Russell Westbrook makes his preseason debut not wearing an OKC Thunder jersey for the first time in 12 seasons — and it was weird!
OKC Thunder fans knew it was coming. We had all summer to prepare for it. Yet, still, it didn’t feel right no matter how long we stared at that image of Russell Westbrook wearing a jersey that wasn’t orange, teal and white.
For those who either set their alarms or like me stayed up, we got to see Russell Westbrook in his debut with his new team this morning. Doubtful I’ll ever get used to seeing the Brodie in any other uniform than the OKC Thunder no matter how long he plays for the Houston Rockets or any other club for that matter.
As far as how Westbrook and James Harden will fit, this morning’s Japan Games didn’t offer much intel. Although both Russ and Harden started the first and third quarters Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni staggered their minutes with Westbrook assuming a similar role to that of Chris Paul last season.
While Thunder fans are getting to witness an entirely new concept of ball and player movement this game was a reminder of what used to be. Many of the Rockets offensive sets (especially early) witnessed the former Thunder superstars walk the ball up the court and commit to iso ball. It was the old your turn, my turn game of Thunder yesteryear.
Understandably when you are as talented as James Harden it’s logical he would elect to use isolation plays. Yet, it seems there is still a long way for the duo to go if they want to capitalize on each other’s talents.
As for Westbrook he swished a 3-point shot but only connected on one of his six attempts. He also hit from mid-range, used his blazing speed on a couple of occasions and put some English on the ball for one impressive score. Oh, and news flash he hit his free throws connecting on four of five from the stripe. Sure seems like the enigmatic point guard won’t be hesitant to let fly this season.
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Still, the assertion by the two former MVPs of knowing each other so well they simply need to flip a switch wasn’t evident. D’Antoni will need to figure out how to best capitalize on the duo and that logically would be to run more, increase the pace and for Harden to play off the ball more frequently.
Also of note, there was an unusually large number of former OKC Thunder players involved in this game. On the Rockets, Harden and Westbrook are joined by Thabo Sefolosha who looks to be an x-factor. For the Raptors Serge Ibaka and Russ’ old dance partner, Cameron Payne brought the former Thunder player total up to five.
Perhaps it was a bit of sentimentality which drove me to watch this game or just because every season I’m excited to see Westbrook return to the hardwood. Although we’d all like to see Russ happy and succeeding what today proved for me is I’ll simply never get used to him not being on the OKC Thunder.
Moving forward, OKC Thunder fans prepare for their own preseason opener with the satisfaction of knowing this year’s team is dedicated to ball and player movement. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander leads this new iteration of the Thunder and while we’ll miss Westbrook it’s time to embrace the new generation.
To that end, we’ve been running polls on Twitter to discover what Thunder Nation is most excited about and ‘watching the young guys’ is the predominant winner. They’ll be ample opportunity for that at the BOK Center as the Thunder take on the Mavericks at 7:00 p.m. CT. Enjoy the game tonight.