Expectations Of A Recovering Westbrook

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HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – When the Oklahoma City Thunder holds Media Day — the prelude to the official start of training camp — in 11 days, it will mark exactly five months since Russell Westbrook had surgery to repair a lateral meniscus tear in his right knee.

The injury, sustained in Game 2 of the first round against Houston, derailed the franchise’s championship hopes. It’s no secret that the Thunder won’t sniff the 2014 Finals without a healthy, bouncy, frenetic, All-NBA Westbrook.

Oklahoma City has lost its sixth man in consecutive offseasons. The team traded James Harden to Houston prior to last season and this summer the Minnesota Timberwolves signed Kevin Martin to a contract beyond the Thunder’s tax bracket.

It leaves improving third-year guard Reggie Jackson, high-mileage veteran Derek Fisher, plus hopeful second-year shooter Jeremy Lamb as the backcourt backups. That makes OKC’s bench scoring as uncertain as it has been since the Thunder moved into the NBA’s elite. If a reliable scorer doesn’t emerge, it will require even more of Westbrook’s locomotive-like play as he rebounds from the first serious injury of his career. Westbrook’s recovery and the Thunder’s questionable bench scoring are causing some to ponder if OKC has enough firepower to again reign in the stacked West.

“How will Russell Westbrook return?” is the question Darnell Mayberry presented to Thunder fans on Sunday in The Oklahoman. The good news is Westbrook’s injury was not an ACL tear and so not as difficult from which to recover. Still, it is a question that can’t be answered until the three-time All-Star takes the floor. Even then it might take time for Westbrook to regain full confidence in his knee to resume his hard-charging style.

Westbrook had a monster 2012-13 season, averaging 23.2 ppg and 7.4 apg — but also 3.3 turnovers a game (second-highest among point guards). If there are areas of improvement for Westbrook they are reducing unforced turnovers and increasing his shooting percentage. Westbrook has become far more proficient with his high-bounce free-throw-line jumper, yet he still shot just 43.8 percent last season (20th among point guards), barely up from his career average of 43.2 percent, and down from his career-best of 45.7 percent in 2011-12.

How can Westbrook better his percentage? The simple answer is to become a more selective shooter (something critics have pleaded for from Kevin Durant‘s teammate), which some might suggest means becoming a smarter, more aware floor general.

But can a player whose game is structured on athleticism, explosiveness and high doses of improvisation actually slow the game down enough to regularly make what are often split-second decisions?

Westbrook might have started to figure out that answer for himself as he watched playoff games from high above the floor in a suite, a bird’s eye perspective he said allowed him to better dissect the game and his impact on it. When he addressed the media during the Thunder’s West semifinal series loss to Memphis, Westbrook said he believes he will come back “a better player mentally:”

“I think that’s the biggest thing. Mentally, it’s going to be a big step for myself and moving forward with this team. Getting the opportunity to kind of sit back — this is my first time basically seeing the game from a different view — to kind of sit back and watch a whole game when I’m not playing is different. I think it’s something that can help me to see some of the things that you guys [the media] may see or somebody may see, the crazy shots I shoot, I can sit back and see, so I think it’s good for me.”

For a player who is typically short-winded and often defensive in discussions with the media, the “crazy-shots-I-shoot” revelation has to be a great sign to coach Scott Brooks. He has always taken Westbrook’s bad with his good, understanding that attempting to put a restrictor plate on Westbrook could diminish his natural advantage over opponents.

But if Westbrook discovers ways to implement his own restrictor plate at appropriate times, it could make an already efficient, high-scoring attack — but one dogged by frustrating turnovers (OKC finished in the bottom eight in the league in four of Westbrook’s five seasons and 30th twice) all the more effective.

23 Comments

  1. Gillsy says:

    Even though the Thunder are a good team once they take out Russ, KD and Ibaka they are very thin. If you look at the Spurs and Warriors they seam to have quality players or at least role players across the board. An example of this was the Warriors loosing Lee, they seamed to survive for a lot longer than people thought.

  2. ko0kie says:

    if they defend like a top5 team (which is very much possible with that personel.. westbrook and durant are both above-average defenders.. ibaka, sefolosha and collison are all very good defenders, so it could be done if they also defend as a team.

  3. J says:

    I have the thunder finishing at the top of the west but I wouldn’t be surprised is they cave in

  4. sanjay says:

    west brook would be all right but they wont make it to finals. It will be between spurs vs clippers with spurs coming up trumphs again! And we can expect a similar result on the east coast with dog fight between brooklyn and indiana to contest conference finals with the heat. And every possibility of spurs vs heat finals again! Last series left audience begging for more.
    Heat are again favorite to repeat more so with the addition of beasly. If he can get his head right, heat would be unstoppable as they became younger by adding two guys who wanna prove themselves despite having various issues of their own. these two guys are hungry and works just fine with lebron.

    So be ready for spurs vs heat encore!!!!

    • His Airness says:

      Unless Kahwai Leonard becomes a star(which is possible), the spurs will not be back to the finals. I know they’ve been saying it for awhile, but the spurs are finally too old. Coupled with the fact that they made it to the finals, that’s a lot of wear and tear.
      X-factor: Tony Parker. He is playing for France this off-season. At the risk of an apparent contradiction, players who play for their country in the off-season, seem to play great the next year. (The international game is shorter and has longer breaks between games which can strengthen a player, rather than the playoffs which wear a player down.

  5. KD Rus says:

    As a big fan of KD, KD should take a step to control over Thunder,
    Firstly, his mentality is not high as superstar who can lead his team into the finals even though he lost his right hand. Second, his physical strength still not sufficient to fight against powerful defender. when he faces strong opponents, he gets tired very quickly and misses shots as hell. I hope this season he will come as a complete player ever to accomplish what he wants. Of course, Rus and Serg would be the most influential to the success.

