Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the three most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.
VIDEO: The Beat: Westbrook returns
With Russell Westbrook back from injury this early, care to revise your look at the Western Conference?
Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: No revision necessary. I had Oklahoma City as one of my top three teams in the West, jockeying with San Antonio behind the Clippers, all ahead of the trendy Golden State forecasts. Getting Westbrook sooner rather than later clearly helps them with every extra game he plays, but he’ll likely have a rust curve to navigate and the others on that roster (minus Kevin Martin now) face pressure to put up their 45-55 points per game, assuming Durant-Westbrook is good for 50.
Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: Not really. I picked SA and OKC 1-2 in the West by a narrow margin. I’ll still give a healthy Spurs team a narrow edge because the Thunder still don’t have a suitable James Harden substitute.
Jeff Caplan, NBA.com: Why would I? I picked OKC to win it all. My only concern continues to be if the Thunder will have enough beyond Westbrook and Kevin Durant.
Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: I’m good. The surprise is that Westbrook is back this soon, not that he is back. I had the Thunder third in the West, behind the Clippers and Spurs, so OKC was always going to be a serious threat, whether its point guard returned in November or January. All that mattered was that when he did return, it was with good health. If the knee issue persists, then we’ve got an issue. But if Westbrook has ramped up to 100 percent by the second half of the season and the playoffs, then it’s the rest of the league that has a problem.
John Schuhmann, NBA.com: No. The timing of Westbrook’s return (to the lineup or to 100 percent) was never my concern with the Thunder. My concerns were their ability to make up for the departure of Kevin Martin and the ineffectiveness of Kendrick Perkins. Time will tell if their new bench can prove itself reliable, if Scott Brooks is willing to play small more, and if the Thunder can count themselves as one of the West contenders (along with the Spurs) without obvious flaws. The West is wide open and it could be a mid-season trade or two that helps sort things out.
Sekou Smith, NBA.com: Not at all. I picked the Golden State Warriors to come out of the West this year and I feel really good about that pick after watching them work so far this season. Russell Westbrook’s return does make things a bit more interesting, it certainly pushes the Oklahoma City Thunder right back into the middle of that mix. Still, I would have picked the Warriors whether Westbrook was healthy or not, whether he came back as himself or something less than what we’re all used to. When I look at the depth and balance of all of the teams out West the Warriors, in my eyes, are the most sound. All things being equal, meaning everyone’s major players remaining healthy (or as healthy as possible) for the duration of this season, I’m sticking with Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, Mark Jackson and the crew. If anything, I’d like to revise my Houston Rockets pick and push them a little higher up the food chain. But I need to see more of them before doing anything of the sort.
Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: No. I still think the Clips are the team to beat out West. At the same time, I’ve been saying all along that the Thunder did not need to make any knee-jerk moves at the start of the season without Westbrook, that they could tread water long enough without him to be a factor in the West. I had a sneaking suspicion that Westbrook would be back sooner than anyone thought, considering that before this injury he’d never missed a game, dating to high school. His presence teamed with Durant makes them a factor. But being a factor is different from being the best team in the West, and to me the Thunder just don’t have the depth to outlast a team like the Clippers.
Stefanos Triantafyllos, NBA.com Greece: I believe that we are living the days of the Thunder. Forget Tom Cruise. This one stars Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, the best 1-2 punch in the league. They are the favorite for taking the West, meaning that we found them exactly where we left them prior the injury of “RW”. Unless a former teammate (Harden) has his say.
Davide Chinellato, NBA.com Italia: Since I had the Thunder winning the West and trying to beat Miami in the Finals, my prediction won’t change. Westbrook is a fundamental addition to the Thunder’s system, providing a lot of leadership and another awesome offensive. The problem for Oklahoma City is that Westbrook and Durant are, at the moment, their only offensive weapons