The Oklahoma City Thunder have become a vastly different team since Russell Westbrook has been out with his knee injury.
The chaos ingredient was suddenly removed from OKC’s simple offense and it has left the team much easier to defend. It’s gotten very ugly at times watching the Thunder offense. Kevin Durant is forced to do everything for large portions of the game and defenses have loaded up on him.
The defense suffered as well in the Houston Rockets series as the Thunder became less able to match up against smaller lineups.
In the Thunder’s second round matchup with the Memphis Grizzlies, Westbrook shouldn’t be missed as much as he was vs. Houston.
The main reason for this is that Westbrook traditionally struggles vs. the Grizzlies. Memphis – one of the getter defenses in the league – held Westbrook to 36.1 percent shooting this season in three games. Who can forget Westbrook’s 0-for-13 game vs. the Grizzlies a year ago?
Memphis has always been able to contain Westbrook better than most teams. The biggest reason for this is their size in the frontcourt and their ability to shut down driving lanes that Westbrook is used to having against other opponents.
Memphis slows the game down too and the hyper Westbrook often comes in out of control and out of pace against the Grizzlies. Mike Conley does a decent job against him and Tony Allen an even better one.
You can look at replacing a struggling Westbrook in two ways in this matchup:
1. Since Westbrook struggles against Memphis, then Reggie Jackson will struggle even more so.
2. It will now be easier for the Thunder to replace Westbrook since they don’t have to replace as much production.
I think that the second way will be the more accurate assessment in this series mainly because Jackson isn’t out there to play exactly how Westbrook did and Russ’ absence opens up other options for the Thunder, options that may actually be better choices in this matchup vs. Memphis.
There will be much less possessions in this series vs. Memphis than against Houston. That’s a good thing for the Thunder since they have Durant and Memphis doesn’t. Durant’s also playing out of his mind right now and posting the highest usage rate of his life, which in this series is an upgrade from Westbrook.
Durant had 35 points, 15 rebounds and six assists in yesterday’s Game 1 win. He dominated in the fourth quarter shooting 6-for-7 from the field and scoring 12 points in the final 7:20, including the go-ahead field goal with 11 seconds left.
Durant has free reign now without having to share with Westbrook. I’m not saying that is good for the long run and that the Thunder are better without Westbrook. They certainly aren’t. But against Memphis, this may actually not be so bad of a thing not having Russ, especially if he would have struggled against the Grizzlies like he normally does.
We will find out as this series goes on.