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3 OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER

Author:

A MODEST PROPOSAL ...

AT LEAST TRY TO REDUCE RUSSELL WESTBROOK'S WORKLOAD

Invincible as he may seem, Russell Westbrook, believe it or not, turns 30 in November. He's played 80-plus games the last three seasons, averaged a triple double the last two and has shown no signs of slowing down. With a $206 million contract that runs through 2023, OKC's competitive window is tied directly to his longevity. Considering that running mate Paul George is now signed through 2022, the Thunder can start to think bigger-picture—and scaling back Westbrook's minutes. (Russ, if you're reading this, it's totally not personal.)

Thanks to George's presence, Westbrook's usage rate and shot attempts decreased, but his 36.4 minutes per game were a career high. Offseason addition Dennis Schröder is the most talented backup guard the Thunder have had since Reggie Jackson and a more legitimate third shot-creator than Carmelo Anthony was. Whether managing Westbrook's mileage is feasible depends on whether Steven Adams can anchor another top 10 defense and how well the supporting cast plays. But it certainly wouldn't hurt to have Westbrook fresher come April, and ideally beyond.

STARTING 5

COACH BILLY DONOVAN

2017--18 RECORD: 48--34

PREDICTION: Lose 1st round

PG RUSSELL WESTBROOK (7 [SI'S TOP 100 PLAYER RANKING])

10.3

APG

SG ANDRE ROBERSON

4.7

RPG

SF PAUL GEORGE (12 [SI'S TOP 100 PLAYER RANKING])

21.9

PPG

PF JERAMI GRANT

53.5

FG%

9.0

RPG

C STEVEN ADAMS (38 [SI'S TOP 100 PLAYER RANKING])

More than half of Adams's rebounds (5.1 per game) came on the offensive end. He led the league with an offensive rebound percentage of 16.6.

BENCH

SF TERRANCE FERGUSON

PG DENNIS SCHRÖDER [NEW ACQUISITION] (80 [SI'S TOP 100 PLAYER RANKING])

C NERLENS NOEL [NEW ACQUISITION]

(*) NEW ACQUISITION

(#) SI'S TOP 100 PLAYER RANKING

ENEMY LINES

A RIVAL SCOUT SIZES UP OKLAHOMA CITY

THEIR ROSTER was broken in last year's playoffs. I don't think they would have beaten anybody in the first round. Utah was a tough matchup, but the Thunder just weren't that good.... Go ahead and harp on his inefficiency, but come on: RUSSELL WESTBROOK averaged a triple double again last year, and that's an achievement that deserved more praise than it got. The knock is always that guys struggle to play with Westbrook, and there's truth to that. But PAUL GEORGE decided to play with him instead of LeBron James.... I think George and Westbrook will spread their wings and be more comfortable without Carmelo Anthony there. That trade was a big addition by subtraction, and they got DENNIS SCHRÖDER too.... ANDRE ROBERSON'S absence changed their whole defensive identity. Put him and George together, and that's one of the best perimeter defense duos in the league. Take him away, and they're scrambling their lineups and not as imposing.... STEVEN ADAMS is underrated. He's a traditional center who can stay on the court against basically any team. Golden State is the only roster that is really equipped to exploit his size consistently.... I would use Schröder as a sixth man but make sure he's closing games. You need his downhill attacking in late-game situations to make the offense less predictable.... There's no question about NERLENS NOEL'S talent. They took a chance on him, hoping he can be a good fit with Schröder on the second unit and give them a more versatile five behind Adams. It makes sense on paper, but it's made sense on paper before.