IN­SIDE

The Oklahoman - - SPORTS - BY ERIK HORNE AND MAD­DIE LEE Staff Writ­ers

Beat writ­ers Mad­die Lee and Erik Horne grade the Thun­der at the half­way point of the sea­son.

Forty-two down, 40 to go. With an im­proved ros­ter, con­ti­nu­ity and a fa­vor­able sched­ule, the Thun­der is 26-16 and third in the West­ern Con­fer­ence — four games ahead of where it was last sea­son af­ter 42 games. How do the play­ers grade out in­di­vid­u­ally? The Ok­la­homan's Erik Horne and Mad­die Lee handed out re­port cards:

Alex Abrines

CWhen he has been on the court, Abrines has seen a dip in his 3-point shoot­ing to 32.3 per­cent but an im­prove­ment on de­fense. He has played just 29 games due to a com­bi­na­tion of in­jury, ill­ness and per­sonal rea­sons. Abrines last played on Dec. 23.

Steven Adams

AThe Thun­der cen­ter’s best of­fen­sive sea­son has launched him into the Al­lS­tar con­ver­sa­tion. Av­er­ag­ing 15.5 pointer per game, Adams has also main­tained his rep­u­ta­tion as a tough de­fender. He ranks third in of­fen­sive re­bounds in the league, giv­ing op­pos­ing teams headaches through sec­ond-chance points.

Deonte Bur­ton

BAs a two-way player, Bur­ton has turned in 15 games with the Thun­der. He can, and does, play al­most ev­ery po­si­tion. Bur­ton can drive through de­fenses like a run­ning back, but he’s also a skilled ball han­dler. The rookie is still green but has shown flashes of his po­ten­tial.

Hami­dou Diallo

BAfter an “A” start to the sea­son, Diallo is back to av­er­ag­ing about 12 min­utes per game. He has carved out a niche as the sec­ond unit’s spark plug. With his ex­plo­sive­ness, Diallo is a walk­ing high­light reel. Like all rook­ies, con­sis­tency is the key to earn­ing more play­ing time.

Ray­mond Fel­ton

CFel­ton’s big­gest as­set is his vet­eran pres­ence. With the ad­di­tion of Den­nis Schroder, Fel­ton has slid down the depth chart. The 15 games he has played have been a mixed bag, some­times tak­ing too many ill-ad­vised shots, and other times lead­ing the sec­ond unit through try­ing in­jury­plagues stretches.

Ter­rance Fer­gu­son

A- Fer­gu­son’s de­fense has seen a huge im­prove­ment from last sea­son and only seems to keep get­ting bet­ter. The 20-year-old bumped his grade up with re­cent ex­tra credit in the past three games: 3-point shoot­ing. He started the sea­son in a shoot­ing slump but has in­creased his av­er­age to 5.3 points.

Paul Ge­orge

AThere’s a rea­son Ge­orge has inspired “MVP” chants. In his sec­ond sea­son with OKC, the three-time NBA Al­lDe­fen­sive Team se­lec­tion is play­ing some of the best bas­ket­ball of his life, av­er­ag­ing 30 points per game since Dec. 1. He lifted the Thun­der’s of­fense while West­brook strug­gled with his shot.

Jerami Grant

AGrant has pro­vided an im­me­di­ate up­grade to Carmelo An­thony at power for­ward at a third of the price ($8.6 mil­lion). Av­er­ag­ing ca­reer highs in points (12.6) and re­bounds (5.0) while shoot­ing 52.3 per­cent and guard­ing ev­ery po­si­tion in the Thun­der’s switch-heavy de­fen­sive scheme.

Ti­mothe LuwawuCabar­rot

B- Hasn’t shot well (31 per­cent), but also has had lim­ited op­por­tu­ni­ties. TLC’s 120 min­utes are the fewest of the Thun­der’s 14 play­ers. Filled in well dur­ing the Thun­der’s three-game west coast road trip in Novem­ber, av­er­ag­ing 10.3 points, 3.3 re­bounds and shoot­ing 48 per­cent.

Ab­del Nader

B- Hob­bled by left knee sore­ness that robbed him of his en­tire pre­sea­son, Nader has so­lid­i­fied his ro­ta­tion spot since Abrines’ ab­sence. De­fense can im­prove, but be­sides 3-point shoot­ing (10-of20 in 10 games since Dec. 25), Nader has shown the abil­ity to score with ag­gres­sive drives and tough fin­ishes.

Ner­lens Noel

A- Ar­guably the big­gest bar­gain in the league ($1.75 mil­lion). Noel’s sec­ond-unit rim pro­tec­tion and re­bound­ing (3.8 blocks and 12 re­bounds per 36 min­utes) has freed up Grant to fo­cus on one po­si­tion and saved Adams’ legs. High foul rate, but sorely missed by Thun­der while in con­cus­sion pro­to­col.

Pa­trick Pat­ter­son

DPat­ter­son came into pre­sea­son as the pre­sumed starter at power for­ward and has in­stead dis­ap­pointed in a re­serve role. Qui­etly shoot­ing 40.6 per­cent from 3 his last 15 games, but slumps have been too fre­quent.

Den­nis Schroder

BAn in­stant up­grade over Fel­ton with the sec­ond unit and an ad­di­tional play­maker along­side West­brook and Ge­orge. Stepped in well in West­brook’s eight missed games. Has wa­vered be­tween big mo­ments and pro­longed slumps on both ends, but fits Thun­der’s up-tempo style (and salary cap) more than An­thony.

Rus­sell West­brook

B+ Despite in­juries

(arthro­scopic knee surgery, an­kle sprain), in­con­sis­tent shoot­ing and adjusting his play­ing style, the Thun­der is 21-13 with West­brook in the lineup. He’s ceded more con­trol on of­fense while lead­ing the league in as­sists and steals per game and putting in more con­sis­tent de­fen­sive shifts. Now, about those free throws ...

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