Oklahoma City Thunder: Russell Westbrook’s biggest season yet

Photo by Gene Sweeney Jr./Getty Images
Photo by Gene Sweeney Jr./Getty Images /

The Oklahoma City Thunder are poised for a strong 2018-19 season, but it all hinges on their superstar. Here’s why this season will be Russell Westbrook’s biggest test yet.

After a disappointing 2017-18 season and an even more disappointing playoff exit, things were looking pretty bleak for the Oklahoma City Thunder going into the offseason. Paul George was surely going to Los Angeles, and with Carmelo Anthony‘s massive contract looming over everything, the path to adding another star player was roadblocked.

How was this team going to survive in the post-Kevin Durant era? Westbrook alone was not going to be enough to keep them relevant in the West. It seemed like the Thunder were headed for a mediocre season, and nothing would be able to save them.

Then, all of a sudden, the the dominos started to fall. First, George surprised everybody by re-signing with the Thunder on a four-year, $137 million contract. Next, general manager Sam Presti managed to pawn Anthony off on the Atlanta Hawks in exchange for Dennis Schroder, a player who is now arguably the most talented backup point guard in the league.

This deal was basically a reverse Jack and the Beanstalk scenario, with Schroder being a very productive cow and Anthony being three beans that have sadly lost their magical properties with age.

Now, as we close in on the start of the 2018-19 NBA season, the Thunder suddenly look like a team that could possibly hold its own against the powerhouses of the West. They have their most talented roster since losing Kevin Durant in 2016. Because of this, next season will be the biggest test of Westbrook’s career to date.

Russell Westbrook is a polarizing player. Some fans love him and other hate him. His skill, athleticism and drive are undeniable. His decision-making and attitude are at times concerning. Throughout his career with the Oklahoma City Thunder, he has been both the hero and the villain, the problem and the solution. What can be said for certain is that he is highly competitive and highly loyal to his team.

Last season, Westbrook averaged 25.4 points, 10.3 assists, 10.1 rebounds and 1.8 steals per game. It’s a little scary to think that a player who has averaged a triple-double for two straight seasons is entering his most pivotal year yet, but it’s true.

The road ahead for the Thunder is a difficult one because of how strong the Western Conference is, especially with the arrival of LeBron James in Los Angeles. Last year, Westbrook showed his ability to coexist with other stars and play unselfish basketball. This year he will have Andre Roberson back and healthy, and that will help the Thunder tremendously on the defensive end. The stars might just align perfectly for this team, but they will need focus and leadership out of their best player.

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This upcoming season is a chance for the Thunder to claw their way back among the league’s elite, but they will only go as far as Westbrook can take them. For the first time since Durant’s departure, he has the right supporting cast to at least put up a fight against the top teams. It’s do-or-die for Russ this season.