The less you play the “What if?” game, the more successful your franchise is. This season, the Oklahoma City Thunder had two big “What if’s?”
We’ve talked enough about the James Harden trade and what the Thunder could have possibly been had they kept him.
How good was the Thunder team this season had Russell Westbrook not gotten hurt? Would they have been up in the Western Conference Finals right now looking like a team headed back to the NBA Finals?
The Thunder won a franchise-record 60 games this season. They were once again one of the most efficient offenses in the NBA and became a top five defense as well. The chemistry was there too. With Westbrook, everyone knew their role and their place. The lost look that the Thunder showed after the Westbrook injury would not have been seen had he never gotten hurt.
The Thunder lost to the Memphis Grizzlies in five games and lost four in a row after narrowly winning the first game. Memphis was playing great basketball at the time of that series and would have been a tough out for the Thunder even if Westbrook was healthy.
Westbrook always tended to struggle against Memphis too, shooting around 40 percent from the field over the past few years and saw his turnovers increase as well. There’s no question the Thunder would have been in better shape to beat Memphis with Russ, but maybe not as much as you would think.
It’s safe to say that Mike Conley wouldn’t have dominated as much if Westbrook was around. Conley’s play ended up being the difference in the series. For all of the production that came from Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol, the Thunder could have survived despite that had they been able to keep the others in check.
Think about how close those games were even without Westbrook. Never did the Grizzlies blow OKC out. There were always about five possessions per game too where the Thunder offense looked very ugly. Those were the possessions where Westbrook was always so valuable. He could create something out of nothing. Sometimes it was a forced shot but it always had a decent chance of going in or would at least produce a better offensive rebounding opportunity as he would always draw a lot of attention as he shot.
It’s no guarantee, but I think the Thunder get past Memphis with Westbrook. Homecourt would have been huge in determining this. Remember, Westbrook always played much better at home and the Thunder went 1-3 at home in the playoffs without him. They really missed him there.
Beating the San Antonio Spurs would have been a much greater challenge for a healthy Thunder team. OKC really needed what James Harden gave them last year in the Western Conference Finals and it would have been hard for them to find that production from either Kevin Martin or Reggie Jackson this season against San Antonio.
With homecourt advantage, the Thunder wouldn’t be losing in five to the Spurs, I can guarantee you that. They would have played them close in the series would have been decided in six or seven games. The Thunder have Kevin Durant and the Spurs do not. That may have been enough to close out a few games and get the Thunder past San Antonio.
Waiting for the Thunder in the Finals would most likely have been Miami. If somehow Indiana beats the Heat, then Thunder fans should be extremely upset that they didn’t get a chance to return to the Finals this season because a championship would have been very likely against the Pacers.
Miami dominated the Thunder in the regular season but make sure you notice how bad Dwyane Wade has looked in these playoffs. He’s hurt and not the same guy. I’m convinced that this would have given the Thunder a much better chance vs. Miami.
A champion will be decided in the next coming weeks and this year, an asterisk really needs to go by that team’s name. The injuries have been ridiculous this season and none was more impactful than Westbrook’s.