Russell Westbrook returned to the starting lineup for the Thunder last week vs. the Miami Heat after missing the previous 27 games.
The Thunder were 20-7 in those games without Westbrook and have lost their first two since he has returned.
Everyone is in a rush to point out the 0-2 record while ignoring the fact that the two losses came against Miami and the Clippers, the two teams who have given OKC the most trouble over the past three years. Or that the Thunder have played horrendous defense in those two games.
Those who thought the Thunder might be better without Westbrook are obviously dumb, but those thinking maybe the Thunder should be concerned that Westbrook won’t become his old self can rightfully believe that.
Because Westbrook hasn’t looked like his old self over the past two games. He’s on a minutes restriction playing 24 against Miami and 25 against the Clippers. He is shooting 7-for-25 from the field, has eight assists and seven turnovers.
Westbrook has only made two jump shots since coming back, a couple of threes vs. the Clippers. He’s shooting just 5-for-13 at the rim or 38.5 percent. He’s missed all three of his shots from the left block, where he likes to post up occasionally. And he is 0-for-3 on midrange jumpers.
There’s really only one word needed to describe what Westbrook has been and that’s rusty.
Why shouldn’t Thunder fans worry?
One, because Westbrook was rusty when he first returned this season. In four of his first five games this season, he shot 5-for-16, 5-for-19, 4-for-16 and 7-for-18. And Westbrook is traditionally a slow starter as he has always needed to get a few games under his belt before becoming the All-Star we all love to watch play.
Before these last two games, Westbrook was averaging 21-7-6 on the season. It almost felt like he should have been considered for the MVP with how good the Thunder were looking with him back in the lineup.
The only real reason to worry now about Westbrook would be if he looked like he had lost a step. That is certainly not the case. He’s been just as explosive as ever and looks exactly like he did back in early November.
Another concern should be the minutes restriction. We know Westbrook is a player that needs lots of reps to get going. Despite doing so much over those 27 games without Russ, Kevin Durant is still trailing Westbrook in usage percentage this season. Basically, Westbrook needs a lot of possessions to produce. I’d argue that he becomes more efficient as he goes and is a guy that really needs to warm up to get going.
The 24-25 minutes per game may be making it a little more difficult for Westbrook to find a rhythm. We don’t know yet for how long this minutes restriction will last. Westbrook is only averaging 32.2 minutes per game this season anyway, so increasing him from 24-25 to 30-32 shouldn’t be too huge of a deal to get done soon.
There’s no question the Thunder are at their best when Westbrook is at his best. He’s probably not going to be that playing 24-25 minutes per night. But give him a few more games against teams that aren’t elite and watch him starting to get his legs under him.
We have a precedent for what’s going on with Westbrook right now. The same thing happened in early November. There’s no need to worry unless this goes on for a few more weeks.