The Oklahoma City Thunder have gone from the Western Conference favorites to a team fighting for their playoff lives since Russell Westbrook injured his knee in Game 2 of this series.
The loss of Westbrook is proving to be devastating for the Thunder, who most recently lost 107-100 at home to the Rockets last night.
Given the makeup of this Thunder team this season, Westbrook may very well be one of the most valuable players in the NBA, even more so than Durant to a degree.
This is about value and not about talent. Durant and LeBron are more talented than Westbrook without question but all that Westbrook was asked to do for this Thunder team puts him right up there with those two in terms of value.
Think about this: the Thunder basically run the simplest offense in the NBA. They’re the opposite of the Miami Heat and San Antonio Spurs yet are just as efficient and for most of the NBA season, had the most efficient offense in the NBA.
We are seeing that same offense in the last three games vs. Houston. It is ugly. Without Westbrook, the offense has been revealed for what it truly is.
Westbrook was basically an insertion of chaos into the offense. He could single-handedly make it unpredictable and overwhelming for opponents. He would attack at odd times, pull-up for jumpers in transition and just always keep the engine revving at a high level.
With the Russ chaos factor now missing, the Thunder have fallen back to a slightly above average.
In the last three games, the Thunder are scoring 106.0 points per 100 possessions. They scored 112.0 points per 100 possessions in the first two games of this series and 110.2 in the regular season.
The team’s true shooting percentage has also dropped about 4-5 points and the assist percentage is down to quite a bit as well.
The Thunder were able to match and exceed Houston’s pace with Westbrook in this series. That hasn’t been the case at all in the last three games as the Thunder have drastically slowed down the pace by about five possessions per game. Westbrook gave the Thunder the ability to be a high-octane offense and also one that could thrive in the halfcourt and now they are neither.
Even defensively the Thunder are now much worse without Russ. Did you see how Aaron Brooks and Patrick Beverley penetrate last night whenever they wanted? Westbrook is by no means a perfect defender but that doesn’t happen if he’s on the floor. The open threes the Rockets have been going would not nearly be as frequent either, especially considering how Westbrook plays the passing lanes.
The other crazy part of this is that Durant has stepped up in Russ’ absence as much as anyone could have expected that he would. He’s been amazing averaging 38.3 points, 5.7 assists and 9.7 rebounds in 44.7 minutes per game. He’s doing that while still posting a 65.1 true shooting percentage, which is better than what he shot in his 50-40-90 regular season.
What Durant has done the last three games is insane. He didn’t score in the fourth quarter last night, which may be a sign of how difficult it will be for Durant to continue playing at this level.
Imagine if Durant performed like a human these last three games and the increased workload resulted in his efficiency decreasing instead of increasing. Where would the Thunder be and what would they look like?
The Thunder are in real trouble right now. They should still be able to win this series. It’s hard to imagine them losing four times in a row to the Rockets even without Russ.
What awaits them in the next round is looking more like the end of the road when just a week ago it was supposed to be the next step toward a championship.
The one winner in this is Westbrook. The hate and criticism should completely leave him now. Scott Brooks’ turn now.