By Randy Renner
Sports Illustrated's annual ranking of the Top 100 players in the NBA is top heavy with Thunder stars.
OKC is the only team in the league with two players ranked in the Top 5 and three in the Top 20.
Reining NBA MVP Kevin Durant comes in second on the list right behind LeBron James and point guard Russell Westbrook is ranked fourth, right behind Chris Paul.
KD was also second last year but Westbrook moves up a notch this season from the 5 spot. He replaced the Spurs Tony Parker at #4 and Parker dropped all the way to #14.
Making the biggest jump of the Thunder trio is forward Serge Ibaka who comes in at #19, a full 10 spots higher than the #29 spot he occupied when these rankings came out at the beginning of last season.
Here's part of what S.I. had to say about Durant:
Topping LeBron James in MVP voting, PER and Win Shares requires a truly extraordinary all-around season, and that’s exactly what Durant stringed together in 2013-14.
Oklahoma City’s All-Star forward became the first player besides James to win MVP since Derrick Rose in 2011. He also became the first player besides James to lead the league in PER since Dwyane Wade in 2007, and he became the first player besides James to lead the league in Win Shares since Chris Paul in 2008.
Here's a portion of what was written about Westbrook:
Westbrook had to endure real adversity for the first time in 2013-14, the type that makes harsh media criticism and mocking social media memes look like child’s play. Three knee surgeries in less than a year is a terrifying concept for any professional athlete, but the fear factor was even greater for Oklahoma City’s three-time All-Star point guard. After all, his greatest attributes – speed, quickness, explosiveness, leaping ability, durability, drive, fearlessness, relentlessness – all are contingent upon two healthy knees.
Could Westbrook’s response to that career crossroads have reasonably been any better? While he missed nearly half of the regular season, Westbrook quickly reestablished himself as a big-time impact player. His postseason averages of 26.7 points, 8.1 assists and 7.3 rebounds are unprecedented over the last 50 years; only Oscar Robertson and Bob Cousy have ever posted similar figures. He was the only player to register a triple-double in the 2014 playoffs, and he had three of them.
And here is part of what Sports Illustrated had to say about Ibaka:
The Thunder's system of scrambling defensive pressure wouldn't work if opponents didn't fear Ibaka, and opponents wouldn't fear him if Ibaka didn't follow through by swatting a terrifying amount of shots. Teammates on the perimeter can gamble and attempt to rush foes, content in the knowledge that Ibaka will slide over to challenge any drive that gets through.
Pretty outstanding stuff all the way around. With three of the NBA's best players it's no wonder more and more people are picking the Thunder to win their first NBA Championship this season.
You can read the entire Sports Illustrated article by clicking here.