't think he is looking for a fight, but he is also not intimidated by them and thinks nothing of rough box out or screen that other players who are intimidated by them wouldn't dare do.
I think you're right. I've compared Ibaka to the guy playing pickup who everyone hates only because he's playing harder than you. He sets hard screens that you think are over the top. He boxes out beyond the board. And he runs you until your worn out. None of it's dirty or illegal. It's just frustrating.
Come on Darnell, you know life in Congo beats the "hard knock" life of Queens or any hood in American any day. Definitely take Serge over the wannabe NBA thugs.
With all due respect, that's a pretty silly stereotype. Few of us know what Ibaka's life was really like in Congo. There are stories of hardships, including a story written by me. But that doesn't mean Ibaka was subject to constant violence and threatening people that he had to defend himself against. Growing up in Africa doesn't automatically make you tough.
Sorry for the stereotype, Darnell. I was mostly joking, though I've been to Africa a few times (not Congo), and it seems pretty rough save for the few people who are wealthy.
Not mad at you. A lot of people fall into that trap. I've made jokes about it myself. But at some point it had to be noted seeing as how Ibaka continues to be involved in these dust-ups and people assume he's something just because of where he's from. I honestly don't know if he is or isn't. I'm just glad he respects my job. :)
If the Thunder had to say who their third scoring option is, would K-Mart be the obvious choice? Or is Serge creeping up on K-Mart as far as shot attempts and what not?
I think it's Martin unless Ibaka is rolling.
Is K-Mart going to be the 6th Man of the Year?
It's possible. But he's not flashy and the Thunder, despite owning the league's best record, still hasn't garnered much attention. I'm not sure the voters will be enlightened enough to honor him.
Will the Thunder work out a long term deal with K-Mart?
The money's got to be right. I'm starting to get the sense the Thunder really wants to, though.
Will we hear something by summer on K-Mart?
It's got to be the Thunder's top priority this summer. So early July.
ON THE D-LEAGUE:
With the new rule giving unlimited D-League send downs/call-ups, do you think more NBA teams will explore moves to "own" a team like OKC does with Tulsa?
More teams already do. It's been happening more and more over the past few years. And now teams are using the D-League more than ever, sending players back and forth seemingly every day.
Do you get any sense that Tulsa 66ers resent the Thunder players when they come and steal all their playing time?
No. But that's probably because outside of Hollis Thompson and Andy Rautins, I can't name you another 66ers player.
OKC potentially has three first-round picks coming this year. If the Raptors pick falls at a 6 or 7, Do you think it would be possible and/or smart to try to use those picks to move up to say a pick #3?
Perhaps. There's no sense in having 7, 21 and 30 if you can have, like you said, No. 3.
Will Presti make any trades before the deadline? Even a minor deal.
I think so. What exactly, or who, I can't begin to say at this point. But all three of those first-round picks aren't likely to go into the draft with the Thunder.
Which players on the Thunder are "untouchable" at the deadline? Just the two or has Ibaka reached that level yet?
Durant, Westbrook, Ibaka, Perry Jones, Jeremy Lamb and Reggie Jackson. I might say Perk is in that group as well.
The Perkins/Lamb/Raptor pick for Anderson Varejao: where do you stand on this trade rumor?
Since when has it become a full blown rumor? I can all but assure you that trade isn't going to happen. As far as where I stand on it, that's entirely too much for Varejao.
What is the worst trade rumor/suggestion you have been asked about?
This Varejao "rumor" is gaining steam for that description.
Forget the Varejao trade. Any way the Thunder could/would put together a package for someone like Robin Lopez on Marcin Gortat?
Sorry to do it to you, but you, my friend, have reminded me of the absolute worst trade "rumor" or suggestion ... Marcin Gortat. What on earth would the Thunder want with him? And don't tell me low post offense. This is the best offensive team in the league as currently constructed!
ALL THE EXTRAS:
Do you think Popovich pulled his starters too early last night?
No, because that's what he does. That was like the seventh game in 10 days for the Spurs, and San Antonio plays tonight at Denver. So Pop wasn't going to push his guys to the limit just for a win on Dec. 17 with another game in 24 hours.
ACLs take time to heal and things are different for each player, but how long until we start saying Maynor has permanently lost his '11 form?
A former player I spoke with recently said most players wouldn't be back to where they were for at least another six months. That puts us at June.
How close are you to the Thunder players? Is there one guy who you have a stronger relationship with than the rest?
Not close. I'm cordial with all of them. But none more than another.
Have you heard anything lately on Tibor Plesis? Does he factor in to the Thunder’s plans of the future?
I always hear that he's doing well. He's just developing over in Spain right now. From everything I know, he's still in the plans.
I'd just like to say that I'd miss the Perk Press terribly if he was traded.
At this point that's probably would it would take for Brooks to stop doing it, unfortunately.
Which team in the West most needs to have home court to get to the Finals? (Excluding L.A., I don't think they can realistically get there.)
I'd say the Grizzlies. They're extremely tough to beat in Memphis. And while not a bad road team, they're the worst road team of all the West contenders this year.
Do you believe that when Westbrook and KD hit their primes — 27, 28 years old — they will still be part of this franchise?