The Oklahoma City Thunder aren’t better off because Kevin Durant is injured. No one can be when such a player goes down. But Russell Westbrook now has a chance to be even more of an offensive focal point, and maybe make such an impression that it will put him in the MVP discussion.
There have already been opinions thrown around over the last couple of seasons that Westbrook just might be that good, and all it takes is a little bit of refining his game in order to actually make him the best player not just on the Thunder, but also in the NBA. Westbrook himself is currently saying, while the news of Durant being out for at least six to eight weeks and maybe more depending on the severity of his injury and the quality of his recovery, that his role isn’t going to change.
But what is Westbrook’s role? He’s not exactly a point guard. Point guards who are out on the floor to service the rest of the team between 17 to 19 shots per game. He’s not going to take exactly twice this amount of shots now that Durant won’t be playing for at least the first month of the regular season, but it’s not unlike him to have games with 22, 23 or more field goal attempts. Perry Jones and Jeremy Lamb aren’t going to take up all of the shots Durant had.
And the Thunder don’t operate within an organized offensive system anyway. That’s possible because of how good Durant is. A 6’11 forward who has infinite range on the floor, can’t be blocked and handles the ball like a point guard when he drives to the basket. Westbrook can’t shoot over anyone he wants and doesn’t operate very well without the ball. He’s not a bad 3-point shooter, but setting screens for him while he runs around the arc isn’t exactly something that’s going to be working a lot.
It’ll be entertaining. No one can argue about that. Westbrook is going to drive and attack the basket while having the ball more than ever before in his hands. Maybe it also means more chances for Reggie Jackson and Serge Ibaka to improve their scoring production. Steven Adams as well, if Scott Brooks finally starts pushing Kendrick Perkins out of the rotation. A player can be completely useless offensively for only a certain amount of time.
Durant will be back at some point and take over his team again, even though it’s always been a two-headed monster. Last season Westbrook had no choice but to take a step back, at least until the playoffs where his irrational shot making logic came back to hurt the Thunder in some finishes. Durant averaged 32 points per game. Westbrook had to start giving up on some shots and time with the ball.
But momentum can be generated, and maybe the Thunder will be a different team when Durant comes back. Maybe Westbrook will have himself a phenomenal start to the season that puts him in the same line of elite players, which is usually just James and Durant when it comes to the highest of classes. Winning the MVP doesn’t sound too likely, but considering Westbrook doesn’t see himself as inferior to anyone, it won’t be surprising to see him at least try to put up numbers worthy of being considered as the MVP.