May 21, 2014; San Antonio, TX, USA; Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook (0) walks off the court after the game against the San Antonio Spurs in game two of the Western Conference Finals of the 2014 NBA Playoffs at AT&T Center. The Spurs won 112-77. Mandatory Credit: Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

Russell Westbrook's health is the key to the Oklahoma City Thunder

Over the last few years, the (lack of) health of Oklahoma City Thunder point guard Russell Westbrook has kept the Thunder from reaching the level they aspire to hit. After losing to the Miami Heat in the 2012 NBA Finals, they were defeated by the Memphis Grizzlies in the second round of the playoffs in 2013 (Westbrook did not play). Westbrook’s injury last season may have kept them from getting home court advantage in the 2014 postseason (Westbrook missed 36 games) where they were defeated by the San Antonio Spurs in six games in the Western Conference Finals.

Steve Kyler of Basketball Insiders believes Westbrook is not only the key to the Thunder’s season but may be the key to keeping star forward Kevin Durant, the 2013-2014 NBA MVP, long-term.

As the clock ticks down on the eventual free agency of Thunder star Kevin Durant, the Thunder need Westbrook on the floor and need to get back to the NBA Finals.

Injury created opportunity last season and that may open the door for Westbrook and Jackson to play together, which is a far more potent and efficient look for the Thunder. The problem becomes if Westbrook’s knee starts acting up.

The Thunder stayed above the waterline without Westbrook, but given how many teams in the West improved this offseason, spotting the competition 36 games may not work out as well as it did a season ago. For the Thunder to get where they want to be Westbrook has to stay healthy.

Last season, Westbrook averaged 21.8 points, 6.9 assists, 5.7 rebounds and 1.9 steals per game while shooting 43.7% from the field, 31.8% from beyond the arc and 82.6% from the free throw line. In his six-year NBA career, the fourth-overall pick of the 2008 NBA Draft has put up 20.1 points, 6.9 assists, 4.9 rebounds and 1.6 steals per game while shooting 43.3% from the floor, 30.5% from three and 81.5% from the charity stripe.

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Tags: Oklahoma City Thunder Russell Westbrook

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