Well-Rounded Oklahoma City Thunder Can Make Do in Russell Westbrook's Absence

Jared PorterCorrespondent IIDecember 28, 2013

DENVER, CO - DECEMBER 17:  Russell Westbrook
Garrett Ellwood/Getty Images

Everyone knows the cliche, "You don't know what you've got until it's gone." This doesn't really apply for the Oklahoma City Thunder in regard to their All-Star point guard Russell Westbrook, however. The Thunder have played without him before; they have proved to be a much-inferior team without him. And yet again, the Thunder will have to suffice without him for the time being. 

Westbrook underwent arthroscopic surgery Friday to repair his injured left knee, per DailyThunder.com. This is the third surgery he has had on the same knee since April, and he isn't expected to return until after the All-Star break. 

Get well soon, Russell Westbrook. 

NEW YORK, NY - DECEMBER 25: Russell Westbrook #0 of the Oklahoma City Thunder shoots against Amar'e Stoudemire #1 of the New York Knicks during a game at Madison Square Garden in New York City on December 25, 2013.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledg
Nathaniel S. Butler/Getty Images

Assuming Westbrook comes back Feb. 20th against the Miami Heat—the first game after the All-Star break—Westbrook will be out 27 games. That's pretty much a third of the Thunder's regular season. 

In that stretch of 27 games, the Thunder play 15 teams with losing records, but they also have key games against the Portland Trail BlazersHouston Rockets, Miami Heat and San Antonio Spurs

We already saw a Westbrook-less Thunder team in the playoffs last season when the explosive guard had his initial injury against the Rockets, as well as in the first two games of this season. 

It was very apparent that the Thunder were not the same without him. The offense was stagnant, inefficient, lacked identity and relied too heavily on a guy named Kevin Durant

The Thunder played two games this season without Westbrook and looked horrific. But Reggie Jackson is much better now than he was then.

— Royce Young (@royceyoung) December 27, 2013

Get well soon, Russell Westbrook.

With that said, the Thunder as a whole have improved tremendously this season. Reggie Jackson is playing like he can start for more than half the teams in league, Jeremy Lamb has found confidence in his shot, Steven Adams is contributing in his own rookie ways and Perry Jones has had good outings in the limited time he has been given this season. 

But still, the Thunder have no solution to filling the void of Westbrook, especially after the superb month of December Westbrook was having in which he averaged 21.4 points on 45 percent shooting to go along with 6.9 rebounds and 8.1 assists per game. 

NewsOK.com writer and Thunder beat reporter Anthony Slater quoted Kevin Durant concerning Westbrook's injury:

Kevin Durant on the Westbrook injury: "It's definitely a blow. It's frustrating." Said RW was "playing the best basketball of his career"

— Anthony Slater (@anthonyVslater) December 28, 2013

To sum everything up, the Oklahoma City Thunder are great with Russell Westbrook on the floor, but the Thunder are still good without him. Expectations for this team will certainly drop while Westbrook recovers from surgery. There will be a few games the Thunder drop simply because Westbrook is not playing. 

This setback will almost definitely affect the Thunder's playoff seeding, but it might not really matter. Sure, the Thunder are great on their home court, and home-court advantage throughout the playoffs would be nice. But the main concern for the Thunder right now is to make do without one of the best point guards in the league and to guarantee a healthy Westbrook come playoff time. 

Royce Young on DailyThunder.com noted the upcoming Westbrook-less stretch:

I think the Thunder will be mostly fine for the weeks Westbrook is out. Jeremy Lamb is improving game by game and can supplant some of that scoring punch. We know what Jackson is capable of. And KD is reaching new levels and if anything, this could be a big boost to his MVP campaign (optimism!). They won’t win as many games as they otherwise would’ve, but the Western Conference, while stacked, doesn’t necessarily have teams in it that appear capable of running off and hiding. The Spurs have some holes. The Blazers are good, but still unproven. The Clippers are a bit inconsistent. The Thunder aren’t likely to go on to win 60-65 games like they otherwise might’ve, but 57 or 58 might be enough to still take home top seeding honors in the West anyway.

Attaining the top seed in the West may be a bit of a stretch now, but it certainly is not out of the realm of possibility. That's just how well-rounded this Thunder team is. And the biggest asset they have are players like Jackson, Lamb, Adams and Jones improving game by game. 

The Thunder will have to figure out—again—how to win games without Westbrook for at least another month-and-a-half. I wouldn't expect the same dominance the Thunder have had in the past month, but it's certainly possible for the Thunder to take care of business in Westbrook's absence. 

And if the Thunder can overcome the setback, we might just forget about the Westbrook injury come playoff time. 

Get well soon, Russell Westbrook.


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