Russell Westbrook had surgery during the off-season, he was presumed to be out until December. That was a huge blow for the Thunder, and the questions started to arise. Where would they get their scoring from? Can they be good defensively?
Well, the news broke today that Westbrook has been cleared and will start tonight against the Suns. This could be a season saver for Oklahoma City. With a deep Western Conference, the Thunder could have seen themselves with a hole in the standings.
In their first two games, the Thunder were underwhelming. They faced off against the lowly Utah Jazz in the season opener, and it took a 42 point performance from Kevin Durant to pull away a win at the buzzer. They couldn’t generate any offense in their second game against the Timberwolves, and they were destroyed.
The Thunder have a huge issue. Scott Brooks is the issue. Although Brooks may be a good coach, but he has so many problems on the offensive ends. He has basic offensive sets that can be broken easily, but he is constantly bailed out by Westbrook and Durant, who are some of the best isolation players in the entire league. When you watch the Thunder without Westbrook, you can see how they struggle when their sets are broken. Serge Ibaka, Thabo Sefolosha, and Kendrick Perkins are players who can’t create their own shot, so Durant is left with too much too carry. When Westbrook is on the floor, he is so athletic and talented that he puts so much pressure on the defense, it leads to easy opportunities. Defenses can’t sag off of Russell, so Durant sees more single coverage.
He will have some rust, but you will see a tangible difference in the way they play tonight. As much criticism as he receives for his shot selection–the Thunder need Westbrook to be successful. He also adds a new level of defensive intensity. His speed and strength cut off the opponent’s initial penetration, and they will avoid a lot of games like the one against Minnesota.
The Thunder got an early Christmas present on Sunday, as they got their catalyst back early. No one is happier than Kevin Durant right now.