With the Thunder’s loss to the Denver Nuggets on Tuesday, and the loss to the Grizzlies yesterday, there has been a lot of talk regarding the Thunder saying that they are really missing James Harden. However I personally believe that the Thunder will be just fine without Harden, and will go far in the playoffs once again.
Russell Westbrook’s huge improvement from last year is the main reason why I say this. This isn’t the best time for saying this, as his game against the Grizzlies wasn’t very good at all. However, the improvement that I have seen this season is pretty incredible. Last year all of the concerns with Westbrook not passing to Durant and being a bit out of control were totally legit and were a serious problem for OKC. Coming into this season that was one of the main concerns I had with this Thunder team, but Westbrook has really impressed me with how he has responded this year, as he has corrected that problem for the most part. In the critical situations Westbrook makes sure that KD gets the ball. That was one of James Harden’s main responsibility’s last year and Westbrook has picked up where he left off in 2013.
Now, because of KD’s skinny frame it makes it tough at times for Westbrook to get him the ball. If Durant is unable to get it, then we know that Russ is extremely capable of taking the ball and scoring himself. Last year he was great at getting to the hoop, this year he is incredible. I seriously have never seen anything like him. His combination of speed, quickness, and athleticism is unrivaled in the NBA and when he is on, nobody can stop him. Looking at Westbrook’s stats you cannot tell much of a difference from last year, but when you watch him play it is obvious that he is much more under control this year, and he knows when and when not to try and score for OKC.
The second reason I don’t think Harden will be missed in the playoffs is because of just how insanely talented Kevin Durant is. Durant is a legit 6’10 and his wingspan is around 7’4. He is one of the best shooters in the NBA and it is pretty much impossible to stop this man from scoring. When KD wants to, he can take a game over and put the opposing team to bed. The 3rd quarter of last nights game versus the Grizzlies was a perfect example. Midway through the 3rd quarter Durant had only 12 points on 4-14 shooting. He then went on a tear scoring 15 straight points and getting the Thunder back in the game.
When you have two guys like Westbrook and Durant on your team, you will be just fine. Harden helped them “right the ship” at times during the 2012 playoffs, but with Westbrook being able to “control” his game much better this year, and with Durant’s ability to score whenever he wants, I believe the Thunder will be right back in the NBA Finals this June.