After hearing the news that Russell Westbrook would be out for the first 4-6 weeks of the season after having surgery today to remove swelling from his knee many fans immediately thought the worst. Losing a guy that averaged 23.2 PPG. and 7.4 APG. last year is a big loss but it’s not the end of the world for the Thunder.
Obviously the Thunder are not the same team without the intensity and energy that Westbrook brings to the team. This was very obvious when Westbrook went down in last years playoffs as the Thunder lost six of their next nine games to end the 2013 season. .
Going into this year it will have an affect on the teams performance in the first month or so but this is not the worst scenario for the Thunder. As we know The NBA Finals are not won in the first month of the season, in fact most people say you can’t truly start judging teams until Christmas. This is the good news for the Thunder. While going for their second straight sixty win season is big, its not the most important thing. The Thunder want to be playing their best basketball toward the end of the year, heading into the playoffs.
Even without Westbrook the Thunder are still one of the better teams in the Western Conference. With the second best player in the world in Kevin Durant the Thunder are in very good hands. Durant alone is capable of going off on any night and winning the Thunder a lot of games but he is going to need help. The success of the team, especially during the first couple months of the season will depend on how other players step up.
This shouldn’t be too much of a problem as the Thunder have plenty of young talent waiting to step up and fill a bigger role. With Westbrook out Reggie Jackson will step into the starting point guard role once again which he proved he could do last year by averaging 15.3 points per game and 3.6 assists per game. As a young player Jackson has improved year to year and it is expected to see him improve even more from last year. It is important to remember though that Jackson is not Westbrook and that other players will have to help with Westbrook’s absence.
With Westbrook out the two other players that need to step up the most are Serge Ibaka and Jeremy Lamb. Just like Jackson, Ibaka has showed consistent improvement since being drafted by the Thunder so he has to be able to take on a bigger part of the scoring to help take some of the load off Durant. The biggest question though may be Jeremy Lamb. Lamb is player with a lot of potential, especially on the offensive end of the court but it is a lot to ask a player with very little NBA experience to come in and most likely be the sixth man of the team that finished first in the West the previous year.
In the short term if players like Jackson, Ibaka and Lamb can step up and help take pressure off Durant during the first four to six weeks the Thunder will be in good shape. This is not saying they will be first place in the West but they will still have a good record that should help them keep up with some of the other top teams in the Western Conference.
Long term this could turn out to not hurt the Thunder as much as at seems. The biggest thing for the season is to be playing their best basketball in the post season when the games matter most. The number one thing is to make sure Westbrook is completely healthy and in rhythm by the time the playoffs come around. If the Thunder can do this while also getting more experience for Jackson and Lamb is his absence the team still has a great shot at making another long playoff run this year.