The Russell Westbrook injury is obviously going to put the Oklahoma City Thunder at a detriment to start the 2013-2014 NBA season. As the Thunder showed after Westbrook went down with his knee injury in the first round of the 2013 postseason, OKC is a completely different team without their star point guard running the show.
One thing that will be different heading into this regular season, though, is the fact that the Thunder have the chance to prepare to play and hopefully succeed without Westbrook on the floor. Their strategy won’t be like it was in the playoffs this past year when Kevin Durant was seemingly jacking up any shot he could get up. Coach Scott Brooks and Durant have the rest of the preseason to get ready for life without Westbrook for however long that lasts.
Through the Thunder’s first three preseason games, possibly the most obvious thing that’s been going on is that Durant is facilitating Oklahoma City’s offense more often in addition to scoring for himself. He’s averaging 6.3 assists per game as well as the expected 27 points per game, including a 12-assist game against the Philadelphia 76ers.
Brooks and Durant both talked about the All-Star needing to be more of a playmaker with Westbrook sidelined in an interview The Oklahoman. Brooks raved about Durant’s untapped abilities as a ball-handler and passer while Durant talked about how him moving the ball more will open up shots for role players on the Thunder.
Durant’s career-high in assists came last season as he averaged 4.6 per game. Coming into this season, though, I would expect that number to go up and for him to set a new career-high. Westbrook will be back eventually, but Durant is one of the most talented and hard-working players in the league and it’s hard to imagine him not having a ton of success as a playmaker with OKC. We shall see if it does, in fact, work out though.