Russell Westbrook's lot in NBA life is complicated. The sixth-year point guard was drafted to run the Thunder offense but has increasingly had to share a large portion of the scoring with Kevin Durant. With the quickness to get past most defenders and the strength to absorb contact from those who do keep up with him, Westbrook has proved a capable partner. His scoring forays have drawn criticism, though, for making Durant and his teammates bystanders.
Westbrook will never be a traditional pass-first point guard, and last season his assist-to-turnover ratio was a sloppy 2.22 to 1, 36th at the position. Still, the Oklahoma City offense has ranked among the top five in efficiency in each of the last three seasons. And Westbrook's value became even more clear when he suffered a torn right meniscus in the playoffs. With Westbrook on the court for the Thunder's first two postseason games, they averaged 24.0 assists; without him for the next nine, that number dropped to 16.8, as Durant was forced to find his own shot.
Westbrook will miss at least the first month of the season after a second knee operation to clean up a loose stitch from the first. OKC will also feel the absence of shooting guard Kevin Martin, who signed with the Timberwolves as a free agent after averaging 14.0 points. Durant alone will make the Thunder tough to beat, but the sooner he gets his running mate back, the better.
COACH SCOTT BROOKS (6TH SEASON WITH THUNDER)
2012--13 RECORD 60--22 (1ST IN NORTHWEST)
WHAT'S NEW With the exit of Kevin Martin, D-League alum Jeremy Lamb will see minutes at shooting guard.
PROJECTED LINEUP (2012--13 STATS)
PG RUSSELL WESTBROOK
23.2 PPG; 7.4 APG; 5.2 RPG; 43.8 FG%
SG THABO SEFOLOSHA
7.6 PPG; 3.9 RPG; 48.1 FG%; 41.9 3FG%
SF KEVIN DURANT
28.1 PPG; 7.9 RPG; 51.0 FG%; 41.6 3FG%
PF SERGE IBAKA
13.2 PPG; 7.7 RPG; 3.0 BPG; 57.3 FG%
C KENDRICK PERKINS
4.2 PPG; 6.0 RPG; 1.1 BPG; 45.7 FG%
PG REGGIE JACKSON
5.3 PPG; 1.7 APG; 45.8 FG%; 23.1 3FG%
FREE THROW PERCENTAGE for the Thunder last year, third best in history. Kevin Durant, who was second in the NBA with 750 attempts, had only four games in which he missed more than twice from the line.
A RIVAL SCOUT SIZES UP THE THUNDER
I don't think there's a player on LeBron's level right now, but damned if Kevin Durant's not a hell of a No. 2. It's one thing to defend smaller players who are great shooters, but you're talking about a guy who's 6'10" with a high release who can go out and just bury threes. In end-of-game situations, teams will try to deny him the ball and take a man off the inbounder and double him, and somehow he still gets it.... Serge Ibaka is unique. He can make midrange jump shots, then get down and do the dirty work and rebound and lead the league in blocks. You don't game-plan around his shot blocking, but you alert your team to it. When bigs like him come to help, you've got to be prepared to find teammates ducking in or sliding behind the defense, maybe even kick out to shooters. Where I see development potential with him is in his low-post game. All the skills seem to be there.... When Reggie Jackson came into the league, there were those who thought he was more of a shooting guard. But he's developed into being able to play the point, and he can rebound. He's someone who can create for others but also score in his own right.... Scott Brooks can be unorthodox at times, and I respect that so much because it opens you up to criticism when you're with a team at this level and with this talent.... If they're going to win a championship, then Jackson, Jeremy Lamb, Perry Jones and their first pick this year, Steven Adams, are going to have to make contributions in the playoffs and not just in the regular season.
GREG NELSON FOR SPORTS ILLUSTRATED (WESTBROOK)
SHOOT-FIRST GUARD WESTBROOK
JOHN W. MCDONOUGH/SPORTS ILLUSTRATED (IBAKA)