  6. Simi123 says:

    im an okc fan . Having two Superstars like KD and RW is enough , all the other guys will fall into place with the system and things will work out. They got great coaching a great system and much support .

  7. okc2014 says:

    I just don’t think they can reach the stars after losing their 6th men two years in a row w/ no concrete replacements. I believe Kendrick Perkins should have been traded instead of Harden. By now they could have gotten a good center. I think any team who wins the final championship has to be an awesome threesome, guard, center and forward. OKC does not have an outstanding bench, like say the Heat, Spurs, Nets and Clippers. I don’t know. Just like Kevin Durant couldn’t do it alone, neither can Westbrrok and Durant. I’m waiting for something magical like Ibaka gets 3x’s better or something. They won’t go very far unless and until they make major player changes. C’mon Scottie, beam them down!!!

    • Markus71 says:

      Steven Adams to share the duties at C this year. He may play 20mins. a game. If so, expect 10ppg 6rpg 2blks!!

  8. alp says:

    the title of this post almost makes it seem as if russell westbrook is injury prone… before his injury in the playoffs he never missed a game in highschool/college/pro’s. and lets not forget he played the ENTIRE game he was injured in also. i think he wont get injured again for a long time, only reason he got hurt was because of an extremely reckless play by another player that doesn’t normally happen. as an OKC fan myself i don’t fear him getting injured again AT ALL. this isn’t d rose we are talking about here, lols

  9. Cash says:

    Russell is a fluke. He’s just not a winner. Sorry but he will never recieve any jewelry! S.
    SOUL purpose

  10. jimbo says:

    I love OKC, but until they have the 3rd scoring option and an inside post playing big man they will be hard pressed to make another finals.

  11. Minhc says:

    I’m disagree. If Westbrook are at the same level that he’s play last year then okc can be a lot better. Have u seen lamb and riggie play, those guys going to be an All star. Kevin Martian is good but to predictable.

  12. ac says:

    It will be very interesting to see how he returns. I still think that even if he returns to his form last season or slightly better, the Thunder will still be marginally worse than they were last season, for several reasons.

    Firstly, and most obviously, they lost James Harden’s weaker replacement, Kevin Martin, who’s pretty damn good himself (but certainly not on the same level as Harden who, with the aging of Kobe Bryant and Dwayne Wade, may very well be the league’s top 2 guard). OKC has an amazing GM and staff, but I think they should be able to admit to themselves now that giving Ibaka their third premium contract over Harden was a mistake. No disrespect to Ibaka, but Harden’s numbers last season speak for itself. Losing Kevin Martin was big, because he may not be the playmaker that Harden was off the dribble, but he was still deadly from outside. Yes Jeremy Lamb and Reggie Jackson will be there to pick up the slack, but will they together account for the almost 15ppg that Martin averaged last season. My gut says no.

    Secondly, as big and menacing as their frontcourt is, not one of them (Durant, Ibaka, Perkins) has a back-to-the-basket post game. Ibaka has really worked to improve his mid-range game which is awesome, but he really needs to be the guy to add in his repertoire since Perkins probably isn’t skilled enough. They badly need that presence, especially when they play a team like Miami, who has lockdown perimeter defense that is only broken up by banging it inside to your bigs.

    Thirdly, and similarly, their enforcer Perkins is getting slower and older so quickly, which is bizarre considering he’s only 28. His scoring numbers have plummeted every year since 2009 (career high 10.1 ppg) and his rebounding numbers have decreased every year since 2010. He doesn’t seem to have the intimidation that he used to when he was a Celtic and, with an 8million salary that has two years left, I don’t see any teams wanting to trade for him.

    Obviously, because they have two players named Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook I’m sure they’ll be near the top of the western conference. But I wouldn’t be surprised if they didn’t make it out of the western conference again come playoff time. At least with this current roster.

  13. OKC says:

    People were wondering if we could finish on top of the west without Harden and we did and in fact our defense and offense were rated higher and in everything but bench scoring we improved. This was mostly based on the huge improvements of KD and Westbrook, and I think their continued improvement will be enough to make up for Martin leaving (that and hopefully Reggie Jackson and Jeremy Lamb can figure something out this year).

    Basically I think Westbrook will be fine, he is in amazing shape and like you said he didn’t tear his ACL or anything. I think the Thunder will be right back on top, and that after two years of bitter disappointment and lessons learned the hard way, I think we will be fired up to get back to the biggest stage in the NBA.

    • wolf says:

      Agreed. OKC is still loaded. But my biggest concern is why scott brooks has not implemented an offensive system suited for the team as a whole. I know they need their fair share of iso plays given it’s KD and russ, but sometimes it’s just too much & too predictable.

    • LBJKIN6JAMES says:

      OKC is not going back to the finals anytime soon… They lost Kevin Martin, so now they have no 3rd scoring option. GSW and the Rockets are young & upcoming, well coached, stacked teams who will probably be having most of the finals appearances for the west…

      • alp says:

        as a thunder fan, i agree completely and im very sad that this had to happen to russell westbrook because i truly believed okc would have went back to the finals had he not gotten injured… now that k mart is gone it’s just KD and Rus and a bunch of other inconsistent guys that cannot produce harden OR martin numbers… reggie jackson? pfff that guy is waay to out of control, ibaka hopefully can get his jumpshot going once again, im not sure about that kid jeremy lamb, perry jones im not sure about either…

      • LBJKIN6JAMES says:

        I think Iguodala would have been a good fit for the thunder, too bad he signed with GSW.. and Perkins is an overpaid BUM! OKC will definitely be looking to make some changes soon.