It’s time to see for the first time in franchise history what the Oklahoma City Thunder will look like without Russell Westbrook. The timing couldn’t be any worse.
The Thunder are up 2-0 in their series with the Houston Rockets but only barely beat them in Game 2. One of the biggest reasons, to no surprise, that the Thunder are such a tough matchup for the Rockets was Westbrook.
We will have answers to a lot of questions tonight when the Thunder play without Westbrook. What will Kevin Durant look like without him? Will Serge Ibaka still be able to be effective without him? Are Kevin Martin and Reggie Jackson ready to step up?
Now, it’s really impossible to know exactly what the Thunder will look like without Russ. You can look at the numbers of how they produced with him off the floor this season but that doesn’t tell the whole story.
The most interesting thing is how Durant will be now. All of the defensive attention will be geared toward him more than ever. He will be constantly doubled in the post and in the pick-and-roll and coming off screens. He’s become a willing passer this season as he’s tried to imitate LeBron and now he will have the most opportunities to be a playmaker.
The key for KD will be keeping the turnovers down. Losing Westbrook is horrible but if the Thunder can somehow flip this into becoming a team that now turns the ball over much less, that will limit the loss.
Reggie Jackson and Derek Fisher
We will have players tweaking their roles and playing more minutes now. Jackson will start in his place and see a big increase in his minutes. He’s in just his second season this year and has really come on strong but increasing his minutes is something he may not totally be ready for. The good news is in this series vs. Houston, Jackson has a big athletic advantage against Houston’s point guards so the pressure won’t be on him too much yet.
Derek Fisher will be getting more minutes now too. Finally, that doesn’t feel like such a bad thing and his signing looks like a good one now. The reality is that the Thunder will need him now without Westbrook. He is a solid backup to Jackson who at times may be the better option, depending on how Jackson handles all of this.
Martin will definitely be playing more now. At times, Martin was not on the floor this season closing out games but he will be needed more than ever now without Westbrook. Martin really needs to become the second scorer on this team. He can kind of create his own shot now and then and the Thunder will need him to try.
Expect to see more isolation plays from Martin now. He’s actually pretty decent on isolation plays scoring 0.93 points per possession. He will need to be more aggressive than he’s ever been with the Thunder going forward.
Ibaka’s production has always been tied to Westbrook as much as any player in the league. When Westbrook was making good decisions and passes in the pick-and-roll, it was Ibaka who benefited the most. It will be interesting to see if Ibaka’s looks in the pick-and-pop now go down or if they stay the same. There’s a chance for either.
Ibaka should get more opportunities posting up. It won’t be a lot more but if he gets going at any point in the game, the Thunder will look to go back to him more than they ever have in the past. Ibaka has gotten much better in the post this season but is still very far away from being a consistent option down there.
I think we see a team trying to run the same stuff even though they’re now without Russ. KD will be handling the ball a lot more now, and he was already handling it quite a bit. Jackson will try and push in transition similar to how Westbrook did.
Westbrook wasn’t always the most efficient player in the world as we all know. So replacing his production is possible in a sense. Though, it’s hard to know if the Thunder are up to it. Not to mention, the Thunder were of course always at their best and looking like a title threat when Westbrook was efficient. The hope is that he would be that in the playoffs.
I think Durant will have moments where he goes to another level. He will take over some games but at the end of the day, Durant is better when he has Westbrook on the floor with him to take the attention away from him. At first, Durant will probably turn the ball over a lot but I think he figures out playing without Russ quickly.
Ibaka is the one I’m really worried about. Maybe not in the Houston series but in the second round, teams are easily going to be able to take him away. Russ created so much havoc for any defense that it was easy for Ibaka to get looks. Teams will focus on him more and his game is not good enough to score a lot by himself.
The Thunder should still be able to get past Houston with relative ease. It might take six games now instead of four or five but don’t worry, OKC will be advancing to Round 2.
The Clippers may very well and with good reason be considered the favorites in the second round now. Maybe even the Grizzlies would be. The series becomes so much tougher for OKC now without Russ. The good news is that Russ always really struggled against those teams and the Thunder still managed to beat them. So in the next round, the Thunder will basically only have to replace a struggling Russ and they should be able to still win the series. I doubt that series doesn’t go six or seven though.
Now is not the time to look past the second round. You can’t do that with the Thunder now without Russ.
Hopefully for the Thunder, Westbrook is somehow able to come back by the conference finals. It is possible but we don’t know enough yet to say.
Tonight, we get the first glimpse of OKC without him. It will be weird.