White-Hot Westbrook Carries Thunder to 3-0 Start
When Kevin Durant shocked the world and left the Oklahoma City Thunder, many assumed that his former partner in crime Russell Westbrook, would put up extremely gaudy numbers, now that he is main star of the show. If the first three games are any indication, those who assumed, were right on the money.
Through Oklahoma City’s first three games, Westbrook has become the only player in NBA history to amass over 100 points, 30, rebounds, and 30 assists in his team’s first three contests. Westbrook scored 116 points, grabbed 37 rebounds, and dished out 35 assists, good for a 38.7 PPG, 11.7 APG, and 12.3 RPG and a PER of 37.07 (the season record is 31.82 by Wilt Chamberlain in 1962-63). It remains to be seen if Westbrook can keep up his torrid pace of triple doubles (on pace for 55!), or average one for the season like Oscar Robertson’s legendary 30.8 PPG, 11.4 APG, and 12.5 RPG campaign in 1961-62, but Westbrook’s start to the 2016-17 season has been breathtaking nonetheless.
But the most important stats Westbrook cares about are wins, and the Thunder have three of them. It would be one thing if he was out there chasing triple-doubles and the team was getting blown out by the opposition, but the Thunder are off to a perfect 3-0 start heading into Wednesday’s matchup at the Los Angeles Clippers. The Thunder lost a lot of scoring ability this offseason, not just with Durant leaving, but losing Serge Ibaka and Dion Waiters, who combined for 22.4 points per game last season plus Durant’s 28.2 PPG. All three also played a big role in giving the Thunder a 3-1 lead over Golden State in the Western Conference Finals before losing three straight. Ibaka and Durant provided length on defense, while Waiters would use his strength to body up opposing guards.
By losing all three of those players, Westbrook has no Durant to bail him out of a tough game, no Ibaka on the arc or waiting in mid-range to pass to, no Waiters to create his own shot. Westbrook is and will continue to be the energy driving the Thunder offense. Steven Adams is much more of a defensive and rebounding presence but is coming along offensively, Victor Oladipo, acquired in the Ibaka trade, is also more of a defensive player and is only shooting 35% from the field so far, despite averaging 17 PPG. Enes Kanter is a reliable scorer down low, but is such a defensive liability that he only plays 19 minutes a game.
For some teams it may not be the best thing in the world if the offense revolves around one player, but I think it will work in Oklahoma City. Everyone knows their role on the offense and no one will try to do too much (except maybe Westbrook). The Thunder won’t win a lot of games by trying to out-shoot their opposition. They’re going to win by attacking the rim, and being much more physical than the other team. Kanter and Adams are two of the best rebounding players in the league and when the ‘Stache Bros.’ are on the floor together, they manhandle teams on the glass.
As long as Westbrook is healthy, he will continue to put up monster game after monster game, because that is what Oklahoma City needs to win. He may have to take (and miss) a lot of shots (17-44 FG against the Suns), but he will still get teammates involved, give it 110% and leave it all on the floor for the Thunder, and that is all you can really ask for from a superstar.