When Kevin Durant broke his foot during the preseason and it was announced he was going to miss 6-8 weeks, the Oklahoma City Thunder immediately went from a title contender to a decent Western Conference playoff team until his return.
That put all the scoring responsibility on Russell Westbrook‘s capable shoulders. He became to go-to guy for Scott Brooks‘ team. But, in the Thunder’s second game of the season — a loss to the Clippers — Westbrook himself got injured, requiring hand surgery that could keep him out of the lineup for as long as six weeks.
All of a sudden, in just a few short weeks, Oklahoma City lost its two best players who happen to be two of the better players in the entire NBA. For at least a month, the Thunder will be without their best scoring options and need to look to other complementary pieces to help keep this team afloat.
After two consecutive losses to open up the season, the Thunder ironically got their first win on Saturday night against the Nuggets, sans Durant and Westbrook. Perry Jones and Serge Ibaka led the way with 23 points apiece, as Steven Adams, Lance Thomas (who played in China last season) and Kendrick Perkins also reached double figures.
None of the players that are still healthy for Oklahoma City have ever been “the guy” on offense for any team, outside of high school and college. That means guys like Jones — a third-year player — and Ibaka — known as a defensive stalwart, less for his offense — have to play like stars.
Remember, other key players such as Anthony Morrow (knee), Reggie Jackson (ankle) and Jeremy Lamb (back) are all injured as well. Five key contributors for this team are injured at the moment, which is fairly remarkable when you think about it.
A 1-2 record really is not that bad, considering the losses were against good teams in Portland and the Clippers. Will Oklahoma City win the West or even its own division now with all of the players missing? No, probably not, but if the Thunder can keep the ship afloat until early-to-mid December when everyone is expected to return, they will make the playoffs, albeit with a lower seed.
The next month or so is going to be a struggle for sure, but it gives young guys like Ibaka, Jones, Adams and Andre Roberson a chance to prove their worth to Scott Brooks as well as rapidly developing their game while being through right into the fire. It’s on-the-job training and it’s invaluable to young players, even if the Thunder aren’t doing so well.
Who knows, maybe Perry Jones develops into a star and becomes the perfect complement to Westbrook and Durant that the Thunder have been looking for since the James Harden trade. Maybe then, the No. 4 seed as opposed to the No. 1 does not look too bad.