The Implications of the Oklahoma City Thunder Losing Russell Westbrook until December

Down, but not out. - Ronald Martinez

We take a look at what the loss of Westbrook for 4-6 Weeks could mean for the team as a whole.

So, in case you haven't heard the news, Czech it out here.

Now that you know, take a second to exhale. Okay, all together now....

Now that that's out of the way, let's break this down.

Russell Westbrook is going to miss 4-6 weeks, which is about 15-18 games. Even then, it's impossible to know how long it will take him to come back. I don't expect Westbrook to pull a Derrick Rose, but the Thunder have always been notoriously precarious about bringing back players from injury. Thus, I'll put a conservative estimate on Westbrook's return at 2 months, or about 30 games altogether.

Assuming that, the Thunder are going to play that amount of time with Reggie Jackson in a seriously important role. Sure, there's an outside chance that Derek Fisher could take the starting point guard spot, but if last year's playoffs are any indication, Mr. October is about to become Mr. November/December.

So, is this good or bad? Some of you might think I'm crazy for insinuating that this could be a good thing, but hear me out. Reggie Jackson never got very many minutes behind Westbrook, but he impressed with some seriously good point averages in last year's playoffs, while Ibaka went AWOL. If he gets a chance to work with the first team, he could get some time to seriously develop his skills and perhaps eventually evolve into that scorer off the bench that this team needs.

But, in another sense, Westbrook's absence is very, very bad. The Thunder had titanic ballhandling problems without Westbrook on the floor. Kevin Durant played point guard in a one game experiment, and beyond that Reggie Jackson didn't really prove himself very capable, sharing the ball with Derek Fisher and Kevin Martin. Most importantly, Jackson's ballhandling problems can really badly effect the production of Serge Ibaka. Without Westbrook's defense-sucking post-penetrating force on offense, Ibaka really struggles to get open for mid-range shots. Thus, he has to rely on his still shaky post game and offensive boards, which don't produce very amazing results.

Still, maybe this time will get Reggie Jackson to develop into the ballhandler that we need. How well he can work for the team really depends on the development of his skillset. If he can become good enough at drawing fouls in the paint and leading the break, that can lead to a bunch of opportunities. But if his game stays primarily with mid-range jumpers, then he might have to get a lot more creative with his assists.

Anyway, let's take some time to look at the bench. Westbrook's absence almost guarantees that the Thunder will have to work some new players into the rotation. Derek Fisher will almost certainly be bringing up point, and Nick Collison will definitely get time, but beyond that it's all in the air. Jeremy Lamb seems like the most likely candidate to soak up some of those minutes, given his prominent featuring at the 2013 Orlando Summer League and high draft stock. But he still faces serious questions about his ability to play within himself and get creative with his shots down low. In other words, I'm just not sure whether he's going to be very efficient, especially early on.

Beyond Lamb in the scorer's role, the field is wide open. Andre Roberson is a potential candidate to get some minutes, because of his developed game in college and already rock-solid defense and rebounding. But no one really knows whether his offense is on an NBA level, or whether he can find his role. You could also look at Perry Jones, who had a lot of hype behind him before last season but never got to see the floor. The key for him will be whether he can create his own shot, and it's hard to tell because we've gotten to see barely any of him. The off-season signing, Ryan Gomes, is the most known quantity on the Thunder's bench, but his production has declined over the past couple of years, and he didn't do too much to boost his profile while playing in Germany. Hasheem Thabeet and Daniel Orton are also there, but I don't think they'll see anything beyond mop-up minutes behind the trio of Ibaka, Perkins, and Collison. Of course, there's also Training Camp signees Rodney McGruder and Diante Garrett, but I'm not holding my breath on either of them.

Now, let's get down to brass tacks. What does this injury mean for this season? It means that the Thunder, simply put, aren't going to be a very hot team early on. Reggie Jackson is a poor-man's Westbrook when it comes to individual statistics, but he struggles to fill the role Westbrook had on the team. Fact is, the Thunder went 2-6 with him at the helm, against good competition. Against semi-decent competition, I could definitely see them being a .500 team, but if they continue the way they played in last year's playoffs, I just don't see them getting much better.

But, the thing is, I don't see the Thunder playing the same way as last year's playoff team. They've got some fresh new faces, and will have a lot more time to work out the kinks. So while they might drop some easy ones early on, I see this as a huge door of opportunity. The Thunder will be able to grow as a whole, and the younger guys will get to showcase their talents and develop their own roles. I mean, let's face it: Brooks doesn't go young unless he absolutely has to.

At the end of the day, the Thunder probably won't get the first seed this year, and they probably won't be anyone's favorite to win the title. But, as we figured out last year, seeding doesn't mean everything. And when the end of the year rolls around, Westbrook will be back, and the team will know how to cope better with any other injuries that might arise. Heck, if all goes right....this could be the strongest Thunder team of all-time. (Or the weakest...knock on wood.)

What do you think about Westbrook's injury? Let us know in the poll and comments!

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