In the wake of news reporting that Oklahoma City Thunder point guard Russell Westbrook underwent arthroscopic knee surgery and will miss the first four to six weeks of the regular season, the Thunder is trying to figure out how it can move forward without one of their star players.
What Westbrook means to the Thunder is already clear. This tweet from ESPN Stats & Info showcases how important he is to Oklahoma City when evaluating his Win Shares.
Shehan Peiris from Bleacher Report also argues Westbrook's importance especially as a facilitator for the offense.
Now, all of that will be gone for at least a month and perhaps more. In the best-case scenario, Westbrook misses 13 games if he is out for the minimum. At most, assuming the estimates are correct, he could miss roughly 21.
If the latter is the case, the Thunder will be without Westbrook for one quarter of the season. That puts a lot of pressure on teammates such as Kevin Durant. Durant can likely carry a sizable portion of the load, but will it be enough now that opponents will look to cover him even closer in Westbrook's absence?
Considering the talent in the Northwest Division—and the Western Conference in general—can an early obstacle like this be detrimental to Oklahoma City's season start?
They may be able to hold their own against some lower-caliber teams during that stretch, but the Thunder will have to face a playoff team from last season seven times over their first 14 games. Three of those seven matchups will be on the road which spells additional difficulties.
If there is ever a time where Oklahoma City is weak, the beginning of the season will be it.
The Thunder could then experience a rough start to their 2013-14 campaign. When Westbrook does return, he will have to get himself back on track and contribute immediately. How effective he will be shall be determined, but that time frame alone could spell further problems.
While this does not mean Oklahoma City's season prospectus is ruined, the injury will provide a significant hurdle for the team to overcome, and its chances of making it deep into the postseason are considerably hindered.
At this point, just "getting by" during Westbrook's absence may not be enough.
All statistics, records and accolades courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com unless otherwise indicated.
Peter Panacy is a featured columnist for Bleacher Report. Follow him @PeterMcShots on Twitter.
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