The first thing you notice about the Oklahoma City Thunder? Kevin Durant, obviously. The second thing? Russell Westbrook becoming more and more responsible. The thing you don’t always notice? That the Thunder are one of the league’s best teams when it comes to forcing bad shots, bringing them more wins and making life easier than most would think.
When you here Russell Westbrook talk about how much defense is important to this team, you think that maybe this team is different, maybe even better than it was last season.
Defense is going to win games. You can score back and forth if you want to, but defending is what we do. The play of the game wasn’t some impressive combination between Durant and Westbrook for an alley oop. It was Russell Westbrook blocking Roy Hibbert during the Thunder’s 8-0 run in the third quarter that sparked the momentum for the Thunder to pull away.
The Indiana Pacers might have the best defense in the NBA when it comes to keeping teams on low scores, but they don’t have an offense, just like the Chicago Bulls, that’s reliable enough to help them take advantage of their better half more often than not. The Thunder force teams to only 42.4% from the field, which is second best in the NBA behind the Pacers, who conceded over 100 points for only the fifth time this season. Having the best offense in the NBA, averaging over 106 points per game, means there’s plenty of cushion to operate with.
Kevin Durant finished with “only” 27 points as the Thudner won their 8th straight. When you look at the core-three Sam Presti decided to stick with: Durant, Ibaka and Westbrook, it’s not really a surprise the Thunder got better, considering how young they are and how much room for improvement they should have.
Kevin Martin is filling the sixth man role very well up to this point. He scored 24 points, and is so far resisting every urge and bone in his body to break out of the mold of the position he needs to fill. Averaging 15.8 points per game while the Thunder re-shuffled their ball handling assignments according to the personnel is as good as could have been expected from the veteran scorer.
Serge Ibaka is the reason James Harden is with the Rockets, and it seems as the Thunder made the right choice. If Dwight Howard is the biggest defensive presence in the NBA, at least on paper, Serge Ibaka is a close second, and is probably outplaying the Lakers’ center this season. Averaging 3.1 blocks per game this season so far, Ibaka has shown the real progress in his mid range game and by adding a few more moves to his offensive arsenal, averaging 14.3 points per game while making 59.2% of his shots.
So let us do the match: The Thunder’s defense is pretty much as efficient as it was for most of last season, especially in crunch time. Serge Ibaka, who Scott Brooks sorta gave up on in the small ball of the NBA finals, is suddenly an offensive force to be reckoned with. Russell Westbrook is trying his best to kill his defensive mistakes and actually be much more responsible with the ball, while averaging 21.5 points and 8.5 assists per game.
Kevin Durant? All that talk about being the best player in the NBA seem to be having some sort of effect. He’s averaging 27 points and 8.5 rebounds per game, starting to make the kind of improvement and adjustments he needed to during the summer. Six weeks into the NBA season, the Thunder look like the best team in the league.