How much will Russell Westbrook’s injury hurt the OKC Thunder?


Apr 15, 2013; Oklahoma City, OK, USA; Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook (0) puts up a defensive front against the Sacramento Kings during the first half at Chesapeake Energy Arena. Mandatory Credit: Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports

The Oklahoma City Thunder received a tough blow yesterday when news came out that Russell Westbrook had knee surgery again and will miss the first 4-6 weeks of the season.

This extra setback for Westbrook was unexpected. His rehab was supposed to be going great and the realistic hope was that we wouldn’t even be able to tell he got injured when he returned for the start of the season.

Now, the entire season could be in trouble. Missing 4-6 weeks could really hurt the Thunder’s seeding and record.

The Thunder were already going to need to figure out a way to replace Kevin Martin. Now that it’s Martin and Westbrook, and it feels like we might see a Thunder team that’s losing more often than they have in years.

If Westbrook is out six weeks, then he will miss around 20 games or a fourth of the season.

If the Thunder were a completely healthy 60-game win team then that means they’d win about 15 of those games. Without Westbrook, that number probably goes down a bit, maybe even closer to .500.

It’s hard to imagine the Thunder being a .500 team even without Westbrook. My bet is they are able to stay above that mark pretty easily with a record placing them somewhere around 4-5 in the Western Conference.

If you really measure the amount of wins not having Westbrook could cost the Thunder, it may only be around 3-4, assuming he is able to come back at 100 percent afterwards and not miss a beat, which may be tough as well.

With any injury or loss, comes with it opportunity as well. No Westbrook means Reggie Jackson will start and Jeremy Lamb will get a lot of playing time as well. Those will be the two players that the most is asked from with no Westbrook.

I think Jackson has proven he is ready to start for this team, and he should be able to hold his own against most opponents. Jackson will very rarely be at a physical disadvantage, so it will just be up to his growth and development as to how productive he can be.

Jackson might be averaging close to 40 minutes per game with Westbrook out, or at least playing that much when the Thunder are in close games, which may be nearly every night. That experience could really go a long way for the season if Jackson takes another step up.

It’s hard to tell with Lamb what he will be able to bring. There will be a learning curve for sure, but one thing he won’t have to do is defer, no one will. Lamb can come in and let it fly, do his thing and hopefully, grow up real quick.

The biggest worry is that the Thunder will still be running the same things they would with Westbrook, and we will see what we saw in the playoffs last year: a stagnant offense due to the missing chaos Westbrook can provide.

The Thunder offense just isn’t good enough without Westbrook and there is a chance it will look like one of the worst in the entire NBA at times.

But I don’t think we will see the exact same thing we saw in the playoffs. The Thunder had much less time to prepare for no Westbrook then, and were going against playoff defenses and a really good defense in general in the Memphis Grizzlies.

When the Thunder are playing teams like the Jazz or Suns, they should still be able to muster up some elite scoring behind Kevin Durant and company.

Without question, the largest concern with Westbrook being out so long is how he will come back. I don’t think the injury is serious enough where it will really affect his game. But Westbrook is typically a slow starter to the season. Missing the first 20 games or so might mean that Westbrook won’t be Westbrook until the season is halfway over. That’s something that could cost the Thunder very valuable seeding spots and much more.

Best case scenario, Westbrook comes back and his athleticism is there immediately. By the time he gets back to his old self, the playoffs are starting and he’s playing the best basketball of his career. The timing could work out where the Thunder peak during the playoffs and if that’s the case, it may not matter if they are a 4 or 5 seed.

There’s no denying that this season just got a lot tougher. It’s hard to imagine the Thunder winning the most games in their conference. But let’s also not forget that they have a lot of things going for them still, like the second-best player on the planet who may very well win the MVP with the numbers he’ll be putting up sans Westbrook.