The NBA’s most athletic point guard—Russell Westbrook—hadn’t missed a game since middle school. At least not until last week. The 24-year-old from Long Beach played in every game of his four years of high school, every game while at UCLA and all but six games of his five-year NBA career.
Those six games were all within the last two weeks after Westbrook went down with a torn meniscus on April 24. He stood sidelined for Games 3-6 against the Houston Rockets and Games 1 and 2 versus the Memphis Grizzlies in the conference semis. Westbrook will miss the remainder of the NBA Playoffs, which puts a massive strain on the Oklahoma City Thunder. However, the question was not when Westbrook was injured; rather, it was why he was injured.
In Game 2 of the first round of the NBA Playoffs, Westbrook collided with Houston rookie Patrick Beverley. The meniscus in Russell’s right knee was torn, yet he played the rest of the game, scoring over 20 more points. Beverley, on the other hand, was unharmed. It was a freak accident that took an unfortunate turn for the Thunder, and it may have cost them a shot at a championship.
In spite of all the criticism he faced prior to the injury, Westbrook had grown immensely. He developed his passing game and elevated his game as a dual-threat guard, all on top of his outstanding defensive abilities. Nonetheless, critics attacked Westbrook from every angle, from taking bone-headed shots to holding back the 3-time NBA scoring champion Kevin Durant—and they didn’t stop there.
Some questioned whether or not KD would be better off without Westbrook by his side. But if you couldn’t figure it out before he was injured, it should be clear that Westbrook is to Durant what Pippen was to Jordan. Are Westbrook and Durant on the same level as Pippen and Jordan? Of course not—at least not yet. But they need each other just as much.
Westbrook, who averaged just over 23 points, 5 rebounds and 7 assists per game, was statistically unrivaled by any point guard this season. That’s only three points and three rebounds per game lower than NBA MVP LeBron James.
In each game Westbrook has missed, the opposing team—be it Houston or Memphis—exploited OKC’s weaknesses, namely the play of Reggie Jackson. Acting as the replacement for Westbrook, Jackson is talented, but he’s also raw and inexperienced. He doesn’t possess half the athleticism of Westbrook, but then again neither does most of the NBA. He has, however, proven his worth by hitting clutch free throws and making his presence felt. His ability to carry the load left in Westbrook’s absence will be key to the Thunder’s run through the postseason.
I wish Westbrook the best in his recovery. Hopefully, he comes back stronger than ever next year to finish what he and KD have started in OKC.
Speaking of returns—or lack thereof—who do you think will come back stronger next season between Derrick Rose or Russell Westbrook? Who will be more valuable to their team in 2014? Feel free to leave a comment with your take!