Russell Westbrook returned to play on Thursday night as the Oklahoma City Thunder battled in a tough loss against the Miami Heat. Westbrook has been sidelined the past 27 games due to swelling in his injured right knee, but who would have thought the team would experience such success without their second best player? The Oklahoma City Thunder, lead by NBA leading scorer Kevin Durant, have the best record in the Western Conference and appear to be primed to make another NBA finals appearance.
With Westbrook returning into the equation, my initial thoughts were that he would disrupt the success of Durant, but It appears the Thunder need all the help they can get if they wish to defeat a team as talented as the Miami Heat. During Westbrook’s absence, Durant finally proved that he can carry his team and facilitate the basketball as well as any star in the league. If you’re an honest fan you have to admit that you’ve pondered the thought that perhaps the Thunder were better off without Westbrook. I hope such a false and temporary believe has exited your thoughts and their loss at home by the hands of the Miami Heat have persuaded you of how important Westbrook is to his team.
Westbrook is an aggressive player who likes to shoot the ball. Should he be putting up as many shot attempts as Durant? It all depends on the situation. Lets draw up a scenario; what happens when Durant is locked down offensively by dual defenders and the rest of the team can’t seem to be able to buy a basket? These are the situations where you need a player like Russell Westbrook who can make a team pay for a double-team. He shoots, he scores.
In all honesty I haven’t been the biggest fan of Westbrook over the years but I highly doubt the Thunder could win a playoffs series without him in the lineup. He may be an erratic shooter at times, but his quickness and ability to get to the basket are attributes his team can’t go without. Reggie Jackson has filled the point guard position better than expected, but he isn’t much of a scoring threat when compared to players like Chris Paul or Dwyane Wade (players he could potentially face in the playoffs). Another concern is whether or not Jackson can raise his scoring level of play during the post season.
And then there was Serge Ibaka…
Ibaka has also raised the level of his game while becoming the perfect complimentary player to Durant. You could argue the fact that Ibaka has performed like the modern day Scottie Pippen but with more physical presence, toughness, and better accuracy from the three-point line (shooting 37.5 percent this season). Durant, Ibaka, and supporting cast have collectively proven to be an elite regular season team, but we know all to well that the NBA Playoffs requires a higher level of play where only the strong survive. Ibaka has struggled offensively throughout the season and has a tendency to vanish when there is a need to score points. It all rolls back to Russell Westbrook, the only player you can undoubtedly count on for points when your best player can’t find a bucket.
Overall, Westbrook won’t be the player he once was after playing a few games. It’s going to take a few weeks for him to get his timing back but the explosiveness is still there. The Miami Heat have found a way to limit Kevin Durant offensively while challenging other players to score, the only player in an Oklahoma City Thunder uniform who has the ability to rise to the challenge is Russell Westbrook. The only question is will he?