Even A Rusty Westbrook Changes The Game For Thunder, Rest Of West

VIDEO: Russell Westbrook gets a warm welcome in his season debut

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Someone needs to write date and time down.

The moment the game changed for the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Western Conference came Sunday night, when All-Star point guard Russell Westbrook made his early return from what was previously reported as a four-to-six week absence, the 2013-14 season kicked off in earnest for the Thunder.

Things changed instantly not only for Kevin Durant and the rest of Westbrook’s teammates, but also for the Los Angeles Clippers, Golden State Warriors, San Antonio Spurs, Houston Rockets and any other team harboring dreams of making a trip to the Western Conference finals and beyond.

Westbrook, even while still making his way back from the torn meniscus he suffered in April, gives the Thunder a dynamic only the Miami Heat (LeBron James and Dwyane Wade) and perhaps the Houston Rockets (with James Harden and Dwight Howard) enjoy, and that’s having two virtually unguardable players on their roster on a given night.

Westbrook’s presence immediately changed things most noticeably for Durant, whose burden eases tremendously with the other half of the Thunder’s dynamic duo back in action. We all saw what things looked like without Westbrook in the playoffs last April. It wasn’t nearly as exciting or effective a Thunder team without him.

He’ll have plenty of work to do to manage his ongoing rehabilitation process (and as a veteran NBA player made clear to me via text last night during the Thunder’s win over Phoenix, “getting back is one thing, staying is where the real work begins.”).

Thunder coach Scott Brooks is just glad to have his warrior point guard back on the floor. While others have panned Westbrook’s game over the years, Brooks has always maintained his appreciation for the things Westbrook brings to the Thunder (courtesy of the Oklahoman):

“I’ve been saying it forever. There’s two things he does at a high level,” said Thunder coach Scott Brooks. “He wins. That’s one. He’s a winner. The guy plays the game like it’s supposed to be played. It’s not always going to be perfect, but he plays with everything he has every single night, and, to me, that’s inspiring.

“And the second thing is leadership. And it’s taken him some time to get that, but it’s taken every young player in this league (time) to become the leader that they become … It took him some time. But now, he’s our leader.”

I don’t think folks (some Thunder fans and even some inside of the organization included) realized that Westbrook was the emotional center of this crew until he was taken away. Now that he’s back, his impact on this team’s bottom line should be appreciated properly.

My pick to win the Western Conference this year, the Warriors, have given me no reason to reconsider that choice. But they’re going to get all they can handle from a Thunder team that will be as difficult to deal with as any team in the league come playoff time, provided Westbrook’s continued good health.


  1. Alex Tehada says:

    Best point guard in nba history

  2. Gillsy says:

    I am not worrying about Westbrook coming back when he did cause he had done all the hard work to get back, but they had to go back in thankfully to find a bit of stitching left in his leg was his problem. So the timeframe for him to return after that is probably ok. The needed him though, I still believe even though they are good they will never win a ring without help. Look at the Spurs, Heat, Mavs and Celtics teams who have won rings lately. Yea they have that good bunch of 2 or 3 that can play but they also have depth. And the Thunders depth Harden got traded away for nothing. The only thing I can see the Thunder doing is battling through with Perkins until they can trade him as an expiring contract, while Adams gets some games under his belt.

  3. ron52nge says:

    I want to see KD and RW to have a RINGS….

  4. wowwowbad says:

    the Warriors? lmfao !

  5. NBAfan says:

    Thank goodness for the Thunder that he is back. One of the most exciting NBA players and difference makers playing right now.

  6. okc2014 says:

    Gotta love Russell Westbrook! It felt great as an OKC fan to watch him back in action, rusty or not. Go Thunder!!!!

  7. bub says:

    Its all about the raptors you fools.With Steve Nash going to raptors they are going to unstoppable. And soon Kobe will come then kd then rw and mj and lbj and jose calderone wil return. And dont forget Andrew wiggins.

  8. Boston Fan says:

    his return was better than D.Rose

  9. Frans says:

    Sure, Westbrook looked a bit rusty. But it also looked like they added speed. He was sharp and looks like he could dominate again in no time.

  10. bELIEVe says:

    For a second I thought you were going to change your prediction. It would have been the smart move. KD and RW are the real deal now. When it comes playoff time their experience and heart will be the x factor needed to push through. Russell looks to be as good as last year and if he continues to improve it’s game over for all other contenders,, in the west or east.

  11. wagedu says:

    I’m a Thunder fan as well and I must confess I never fully acknowledged the importance of Westbrook until we missed him. But I also realized another thing: Scott Brooks has no plan or strategy, just plain luck (in the form of KD and RW)


    welcome back. man came back fighting…….without him the thunder can’t make it happen. i still think they lack bench depth which they had in 2012 to win a title.

  13. Game Time says:

    ^ is that guy serious? The Rockets going to lead the west LMFAO! You must have just been born in 1992 to be watching basketball because nothing the Rockets have done shows they are going to be at the top. The look great so far, but let me see them beat SAN, GS, MEM and OKC on their home turf before any judgments are made.

    • His Airness says:

      Let’s see what happens before judgements are made? Come on Mr Hindsight, get some vision. Obviously the Rockets will be a contender to have the best record in the West.

      What the rockets have “done” is add the best center in the league who’s healthy. They were 45-37 last year and just getting chemistry together after adding key new pieces such as Harden and Lin etc. And now, with Howard they look happy together.
      They may not win the West, but they will certainly be a frontrunners if healthy.
      If the Rockets end up in the top 3 out West, please put some salt on your words as you eat them.

  14. pacquiaoverated says:

    let’s just hope they didn’t rushed it that it would effect his longevity in the NBA, after few season he will retire due to injuries by rushing too soon to get back

  15. silencio says:

    warriors? really? For what i’ve seen the rockets are on their way to lead the west. I’m not a writer but I’ve been watching the nba since 1992-93. Anyways, that gives me some credential to say that warriors are not what you think they are. good team but not the western conference leader! just because they made some noise on the playoffs does not make them an nba championship team. Sekou Smith you get paid to write things but you are wrong.

  16. OKC says:

    This come back for me is a top 5 of all time moment as a Thunder fan. No one expected Russell back so soon, and we needed it so bad. Now i know 1/10th of what the bulls fans have felt lol.

    To top it all off I have Bledsoe on my fantasy team =D.

  17. Romeo Aguirre says:

    I’m a fan of KD and RW I want to see these team stay together and be like the spurs winning championship but they need someone to replace JH big time

    • His Airness says:

      The Thunder looked terrible without Westbrook. Words like weak and uninspired come to mind. Westbrook with his tenacity puts so much pressure on opposing teams. There is a reason the thunder let harden go instead of Westbrook. Westbrook is better.
      Westbrook is the MVP of the Thunder. While he makes mistakes, they are not mistakes of omission. Meanwhile, Durant settles for things out of a lack of aggression. Just look at Durant’s field goal percentage sans Westbrook.