A season-ending knee injury has left Kevin Durant without teammate Russell Westbrook. Starsky no longer has Hutch. Lee has lost Carter. Jack has lost Reggie. Durant has lost Westbrook on a mission that will likely take him from Oklahoma City to Miami (in all likelihood) in pursuit of an NBA Championship.
“I sense it's been an emotional 48 hours for him,” Thunder head coach Scott Brooks told Yahoo!’s Adrian Wojnarowski, “there's no way around it.”
Brooks has a mystery of his own on his hands. How is his team going to proceed without Westbrook?
Not only has Oklahoma City lost a player who started all 82 games this season, played nearly 35 minutes per game and averaged 7.4 assists and 23 points per game, but Westbrook and Durant were basically inseparable as teammates, writes Wojnarowski:
Westbrook isn't so much a teammate, as much as a force of nature. For five years, Westbrook never missed a game. He never missed practices. Durant and Westbrook were together in the preseason, the regular season, All-Star weekends and the NBA playoffs. They were together for USA Basketball in the world championships and Olympics.
With Durant and Westbrook, Brooks was essentially directing his own buddy cop film.
The player that will be most affected pragmatically by this transition will not be Durant, but Thabo Sefolosha.
While Durant will remain at his natural position, shooting forward, with Serge Ibaka and Kendrick Perkins at the 4 and 5, the Thunder will need more production from its backcourt.
Sefolosha is a strong wing defender with good size for a guard (6’7", 215 pounds), but he has poor offensive instincts and is a mediocre outside shooter who is prone to turning the ball over and taking bad shots.
When Westbrook is on the floor, this is no big deal. His 23 points per game is second on the team only to Durant and, in fact, he gets criticized for taking too many shots. That production will be dearly missed now, especially because teams can focus their defense on Durant, who led the team with 28 points per game.
This means that the Thunder are better off going with Reggie Jackson at the point and Kevin Martin at the 2.
Unlike Sefolosha, Jackson has good court vision and can create offense without turning the ball over. His critics say that the second-year player out of Boston College focuses more on scoring the ball than setting up his teammates, but without Westbrook’s production, the Thunder need production from the backcourt.
Jackson is unlikely to score 23 points a night, but he should get help from veteran Kevin Martin. At 6’7”, 185 pounds, Martin has similar size to Sefolosha, but he weighs significantly less. What he lacks in strength and intensity on defense, he makes up with his ability to score the ball and draw fouls.
That is not to say that Sefolosha will not play for the duration of Oklahoma City’s playoff run. He is still the superior defender and, in tandem with Ronnie Brewer, can be used in defensive situations. The major difference is that Sefolosha, who made 81 starts this year, will be coming off the bench.
The second guard pairing is going to be interesting. It is less Starsky and Hutch and more Felix and Oscar. Derek (“I don’t want to play in Dallas”) Fisher, a 17-year NBA veteran, is likely to be paired with rookie Jeremy (“I was seriously playing with the Tulsa 66ers a few weeks ago”) Lamb, making the league’s version of The Odd Couple.
Fisher, 38, won’t be frightened in the bright lights of the playoffs. While he might not have as much to offer as he did in his Laker days. Lamb, who lit up the D-League (20.3 PPG) this year, can pick up the slack in that department.
Westbrook’s injury is no fun for anyone associated with the Thunder, but by making some adjustments to their backcourt, Oklahoma City can piece together a team that will go deep into the playoffs and perhaps give the mighty Miami Heat a run for their money.