My thoughts on Russell Westbrook’s injury and how it impacts the Oklahoma City Thunder and Kevin Durant.
For those Russell Westbrook detractors and people who want Kevin Durant to shoot more, you’re about to get your wish.
In Game 2 against the Houston Rockets, Westbrook suffered a knee injury in the 2nd quarter on a cheap play made by Houston guard Patrick Beverley. Crossing half court, Westbrook clearly signaled for a timeout, the whistle blew, and Beverley dove for the ball, clipping Russell on the knee. Westbrook got up limping and slammed the table in frustration. My initial reaction was that he was done for the game or he’d come back and score 50. Neither turned out to be correct. He returned to the game, but only scored 29. Given the fact that he finished the game and played typical Westbrook basketball, it looked like things would be fine.
Cut to two days later. The Thunder made the announcement that Westbrook would be out indefinitely to repair cartilage in his knee.
The Thunder and Westbrook have two options: First, the doctors can trim the ligament, which would keep Westbrook out for around a month.Or the doctors can repair the ligament, which would definitely keep the star point guard out for the rest of the playoffs.
If Westbrook has his choice, they’ll trim the ligament today and he’ll play tonight. But the Thunder will make the final decision, and they’re not going to put their future in jeopardy in order to rush Russell back in hopes that they can win this season. The last thing they want is a Derrick Rose situation. Remember, before Rose missed this entire year following a torn ACL, he missed nearly half the shortened season with multiple lower body injuries and played in the playoffs when he shouldn’t have. The Thunder don’t want Westbrook needlessly playing and potentially injuring himself further. And given Westbrook’s all-out style, there’s always a potential injury risk.
So I’ll just assume that the Thunder will roll on without their second best player and arguably the most athletic player in the league. What does that mean for the team?
Well, one thing we know for sure, is that it means Reggie Jackson will be the new starting point guard. Obviously this is a downgrade, but it’s not as significant as some may think. Jackson is a lot like Westbrook. Many people think he’s more of a shooting guard, he’s an athletic kid who can get to the hoop seemingly at will, and his jumper is hit or miss. He’s not Russell Westbrook, but maybe that’s only because he hasn’t had a chance to be. Of course basketball is a mental game as well, and even though Jackson has looked capable in the first two games, now he’s the starter on a team expected to be in the Finals. If he screws up, he doesn’t have the luxury of sitting on the bench knowing that things are in good hands with Russell. Derek Fisher is back on the team, which should help Jackson if he gets too tense as Fisher provides a calming voice and championship experience, but the Thunder can’t rely on Fisher to play the role of a starter.
The biggest calming presence Jackson will have though is Kevin Durant.
Throughout the course of the season, Durant has slightly gone away from his “cold blooded killer” mentality and has tried to revamp his game to get his teammates more involved. He was able to do that because, despite contrary belief, of Russell Westbrook. He knew that he could count on Westbrook’s scoring, so if that meant his scoring had to suffer in order for him to make his game more well-rounded, then so be it. Durant can no longer count on Russell’s scoring, which turned out to be 23 points per game. Can Serge Ibaka and Kevin Martin combined replace Westbrook’s scoring? How about Jackson, can he be counted on for 23 a night? Durant may not want to find out.
Instead of trying to get his teammates to make up for Westbrook’s 23, Durant may do it himself. He’s the most efficient scorer in the league, and if he wants to score 50 a game, it’s very likely that he could. Would if shock anyone if Durant makes up 10 of Westbrook’s 23 and leaves the other 13 to everyone else?
The Thunder isn’t a better team without Westbrook. I wasn’t sure they were good enough to beat the Miami Heat in the Finals this year with a healthy Westbrook. Without Westbrook, now I wonder if the team will be good enough to even make it to the Finals.
But those who wondered if Westbrook was holding back Durant or those who wanted the ice cold killer to return, can wonder no more and may just get their wish. This team isn’t going down without a fight. Batman no longer has his Robin, but what if Clark Kent, not Bruce Wayne, was under the Batman mask all along?