The Oklahoma City Thunder know ill-timed injuries well, and losing Kevin Durant for the start of a crucial season is just another unfortunate malady to add to the list. Injuries to Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka have tested the Thunder in recent years, each costing the team a deeper playoff run. This injury -- a Jones fracture in KD's right foot -- could lead to surgery, which knocks the scoring genius out for 6-8 weeks.
(As of Sunday morning, the Thunder hadn't determined if Durant would undergo that procedure. It's unclear how long a recovery is without surgery, so for now, we're assuming surgery is the most likely path forward. As Casey Holdahl notes, a Jones fracture suffered in training camp kept C.J. McCollum out until January last season.)
Kevin Durant Injury
Kevin Durant Injury
When Westbrook missed six weeks last season, it was on Durant to step in and do more for OKC. He did. This time, Westbrook is on the clock. And if you've watched Russ at all over the past six years, you know he'll fight every single possession to keep the Thunder afloat.
Westbrook has been one of the top scoring point guards in the NBA since he arrived and that's exactly what OKC needs in Durant's absence. KD scores nearly 30 points per game, and the Thunder's options behind him aren't built to pour in buckets. (OKC barely has another true small forward; Perry Jones is the closest option.) The Thunder have one big man -- Serge Ibaka -- who can score double-digits every night.
Outside of that and without KD, the team's scorers will all be guards. Reggie Jackson embraced the opportunity created when Westbrook went down and he'll be asked to do more once again.
But Westbrook will take over the offense fully. Basically the only thing that has kept Westbrook from leading the NBA in usage rate in recent years has been Durant, who is now much better at hawking for his own shots. (Until two years ago, Westbrook created the majority of KD's shooting possessions.) Even during KD's MVP campaign Westbrook used 34 percent of OKC's possessions while on the court, a mammoth share for any player. That's happened despite Westbrook hardly ever playing without KD, who is usually healthy and almost always on the court with his point guard. Without Durant and without a high-volume replacement for the first time ever, Westbrook's mandate grows.
That doesn't necessarily mean Westbrook will take 25 shots per game, but it does mean Westbrook will be constantly attacking. One of the misconceptions about Westbrook's game is that all he does is shoot. And he does shoot, a lot. But he's also mostly responsible for Ibaka's offense, a healthy portion of OKC's free throw game and, well, a lot of turnovers. He's an incredible creator who has gotten an iffy rap in some circles because of our national fetishization with Right Way Basketball and point guard purity.
Yet Westbrook's fierce aggression has been vital to the Thunder's stature. Durant is beyond great and GM Sam Presti has built a solid supporting cast, but without Westbrook this team is just your standard single-star heroball outfit a la the pre-Pau Gasol Lakers. Westbrook adds a dimension of chaos that puts OKC on another level.
And now that chaos is going to get turned all the way up. It's horrible that we'll likely be without the NBA's most elegant assassin at least through November, if not longer. But the result is Westbrook unchained for the first time ever, and that's some silver lining.