As most of you know, both Kevin Durant (stress fracture) and Russell Westbrook (broken hand) will not be able to return to action until probably December, with Durant more than likely coming back later than Westbrook. Sure, the injuries to the superstar duo will probably lead to the Thunder landing a lower seed in the playoffs, but do the injuries help or hurt the Thunder in the long run? I think it will ultimately help Oklahoma City.
The Thunder are currently sitting at 3-6, which has them four and a half games back from Memphis and Houston. As most expected, they have not performed well without the superstar duo. At first glance, the record looks bad and you begin to wonder if they’ll still be in striking distance of the playoffs when Durant and Westbrook to return. But then you look at their schedule leading up to mid December, and the goal of being at or around .500 for the duo’s return looks a lot more realistic.
For arguments sake lets say Durant and Westbrook both return by December 9th for their bout against the Milwaukee Bucks. In the games leading up to that date, Oklahoma City will have played 11 games. In those 11 games, they will have played Detroit twice, Denver, New York, Utah and Philadelphia. Thats six games in that time span that are very winnable. If they win just five of those 11 games, they would be 8-12 when Durant and Westbrook return. 62 games is plenty of time for the Thunder to get well into the playoff picture.
Where I think the Thunder will benefit by the absence of Durant and Westbrook is being able to develop some guys into key pieces that will allow the Thunder to make a deep playoff run. The two guys that have performed extremely well so far that I think will be key pieces for the Thunder are guard Reggie Jackson and center Steven Adams.
Jackson this season has averaged 22 points, eight assists and three rebounds in Russell Westbrook’s absence. His development as a scorer will be huge when Oklahoma City needs to differ to a third scoring option. Adams on the other hand sort of came into his own in the playoffs last year, and has continued to elevate his game. So far this season he has averaged over eight points and a little over seven rebounds a game. He is a major upgrade over Kendrick Perkins on the offensive side of the ball and is a pretty good rebounder.
As far as role players go, Oklahoma City has been able to get some younger guys good minutes in the first nine games, two guys of note being Perry Jones and Jeremy Lamb. Perry Jones is currently out with a knee contusion, but in the time he’s gotten this season, he’s averaged 15 points and just under four rebounds. If he is able to score coming of the bench consistently, he will be a huge asset to the team come playoff time when he goes in for the reigning MVP. Lamb has also shown an ability to score, averaging 11 points a game. He also has been solid rebounding the ball, averaging over five rebounds a game. The continued development of these two will pay huge dividends for the Thunder down the road.
The Thunder have been a team decimated by injuries so far this season. Once they get to full health, they’ll have one of the fives in the league with a deep bench to go along with it. The scoring of Jeremy Lamb, Anthony Morrow and Perry Jones coupled with Kendrick Perkins ability to rebound and defend off the bench will make the Thunder hard to beat when the playoffs roll around.