After his third surgery of the year, Russell Westbrook will be out until sometime after the All-Star break. The Oklahoma City Thunder won their first game without Westbrook on Friday against the Charlotte Bobcats, but face a much tougher task against the Houston Rockets on Sunday.
With the team’s co-anchor injured, OKC clearly has to make adjustments if they’re going to come out of this mess on the positive side. Reggie Jackson will start in Westbrook’s absence, but that was the easiest fix. The Thunder will have to rely more on Jeremy Lamb and Steven Adams as well. Their play will determine how this team holds up through these tough times. If Jackson plays well, that will be a plus, but it won’t be enough to make up for Westbrook’s loss.
I believe the Thunder will struggle at times, but they have the pieces to make it work. Lamb’s minutes will be monitored closely. If he plays consistently well, then it will be obvious that he will see more time on the court. If he doesn’t produce at a high level, then they could experiment more with Perry Jones III in hopes that he will improve on his game, adding even more depth to the roster when Westbrook returns.
Adams should also be seeing minutes. His role on the team diminished after a solid start to the season mostly due to the great play of OKC’s role players and a slight improvement in Kendrick Perkins‘ game. With Westbrook out, I hope coach Scott Brooks will give Adams a chance to prove himself once again. He a good player, but he needs valuable minutes in order to improve his game both mentally and physically.
The Thunder could come out of this a better team than they were before Westbrook’s injury. We know they’re going to return to being an elite team before the regular season comes to an end, but they will be nearly unstoppable if Jackson, Lamb and Adams can become even better all-around contributors before Westbrook returns. This is the perfect opportunity for the Thunder’s young key players to take control of their destinies and make a name for themselves.