Monday, December 2, 2013

How Good Is Kevin Durant? (Power Rankings, Week 5)

Hopefully you're all recovered from your Thanksgiving food comas after eating like Eddy Curry for a few days. While many of us attended family parties this week, Jason Kidd was spilling, Steph Curry was crossing, and Lance Stephenson was dishing. Oh, and for the second straight week, Boogie Cousins was dissing.

The Spurs lost twice to fall out of the top spot and the Pacers finally claimed that No. 1 ranking. Following the complete power rankings, I'll take a deeper look at two Western Conference contenders -- the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Los Angeles Clippers.

Here are my Week 5 Power Rankings:
30. Utah Jazz (3-15)
29. Milwaukee Bucks (3-13)
28. New York Knicks (3-13)
27. Sacramento Kings (4-11)
26. Cleveland Cavaliers (5-12)
25. Philadelphia 76ers (6-12)
24. Orlando Magic (6-10)
23. Boston Celtics (7-12)
22. Brooklyn Nets (5-12)
21. Toronto Raptors (6-10)
20. Detroit Pistons (7-10)
19. Chicago Bulls (7-8)
18. Charlotte Bobcats (8-10)
17. Washington Wizards (8-9)
16. New Orleans Pelicans (8-8)
15. Phoenix Suns (9-8)
14. Los Angeles Lakers (9-9)
13. Atlanta Hawks (9-9)
12. Memphis Grizzlies (8-8)
11. Timberwolves (9-10)
10. Denver Nuggets (10-6)
9. Dallas Mavericks (10-8)
8. Golden State Warriors (10-8)
7. Houston Rockets (13-5)
6. Los Angeles Clippers (12-6)
5. Portland Trail Blazers (14-3)
4. San Antonio Spurs (14-3)
3. Miami Heat (14-3)
2. Oklahoma City Thunder (12-3)
1. Indiana Pacers (16-1)

Oklahoma City Thunder 

It was a wild week for the Thunder. They handed San Antonio its second loss of the season before pulling out a crazy overtime win over Golden State on Friday night. They then capped off a productive weekend by deafeating the Timberwolves at home on Sunday.

Kevin Durant led the way with a triple-double against Minnesota, and his 12 assists continued a season-long improvement in his passing. He's averaging about one more assist per game than last year after achieving that feat in each of the previous two seasons as well. From 2007-2011, his first four seasons in the league, Durant was basically just a scoring machine, never averaging more than 2.6 dimes per game. This year, he's notched 5.5 assists per contest, an elite number for a forward. And the fact that he has needed just 16.8 field goal attempts to average 26 points underscores his efficiency, the main reason why he is almost unanimously considered the second-best player in the NBA.*

*My top 5:
1) LeBron James (30.29 PER this season!)
2) Durant
3) Paul George (Dominating on both ends.)
4) Chris Paul (Kinda fun to watch.)
5) Kevin Love (You might have heard that he's good at rebounding and outletting.)
3,436) Amar'e Stoudemire (I know, I'm piling on.)

Russell Westbrook's early return from a knee injury has helped take the pressure off Durant. Westbrook has averaged nearly two more shots per game than Durant. Even though the point guard is not hitting at a high rate (39.5%), he takes over stretches of each Thunder game.

Westbrook got hurt during last year's playoffs, dooming OKC's title hopes. It will be interesting to see if Thunder general manager Sam Presti looks to add any pieces before the postseason push. Presti's never been shy to tinker, but even if the the Thunder stand pat, they'll have a real shot at a championship.

Los Angeles Clippers
The aforementioned CP3 is amazing, and most NBA fans love watching Lob City. Here's another ho-hum alley oop from last night's contest against the Pacers. The problem, of course, is that the Clippers lost the game.

The Clips have a couple huge problems, especially at the end of games. For all their highlight-reel plays, Blake Griffin (62.9 FT%) and DeAndre Jordan (40%) are both liabilities from the free throw stripe and on defense against teams with big frontlines. Jordan ranks just 20th among all centers in Player Efficiency Rating. As a team, the Clippers have been a middling defensive unit.

Since November 21, Lob City has defeated the disappointing Knicks, hobbled Bulls, and lowly Kings (twice). The Clips have also been beaten by the Pacers and Thunder. It seems like they're a good team that might not have quite enough pieces to go deep into the playoffs.

Over the next 6-8 weeks, the Clippers will also be playing without an injured J.J. Redick. Even the biggest Duke-hater would tell you that Redick has been impressive this year, and Willie Green won't come close to replicating his production.

I don't mean to pile on the Clippers here, because I love watching them play. However, the weaknesses outlined above will probably combine to keep them from moving past the second round of the palyoffs.

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