Russell Westbrook Returns to Practice for First Time Since Knee Surgery

Tyler ConwayFeatured ColumnistFebruary 19, 2014

Dec 22, 2013; Oklahoma City, OK, USA; Oklahoma City Thunder point guard Russell Westbrook (0) reacts after hitting a 3-point shot in action against the Toronto Raptors during the third quarter at Chesapeake Energy Arena. Mandatory Credit: Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports
Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports

Oklahoma City Thunder point guard Russell Westbrook practiced Wednesday, marking the first time he's been on the floor with teammates since undergoing a third knee surgery in eight months in December.

Anthony Slater of The Oklahoman reported the news and provided an update on Westbrook's expected return:

Darnell Mayberry of The Oklahoman had more from Brooks on Westbrook:

Westbrook is said to have made significant progress recovering from the arthroscopic surgery on his right knee, which was originally injured in the Thunder's first-round playoff series with the Houston Rockets. He has since undergone two additional procedures, the first to address swelling caused by a loose stitch and the second to eliminate more inflammation, according to ESPN.

While Westbrook bucked all expectations to return about a month earlier than expected after the first arthroscopic surgery, the Thunder have been far more conservative this time around. With three surgeries on the same knee in less than three-quarters of a year, any more errors in judgement could create long-term havoc—something Oklahoma City can ill afford as it goes all-in on the Westbrook-Kevin Durant duo.

In 25 games before going down in 2013-14, Westbrook looked mostly like his springy self athletically but struggled with timing and other subtleties while working his way back. He was shooting only 42.4 percent from the floor, the lowest since his second season in the league and a number boosted by a particularly hot stretch pre-injury.

Westbrook was surprisingly one of the worst players in the league finishing on drives. Per SportVU, he shot a dreadful 30.1 percent on such opportunities—putting him at or near the bottom of the league, depending on the sample point. The Thunder were actually a better overall team with Westbrook off the floor before his injury. 

It will be interesting to see how the Thunder look to reintegrate him into the offense. Reggie Jackson is playing well in his increased role as a starter since Westbrook's injury, but there is no question who the better player is when both are healthy. Jackson is someone able to hold the fort down, but he's not quite solid enough to lead a championship team.

Dec 22, 2013; Oklahoma City, OK, USA; Oklahoma City Thunder point guard Reggie Jackson (15) is congratulated by  his team after a play against the Toronto Raptors during the second quarter at Chesapeake Energy Arena. Mandatory Credit: Mark D. Smith-USA TO
Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports

It will be more interesting to see how Westbrook's return meshes with Durant, who has carried Oklahoma City on his back these past couple months. Durant is the unquestioned favorite to win his first league MVP, setting career highs in scoring and assists without losing his trademarked efficiency. The Thunder have not only stayed afloat with Durant leading the charge, they've probably become the favorites in the Western Conference. 

One has to wonder whether someone as competitive as Westbrook will be able to pull back on the throttle and be patient. Team trainers and doctors allowed a rapid return the last time because of how his body healed, but having Westbrook 100 percent healthy for the playoffs is far more important at this juncture. 

As is the long-term journey of Westbrook's career. 

We've seen multiple players in the past shorten their careers by playing through knee discomfort, and meniscus injuries are typically difficult to deal with. Those who have their meniscus removed (e.g. Dwyane Wade and Brandon Roy) have histories of problems down the road, but Westbrook's situation is proving that even the more patient approach doesn't always work. 

As Westbrook returns to practice now, contrasting the rehabs of the two surgeries will be something to watch.