Posted April 26, 2013

Court Vision: Reaction to Russell Westbrook’s knee injury

2013 NBA playoffs, Court Vision, Oklahoma City Thunder, Russell Westbrook
Russell Westbrook

Russell Westbrook hurt his knee in the Thunder’s Game 2 victory over Houston. (Sue Ogrocki/AP)

Here’s a sampling of the initial reaction from the around the Web to Russell Westbrook’s injury, the play involving Rockets guard Patrick Beverley during which the Oklahoma City All-Star hurt his knee and the Thunder’s prospects without him as he gets set for surgery.

The Oklahoman‘s Jenni Carlson says the Thunder’s luck ran out with Westbrook’s injury.

Great teams have to have some luck, and for the past few years, the Thunder have had it. No starter has suffered major injury. Heck, few reserves have.

But that good fortune ran out Friday.

Does that mean the Thunder is no longer a contender?

That remains to be seen, but we’ve come to find out it sure is easier to be one of the best teams in the league when luck is on your side.

• Matt Moore of CBSSports.com writes that Kevin Durant will need to be more aggressive in Westbrook’s absence.

The injury means a drastic change in how the Thunder do business, and the answers for how they continue are hazy at best. Westbrook was a speed demon in transition, and often would slice in the halfcourt offense so fast it was basically a shortened fast break. No one on the Thunder (or their opponents, really) had his combination of speed and athleticism, and this season, in an undercovered aspect, no one distributed like he did.

Without him, the first reaction is to look to Kevin Durant. There has long been talk that Durant needed to be more assertive in his shot selection (and that Westbrook needed to defer to the MVP candidate more). This opens the door for a more aggressive Durant… but it also allows for the possibility of teams sending even more help at Durant to keep the ball out of his hands and to contest.

Durant isn’t wired to just shoot relentlessly. He looks to be considerate and efficient, and in doing so, he relies on teammates to make plays. Much of that went to Westbrook. Without him, for however long, Durant has to step up and provide even more scoring, despite him now being the only main weapon the opponent has to worry about it.

• SI.com’s Lee Jenkins, who profiled Durant in this week’s Sports Illustrated, notes that Durant is positioned to take on an even bigger playmaking role because of his improved ball handling.

• SI.com’s Ian Thomsen says the Westbrook injury will test Durant’s leadership, too.

• Kevin Pelton of ESPN.com (Insider) examines the Thunder’s chances of advancing out of the Western Conference if Westbrook is sidelined for the rest of the season.

The Thunder still should have more than enough talent to dispatch of the Rockets, especially with a 2-0 head start in the series. The level of competition will go up quickly in Round 2 against either the Los Angeles Clippers or the Memphis Grizzlies. While the Grizzlies previously looked like the worse matchup from Oklahoma City’s perspective, now the Thunder may not want to see the Clippers tandem of Chris Paul and Eric Bledsoe against their backup point guards.

Thanks to home-court advantage, Oklahoma City still might be a slight favorite in the next round without Westbrook. It’s difficult to see the Thunder beating the San Antonio Spurs, or even the Denver Nuggets, in the conference finals at less than full strength, though. The absence of Westbrook would rob Oklahoma City of one of its biggest athletic advantages over the Spurs in particular.

• Sean Deveney of The Sporting News has more on the Thunder’s path without Westbrook.

Coming into the playoffs, the Thunder actually rated higher than Miami on what’s known as the “Simple Ratings Scale,” which a metric that takes into account a team’s margin of victory and strength of schedule. (Zero is the league average.) The Thunder finished the year at 9.15; Miami was at 7.03. The top challenger in the West, the Spurs, ranked third at 6.67, and the Clippers were at 6.43.

Based on pure statistics, then, the argument could be made that Thunder should even have been favored to beat Miami in the Finals. Take away the team’s No. 2 scorer—Westbrook averaged 23.3 points, six in the league—and it becomes much tougher to see how Oklahoma City can even reach the conference finals. In the second round, they’ll face one of two very difficult teams, the Grizzlies or Clippers, with LA leading that first-round series, 2-1.

• Dan Devine of Yahoo! Sports assesses the play in which Westbrook collided with Beverley.

Yahoo! Sports NBA columnist Adrian Wojnarowski reports that Westbrook is “irate” with Beverley over the play, and you can certainly understand why — after all, he’s the one who just learned he was injured and will miss time (presumably) as a result of the play, which would frustrate and infuriate just about anyone, especially a player as famously emotional and fiery as Westbrook.

That said, though, it requires a very, very long logic leap to suggest that Beverley in any way had any intent to injure Westbrook or was looking to take a cheap shot at an All-Star; he was playing aggressive defense at a time when most guys don’t play aggressive defense, and it resulted in a collision, and that collision resulted in an injury. It might have been a “dumb” play, as Daily Thunder’s Royce Young called it, but it was a bang-bang accident. With a really, really unfortunate outcome.

• An ESPN.com roundtable of writers agreed that the Westbrook-Beverley play wasn’t dirty, though Marc Stein called it “reckless” and “definitely over the line.”

Opportunity knocks for second-year backup point guard Reggie Jackson, as Daily Thunder’s Michael Kimball writes.

Reggie Jackson just got himself an opportunity to earn a whole bunch of money. We’ll leave the debate on whether that is ultimately good or bad for the Thunder for another day. But he has been a revelation this season. If he is able to provide something for the team close to what Russ has, then this day won’t end up being as black as it seems now, at least for a while, and Jackson will be signing a pretty fat contract in another two summers.

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