Reggie Jackson will give a valiant effort as a replacement, but if Russell Westbrook doesn't return this postseason, the Thunder can't reach their ultimate goal of winning a championship.
The news that Westbrook is out with a torn meniscus is obviously a major blow to the Oklahoma City Thunder's title hopes.
ESPN's Rachel Nichols tweeted:
Wow. OKC Thunder's Russell Westbrook undergoing surgery to repair meniscus tear in right knee. No timetable for return— Rachel Nichols (@Rachel__Nichols) April 26, 2013
The injury will thrust Jackson, a second-year pro, into the spotlight. Playing backup to Westbrook doesn't lend itself to many opportunities to play extended minutes. He is an absolute workhorse who up to now had never missed a game.
Jackson is being thrown right into the fire with this injury taking place during the playoffs. One bright spot here is that per Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports, there is a chance that Westbrook could return this postseason after surgery.
Y! Story: OKC's Russell Westbrook could return within weeks -- not months -- depending on course of knee procedure. tinyurl.com/cs936rq— Adrian Wojnarowski (@WojYahooNBA) April 26, 2013
I'm not sure anyone can be compared to Metta World Peace—for a variety of reasons—but he did return to action just 12 days after having surgery on a torn meniscus in his left knee.
Another source of optimism is the fact that the Thunder are already up 2-0 on a Houston Rockets team that they will probably defeat even without Westbrook.
The Grizzlies and Clippers could very well be headed for seven games. At this point, the Thunder could use the time to allow Westbrook to heal, but also to allow Jackson to find himself in the offense.
Make no mistake, the Thunder cannot win the NBA championship without Westbrook, but it is possible they could hold things down, if a return this postseason is possible.
How far can the Thunder go if Westbrook doesn't return?
Of major importance in this scenario is the play of Jackson. The worst thing he can do is attempt to emulate Westbrook's game. Westbrook is one of the most explosive players in the NBA.
Jackson doesn't have the athleticism to attack the basket the way Westbrook does.
Instead, Jackson must be the facilitator that some believe Westbrook should be. We've all heard the criticisms of Westbrook for taking too many shots from Kevin Durant. Jackson's best approach would be to play the role of pure point guard.
That is a challenge because Jackson is more of a scoring guard himself. But for the sake of team effectiveness, this is the best way for him to play.
Westbrook's impact will not just be missed on offense. He is also one of the most active defensive players in the league. He was averaging a league-high three steals per game in the playoffs. He was ninth in pilfers during the regular season.
Jackson must really step up his effort on that end of the floor. Can he keep up the pace? Westbrook has an almost inhuman amount of energy.
But stamina could be an issue for Jackson. He has played just 14.2 minutes per game this season, and he played in just 11.1 minutes as a rookie.
He will see a significant spike in playing time now. That is just one of the variables in this situation for OKC.
Ultimately, the Thunder can only play the hand they've been dealt. They hope Jackson's play can sustain them while praying Westbrook's return is in the cards.
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