Oklahoma City Thunder Will Improve Through Russell Westbrook's Most Recent Injury

By Brian Anderson
Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports

Today was a bitter day for the Oklahoma City Thunder and their fans after news broke about yet another surprise surgery on Russell Westbrook‘s troubled knee.

His return is currently set for after the All-Star break, which is quite vague if you ask me. He could return any time after the break, and no one knows if it’ll be soon after or months after. I’m guessing he’ll return sooner than later, because he did it once already this season.

There’s no reason why he can’t return before anyone expects him to. Remember, Westbrook was supposed to be out until mid-December of this year, but only ended up missing two regular season games. He’s a very passionate player and he’ll be working harder than ever to get back on the floor as healthy as possible.

Many will say that this may be a blow that OKC will not recover from. They would say that even if Westbrook does return, his health won’t allow him to be as dominant of a player as he was before he went down. I disagree because he returned and looked better than ever. I expect him to return and be even better of a player this time around. That’s just the type of player this guy is. He’s too tough to sit out the remainder of the year, that’s for sure.

I honestly believe that this injury will help both Westbrook and the Thunder in the long run. With him out, Reggie Jackson will have to contribute more on a nightly basis, giving him the chance to prove that he is capable of running the offense without Westbrook’s play to fall back on.

Jackson will come out of this ordeal as a better player, person and student of the game. Nothing can duplicate the learning experience of actually getting meaningful minutes. It’ll also be a boost of confidence for him when he returns to his role as the backup point guard.

Jackson won’t be the only player who benefits from Westbrook’s injury. Westbrook himself will also have time to get even more healthy than he was before. Many thought he should of taken more time off to get healthier, even though it appears that he didn’t need any extra days off. Now, he has no choice but to really focus on getting back to top shape, both physically and mentally.

Jeremy Lamb and Steven Adams are two other players whose roles will increase over the next 27 games or so. They also can get out there and make a name for themselves while their teammate recovers from his third knee surgery in under a year. I think Lamb will actually be most beneficial throughout all of this.

We know Jackson has taken a step into the next level, but Lamb has been more up and down, even though he’s shooting the ball well this season. We’ll be seeing more double-digit scoring games out of Lamb with Westbrook down. Hopefully, he will get more comfortable with the ball in his hands, learning to drive to the hoop more often opposed to taking tough shots.

Kevin Durant’s play could take a slight dip or we could see him start playing the best basketball of his career. Losing a player like Westbrook is always tough on the star player, because now teams can focus more on shutting them down. Durant is more than capable of fighting through all of this and leading his team to a positive record without their All-Star point-guard in the mix.

Even if Durant’s numbers do slip a little, it should be made up with Jackson and Lamb’s extra time on the floor. Through this stretch, I believe Jackson is capable of averaging somewhere between 16 and 19 points per game. Lamb should be able to get up to around 13-16 points while Westbrook sits.

That would be a major help, but it wouldn’t solve all of the Thunder’s issues. The other role players just have to do their jobs. Serge Ibaka, Kendrick Perkins, Thabo Sefolosha and Nick Collison all have to step their game up as well. Something I do not doubt they will do.

It will be very interesting to see how this all plays out, but don’t expect OKC to slide much. When Westbrook returns, this team will be even better than they would have been if he played the entire time. This injury is a blessing in disguise and time will reveal the truth.

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