There are two ways to look at the Thunder's win over the Suns last night. 1) Russell Westbrook is back, so we're turning this thing around! and 2) Russell Westbrook was back and they almost lost to the Suns.
Allow me to address point 2 - the Suns are still a ways away from being a playoff contender, but after getting a look at them through 3 games, I am getting the sense that they could be a lesser version of last year's Houston Rockets team. They play fast, rely on the 3-point shot, and use a former bench player dynamo (Eric Bledsoe) to make it run. They may not be good this year, but they will be more competitive than in years past.
"You guys should just ask the other 13 players what do they think about Derek Fisher. They guy is a winner. He plays inspiring ball. He had two plays that nobody will ever talk about, but they were a big part of the win tonight."
I'll ask the question myself. Here's how I feel about Fish - keep him in a position where he can just do what he does well and not expect him to do more than that, and he'll be fine. Just like every other player in this league. Just don't expect him to do things that he did 10 years ago or not even at all.
Royce Young writes that there are still a bevy of issues the Thunder are facing, which include bad shooting and bad perimeter defense. This quote from Durant reminds me of Tom Ziller's article about how Westbrook is the best shot creator in the league:
"He was able to make it easier for me, for Reggie, for Serge — we missed some shots, which I think we’re going to start making here soon, but just his presence. It was good to have him out there."
Rob Mahoney at SI writes that Westbrook was economic in his point production, even as he only made 5 baskets.
Even while visibly rusty, Westbrook still managed 21 points on 16 shots, to go along with seven assists. His economic scoring stemmed from drawing seven fouls in characteristically Westbrookian fashion. He split double teams to vault himself to the rim, posted up smaller guards and challenged shot-blockers.
This is a great report from ESPN's Brian Windhorst. He gets an insider to comment on Westbrook's medical recovery:
But according to a source who was briefed on the process, Westbrook's knee quickly responded to the treatment and the swelling that was bothering him and concerning the team quickly disappeared. In addition, the scope showed the meniscus Westbrook tore during the playoffs last season had totally healed, giving him the confidence that he'd be able to return to his normal self.
Sekou Smith writes that even a rusty Westbrook changes the equation. The reason why is twofold - 1) it cannot be underestimated how much pressure Westbrook puts on opposing defenses, even at 75%. He's like a battering ram that never gets tired; and 2) all of his teammates can shift back to what they do best, Reggie Jackson in particular. Smith is right that Westbrook is the team's emotional epicenter. By contrast, Smith also predicted the Warriors to win the West, so you kind of have to take everything he writes with a grain of salt.
Ball Don't Lie chimes in on Westbrook's return. Now, don't I feel stupid for predicting that Westbrook might be out until January?
Don't panic! Seriously you guys, the Hickory High team brings some perspective on how Kevin Durant may be one of the under reported players in this coming season, which is amazing given the historic company he now keeps.