Russell Westbrook has a history of knee problems and once more the 30 year old has to have things fixed with a knife. The last time such a thing happened on a grand scale, Westbrook was having his MCL repaired. And then an infection set in and there was a setback. It is pretty likely that Westbrook will miss the opening night of the NBA season when the Warriors get their rings. That Tuesday night in October, the Thunder will have the unlucky task of trying to bottle up all that happy Dubs energy. With Russ out, the Thunder are more than likely to start the season off with an L.
Russell Westbrook is the most important person on the OKC Thunder team, on their map, in their orbit. His usage rate in 2017-18 was 34.1% which was more than any other NBA player not named James Harden. Westbrook took four more shots than any other Thunder player, had the best defensive rating and a sick assist percentage of 49.8%. He does everything for the Thunder and without him, even in the short term, the Thunder are going to need a tutorial in how to mitigate his absence with efficiency.
The Thunder aren’t blessed with a lot of drivers, shot makers, defenders, scorers wrapped up in one explosive body. But they do have Dennis Schroder who isn’t Westbrook offensively but he can drive the ball. His playmaking is hit or miss and he can’t really shoot with much consistency if he is guarded but he has handles and elite speed.
But he’s not able to fill in for Russ the way the Thunder need him to. The Thunder have constructed their team around Westbrook in the same way the Green Bay Packers have built their team around Aaron Rodgers. An injury is devastating.
That it is arthroscopic surgery instead of say microfracture surgery has everyone exhaling but there is a sobering reality here. Westbrook’s knees are a problem as the Thunder move forward. The torque Russ puts on his joints and ligaments is exceptional and not healthy in the long term. No one is saying Westbrook should be a spot up shooter but now that he is in his 30’s he has to take care of his body a different way and often that means playing quietly. Utilize Paul George and Steven Adams more. Sit on the bench and let Schroder fill in.
The Thunder want Westbrook healthy for the postseason. But the Thunder also need a top-4 seed to have a realistic shot at a conference final appearance. In the West, it means that every regular season game matters. Any game without Westbrook and against a West opponent is akin to being in a fight with paper swords while the other side has knives.
Stiffness and inflammation in the knee, which is what brought Westbrook to this point, can happen at any moment but is especially consequential when you are being overworked. The past few year in a post-Durant world, the Thunder have played Westbrook as if he is a robot and just cannot break but news alert: he’s human. His body can fall apart just like anyone else’s.
His age is relevant because the body changes after 30 even if Westbrook’s responsibilities increase. The Thunder remain calm and not worried but they should be looking through this latest setback after they throw their rose colored glasses in the trash. Westbrook in knee pain is a big deal that can ruin what the Thunder need to accomplish in these next few years with Paul George.
Training camp will start with Westbrook as coach/cheerleader. He’ll work his way back into shape once he gets into the lineup but that’s to be expected. It’s preaching to the chronic to say knee inflammation can be chronic. The Thunder refuse to go that far.
Because Westbrook has been here before with the knee and he won a MVP, he can cling to the past. But so can we. Derrick Rose is intimately acquainted with freak of nature speed and then knee surgeries and then panic.
No longer playing with house money, no longer a young NBA kid, Westbrook’s career rests within the structure of his right knee. If that knee does not want to endure 7-8 more years of stress, the Russell Westbrook story veers in a totally different direction and finds company with Derrick Rose. It can be a slippery slope that changes on a dime.
In the short term we are the losers, deprived of Russ vs. KD in game one.