It’s been a few days now since the news broke that Russell Westbrook was going to miss the first 4-6 weeks of the season. It’s given us all now a chance to digest the situation and think about what this means for the Thunder this season.
I wrote about this yesterday but to summarize, Westbrook will probably miss around 20 games and it will give players like Reggie Jackson and Jeremy Lamb a great chance to develop, which the Thunder really need them to do anyway.
The great Zach Lowe of Grantland wrote about the Thunder and the Westbrook injury, bringing up some of the same things I did and then writing about how the Thunder coaching staff needs to improve regardless.
Those are all reasons for blind optimism. But that’s the wrong reaction here, and it was wrong before Westbrook’s injury. This team cannot go into the playoffs with the same style of play, and same rotation choices, and expect to win four rounds. It needs to craft something like a continuous offensive system, rather than a handful of scripted plays, and that falls mostly on Brooks and the coaching staff. A simple offense was healthy for these guys when they were young, inexperienced, and learning on the fly. And it worked damn well in the macro picture. That’s how good Durant and Westbrook are. But in the micro picture of the postseason, when there is very little room for inefficiency, the Thunder needed to be better.
It’s all about preparing for the postseason and when you look at that right now, Westbrook should be fine by then.
The style of play for the Thunder this season will of course be similar to last year’s, but the hope is that it will once again improve some.
Having Westbrook and Durant gives you a really good excuse to not run anything complex, because they are so good one-on-one. You can survive with that.
Not having Westbrook for that first month or so, and remembering what it was like with just KD running the show in the playoffs, it really will have to force Scott Brooks and the staff to get more creative.
If they’re forced to find ways to use Lamb coming off screens and working off the ball, like how Kevin Martin did last year except more often, and even Ibaka on pindowns, that will be huge for the season. What the Thunder do without Westbrook will hopefully carry over when he comes back and the Thunder can become a more complete team.
But if the Thunder keep doing what they’ve been doing, survive the first month with Durant just going off every night, and then they return to their old ways when Westbrook is back, it won’t matter for the playoffs. The Thunder will likely lose to one of those great defensive teams like Memphis when they see them if they keep running the same stuff.
The ultimate point, once again, is that not having Westbrook is an opportunity more than anything else. It’s an opportunity to get better and become a more complete team, which is just what the Thunder need to do anyway.