Whether or not you condone the frantic, high-volume ferocity of Russell Westbrook, you saw how much he matters to the Oklahoma City Thunder in last season's playoffs. The three-time All-Star was injured on April 24 making a play against Patrick Beverly in Game 2 of a first-round series with the Houston Rockets. He remained in the game, but after two days would end up missing the rest of the playoffs. Oklahoma City, of course, beat Houston in six games but fell to the Memphis Grizzlies in the Western Conference semifinal round in five games.
ESPN.com has reported that Russell Westbrook's arthroscopic knee surgery on Tuesday will keep him from playing in the first 4-6 weeks of action. He had surgery on the same knee in May to repair a torn lateral meniscus. According to Thunder GM Sam Presti, this second surgery is not only necessary for the swelling, but gives Westbrook the best chance of returning 100 percent.
I lost enough belief in the Oklahoma City Thunder after they traded James Harden. No way could I pick them against the rugged and savvy, defensive-minded Grizzlies in last year's playoffs without Harden AND Westbrook to aid Kevin Durant. Since losing Harden's replacement, Kevin Martin (to Minnesota) the Thunder will likely turn to Reggie Jackson, who increased his scoring average by eight points last postseason, and Serge Ibaka will again be called upon to increase his offensive load as Westbrook recovers. Still, 87 percent of Ibaka's 194 made shots between 10-23 feet last season were assisted (per SB Nation). It's not just the 23 points and 7 assist production rate the Thunder miss without Westbrook, it's the constant threat of his presence that allows others like Ibaka, and even Durant, to operate without a defense loaded towards them... Like the Memphis Grizzlies.
Four to six weeks could seem longer than it sounds if Oklahoma City doesn't acquire help from the right places. Even when Westbrook returns, his own adjustments will need to take place along with his teammates'. With a wide open Western Conference shaped for this season, (Clippers, Spurs, Warriors, Grizzlies, Rockets...) OKC will need their ferocity back.
- Martin S.