***If you want an explanation to how I came to my conclusions, refer to Part 1 here.***
#7 Nerlens Noel
When you remember that last season the Oklahoma City Thunder ran with Dakari Johnson to back up Steven Adams, Nerlens Noel mere presence reaches God-send status.
The lengthy, athletic, former lottery pick (Sam Presti’s dream player) has been exactly that for the Thunder so far this season.
In addition to being a solid backup to Adams, Noel has even shown to be a good option in the event that he is the starter (12 points, 7 rebounds and 5 blocks in a January 29th win in Orlando and a 20 point and season-highs in 15 rebounds and 4 steals on October 28th against Phoenix).
He has the highest defensive rating on the team amongst players who are in the consistent rotation — guys like Tyler Davis and Donte Grantham are ahead of him. His athletic ability gives Oklahoma City the added luxury of having a capable defender on the perimeter against guard-oriented opponents (you know, the whole league).
Noel does not provide the scoring you’d want to balance out your bench attack — in offensive rating, he is in the basement with Abdel Nader and Raymond Felton — but that is not his purpose with the Thunder. He has provided a strength with his defense and hustle plays, not to mention his lob-catching ability keeps defenses away from the perimeter.
If Oklahoma City needs to play him more minutes during the final stretch into the playoffs, that could be a positive. Out of the 53 games Noel has played in this year, 19 of those saw him play 15 minutes or more. In those 19 games, the Thunder are 14-5 (74 winning percentage) with a average winning margin of 16.3 and a losing margin of 9 (for more context, click here). He just makes plays to help the team win.
I’ve loved Noel since he was Kentucky. His timing of being drafted by the actual “Process” Philadelphia 76ers and playing for bad Dallas Mavericks teams may have had a hand in him having a disappointing start to his career. His first half-year with the Thunder has been all but a complete success. If you don’t believe me, listen to him when I asked him a week ago. His defense, athleticism and the growing belief that Billy Donovan could employ an Adams/Noel lineup gives the Thunder more versatility in the postseason.
#6 Dennis Schröder
What? A capable 20 point per game scorer in the NBA is the 6th best player on the third best team in the Western Conference? When I went through my evaluations, I was shocked too.
But that has more to do with how much Jerami Grant and Terrance Ferguson have developed. Dennis Schröder has been sensational in his first season with the Thunder. Much like Noel, when you remember that Oklahoma City’s backup point guards the last two seasons were Semaj Christon and Raymond Felton… yeah.
Schröder has saved the Thunder from certain doom on numerous occasions already — road wins at Philadelphia, Orlando and Houston. With Schröder, Oklahoma City has yet another guy that can go get a bucket, keep the defense on their heels and win the team a game every other week on his own. These players are VALUABLE in the postseason.
Schröder will routinely finish games with Westbrook and George and provide floor spacing — yes, I said floor spacing.
Since January 1st, Schröder is shooting a scorching 44% from three on just over four attempts per game. At 26 minutes per in that stretch, the Thunder’s offense has increased significantly — Schröder has had a large say in that.
I would like to see Schröder get to the line more considering his offensive strength is getting to the basket — only 3 attempts per game since January 1st. He also has an unfortunate ability to disappear for an entire game, but those examples have been mere sprinkles during a great start to his first year. Again, Schröder will shine in the postseason when the rotation shrinks. If he can keep his perimeter shooting respectable, the Thunder’s offense can continue at its current rate.