No matter how well Kevin Durant played, the Oklahoma City Thunder weren’t getting past a hungry Memphis Grizzlies team in the 2013 NBA playoffs.
But what if it were Durant that got hurt and a healthy Russell Westbrook was left to shoulder the load of carrying the Thunder throughout the first round of the playoffs and into the second round against the Grizzlies?
By now, you should all know the story. Russell Westbrook tore his meniscus in Game 2 of the first round against the Houston Rockets, leaving Oklahoma City’s offense stranded in the second round against Memphis.
Back to the question, though. Would things have turned out any different for the Thunder had K.D. gone down and not Westbrook?
The answer is an emphatic no.
Not only would OKC have lost to Memphis in the second round, but I’m not even sure the Thunder would have advanced past Houston under Westbrook’s guidance.
Remember, the Rockets did rattle off two straight wins after falling down 3-0 in the series and it took a complete performance from Durant (27 points, eight rebounds, six assists, one block and two steals) in Game 6 to oust Houston.
The main reason I don’t think Westbrook could have gotten the Thunder past the Grizzlies is because he’s not an effective jump shooter. Take a look at this shot chart from NBA.com that further proves my point:
Westbrook excels when he’s using his speed off the dribble and finishing at the rim and against a tough interior defense with the likes of Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol, Westbrook would have struggled. We all know Durant is the better shooter and one of the best scorers in the NBA. K.D. can score in a multitude of ways—more than Westbrook can.
If Durant couldn’t shoot the Thunder past the Grizzlies, Westbrook surely wasn’t going to either.
Westbrook, in my opinion, also struggles in the leadership role. At times, I think he tries too hard to establish himself as the leader of the Thunder when we all clearly know that it’s Durant’s team.
As the player who’s supposed to distribute the ball and create open shots for teammates, Westbrook sported a 2.22 assist-to-turnover ratio this season, which ranked 39th in the NBA. With the next highest scorer next to Durant in the postseason being Kevin Martin—with a mere 14 points per game—there would have been too much pressure on Westbrook to get the Thunder through the playoffs; just as there was with Durant.
Had Westbrook been healthy, the Thunder would have had enough firepower to make a run at a Finals appearance, but with one of the two superstars injured, OKC never had a chance.
We can only hope that Westbrook fully recovers from his injury and returns to basketball just as healthy and explosive as he was prior to going down.
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