The NBA Playoffs just got a lot more interesting and Miami’s road to a repeat championship just got a whole lot easier. The Oklahoma City Thunder, who many sports analysts see as Miami’s only real competition, has suffered a major blow to its personnel. Something that hasn’t really happened to this point. Russell Westbrook, its fiery All-Star point guard, will need knee surgery to repair a cartilage tear. The weather forecast for OKC used to be flashes of brilliance and plenty of thunderous replays, but now its all doom and gloom.
The rest of the Oklahoma squad are trying to remain cheery in the wake of the news. His partner-in-crime, Kevin Durant maintained that they’re “not trying to rush [Russell] or bring him back ahead of schedule. [They] want to make sure he’s healthy and his knee is right.” He added, “That’s our only concern with it right now. … We have to come together as a team and worry about the basketball.” Patrick Beverley―the Houston Rockets point guard who crashed into Westbrook’s knee during game two, causing the injury―believes that OKC won’t be any less dangerous without him.
Certainly, the Thunder still remain one of the clear favorites to make it out of the Western Conference, but losing such a crucial cog of their well-oiled machine will end up costing them sooner rather than later. Only three other players in the league, one of which is Kevin Durant, account for a higher percentage of their team’s points and assists. On a team with good offensive tempo, Westbrook’s loss might be easily veiled against a team like the Rockets, but will be hard to hide against juggernauts like the Miami Heat. Even with Russell in last year’s Finals, OKC had a hard time overcoming the Heat’s stifling defense.
In all likelihood, Reggie Jackson will take on the ballhandling responsibilities, but it’s hard to project how that will turn out for OKC. The lineup consisting of Jackson, Durant, Ibaka, Sefolosha, and Perkins has only seen 19 minutes of playing time. With Westbrook on the court, OKC’s offense is rated at 115.2 points per 100 possessions. Without him it sinks to 109.6. Also without him, their effective field goal percentage, offensive rebounding, and free throws attempted all drop. This era of the OKC squad has actually never really played without Westbrook, making it harder to project how they’ll perform without him. Scott Brooks uses him so much that his usage percentage for this year is at 32.75%. Or good for 53rd in all-time rankings.
Best projections put Westbrook back on the court for the 2013 NBA Finals, but it’s hard to say if Oklahoma will get there without its franchise point guard.