The Oklahoma City Thunder weren’t going anywhere without Russell Westbrook, so the point guard decided he’ll come back early to help out Kevin Durant, bringing his energy, athleticism, speed and selfishness all back in one package to lead his team in a 103-96 win over the Phoenix Suns.
Calculations made about Westbrook win shares and his projected time off the floor put out the following numbers: Westbrook should have been out for six weeks, meaning around 21 games, and according to his win share numbers from last season, that would have amounted to 3 or 4 wins. In the very tight Western conference, coming back early might mean the difference between home court advantage or not.
It’s not that Westbrook suddenly turned the Thunder into an eye-pleasing team to watch. It’s still based on iso’s and simple screen-and pop shooting. However, the speed in which they’re able to do it with Westbrook on the floor is worth wins against some teams in this league, including the Phoenix Suns, who might have an enjoyable duo in the backcourt, but not much else to show far.
Kevin Durant rebounded from his awful game against the Timberwolves, scoring 33 points and adding 10 rebounds. Russell Westbrook hasn’t played since last year’s playoff, but that didn’t stop him from taking 16 shots in a wild and confused game from him, making clear that no one forgets that he’s allowed to shoot just as much as Durant does, regardless of their preparation levels and what’s good or not for the team.
Both players hit 11 free throws as the Suns kept wide open lanes and couldn’t do much to stop the Thunder in the paint, scoring 46 points from there and 50 off the Suns’ turnovers, with Westbrook finishing the game dishing 7 assists, followed by Reggie Jackson, the only other Thunder player in double figures besides the usual two, adding 5 assists as well.
It’s not fair to judge the Thunder based on Wesbtook’s first game, but the past teaches us that things aren’t going to be a lot more organized than this. After years of developing until building a championship caliber team, the Thunder need to become more than a team that’s entire success or failure destiny relies on the individual ability and shooting of Durant and Westbrook. If Scott Brooks still hasn’t been able to slightly change that way of thinking on the floor, than he’s clearly doing something wrong.
Serge Ibaka has been a disappointment so far this season, which means that their attempts at making up for that third-scorer points aren’t coming along too swimmingly. Ibaka is averaging 8.7 points per game, shooting 27.5% from the field. It hasn’t stopped him from taking 13.3 shots per game.
There are two things that Westbrook does at a high level: He wins. He’s a winner. The guy plays the game like it’s supposed to be played. It’s not always going to be perfect but he plays with everything he has every single night. To me that’s inspiring. The second thing is leadership. It’s taken him some time to get that . Now he is our leader.