We've reached the quarter-mark of the NBA season, which means one thing: It's progress report time.
If you were like me, (I'm looking at you, Wizards) this was the worst time of the year. Trying to convince my parents I was the ONLY kid in the class not to get a report card or that the teacher somehow lost all of them never ended well.
But if you were one of the impressive students, this was the greatest. Time to proudly show mom and dad you were well on your way to achieving your life goals.
For Oklahoma City, the first quarter of this season came with extra-importance. The class dynamic changed when management traded James Harden to Houston for Kevin Martin, Jeremy Lamb and draft picks. Many in the national media (I'm looking at you, Bill Simmons) declared the trade a disaster and declared the Thunder's championship chances to be gone.
There's no doubt about the fact that this team was going to need some gelling time. Any time a core that strong is altered, an adjustment period is necessary.
OKC will take a 15-4 record into Friday night's game against the Lakers.
It's time to find out which Thunder players will have their report cards on the fridge and which ones will need the ‘ol parent-teacher conference.
Kevin Durant: A+
Durant may not be putting up playoff-like scoring numbers so far this season, but he's pacing himself for the long haul. He put his ability to completely destroy his opponent on full display against Houston, proving once again he is the best pure-scorer in the NBA.
If you look at the numbers, KD has been nothing short of spectacular, posting career-highs in field goal percentage (51%), 3-point percentage (46%), free-throw percentage (90%), rebounds (8.5) and assists (4.4). Durant has also learned to protect the ball better so far this season, lowering last seasons' 3.8 turnovers per game to just 3.3 so far this year.
Russell Westbrook: B
Russell has shown some very positive signs thus far, but also some tendencies that ought to be reversed.
First, the good stuff: He's working on career-highs in 3-point percentage (33.8%), assists (8.7) and steals (2.1). In fact, that assist number is up from just 5.5 per game last season which is a dramatic improvement.
The problems are that his field goal percentage is down from last season from 46 percent to 42 and his free-throw percentage is also down from 82 percent to 77. While Westbrook makes a handful of plays per game that make you stand up and cheer, he still has the tendency at times to take bad shots and force things that aren't there. Overall, it's been a pretty good season for Russell but there's still some room for improvement.
Serge Ibaka: A+
Every aspect of Serge's game continues to improve. His defensive discipline looks to have gotten a little better as post players look to have a harder time getting around him. Ibaka's block total has decreased slightly so far, going from last season's league-leading 3.7 per game to this season's league-leading 3.3 per game, but that decrease is a good thing. Serge isn't lunging at quite as many shots as he used to, instead choosing to let the offensive player take a bad shot and going and getting the rebound.
Although his defense has been great, his offensive improvement might be what ultimately takes this team to new heights. This team has long-relied on three guys to score most of the points, but Serge's 18-foot jumper and improvement around the rim has turned that into a four-man job. Serge's points per game has risen from 9.1 to 14.5 while his field goal percentage is a career-high 60. Ibaka is also cashing in at the line more, as his free-throw percentage has risen from 66 percent last season all the way to 87 so far this year. If he keeps these numbers up he'll be one of the favorites for the NBA's Most Improved Player Award.
Kevin Martin: A
Which player was under more pressure to succeed this season: James Harden or Kevin Martin? There's a good argument for either, but the bottom line is there's a lot of pressure on both guys.
Martin has played well ever since his arrival, but at times has looked tentative. He's passed up shots he wouldn't have in the past, likely to avoid stepping on anyone's toes in his new town. But as he gets more and more comfortable with his teammates he'll be progressively more aggressive.
So far this season, Martin's numbers don't lie. He's shooting 48 percent from 3-point range, while Harden is chucking it up there at just a 32 percent clip. Martin's turning the ball over just a little over one time per game, while Harden's leading the league in the category (4.1 per game). Martin has also been much more efficient, averaging 1.57 points per-field goal attempt to Harden's 1.37.
The two players will be compared to one another throughout the season, and while OKC's playoff fate will be the ultimate determinant, K-Mart is off to a strong start.
Thabo Sefolosha: B+
Thabo has worked hard to improve his offensive efficiency while maintaining his defensive energy. He's shooting career-highs from the floor (51 percent) and from downtown (46 percent). His role is clear: defense and energy. But if Thabo can continue to knock open shots down the way he has so far this season, it would certainly help OKC's offensive balance.
Hasheem Thabeet: A+
Thabeet was never going to be a star in this league, but he's finally starting to utilize his assets. When OKC took chance on the 7-foot-3 UConn product, his current production was best-case scenario. Thabeet is shooting a career-high 72 percent from the floor, while his per-48-minutes stats are incredible: 13.7 rebounds and 3.4 blocks. The Thunder can only hope he continues to give this type of production in the 10-14 minutes per game he's going to play.
Kendrick Perkins: C
Kendrick's field goal percentage has improved from last season (59 percent from last year's 49) but his defensive post-presence has been poor. Perk is also hauling in just 5.1 boards per game; his lowest total since the ‘04'05 season. If he's going to continue to get major minutes, he's got to be a little more effective as the season continues.
Nick Collison: A-
Collison is another guy whose field goal percentage is at an all-time high (64 percent) and has finished well around the rim so far this season. Nick's rebounds are down a little from last year, but so are his minutes. If he can continue to provide the energy and hustle OKC expects from him on a nightly basis, he'll be fine.
Eric Maynor: B-
It's good to see Maynor back on the court, but it would be nice to see him have a little larger impact. His 2.1 assists per game is a little low, but part of that is how Scott Brooks rotates his players as Maynor doesn't get a lot of time with Durant and Westbrook (the team's two best scorers). It's tough to get assists when you're on the court with Kevin Martin and some combination of Thabeet, Collison, Perkins and Sefolosha. It would be nice to see Maynor work more with Martin and/or attack the rim a little more than he has been, but overall, he's progressing well.
*Perry Jones, Jeremy Lamb, Reggie Jackson, Daniel Orton and DeAndre Liggins will be receiving an ‘incomplete' for the first quarter.