If anyone can lead the Oklahoma City Thunder back to the summit of the National Basketball Association, it is Russell Westbrook. The fourth overall pick from the 2008 NBA Draft is an incredible talent and he is widely regarded as one of the best point guards in the business – and the pressure is on him ahead of the upcoming campaign.
In years gone by, Westbrook has had former regular season MVP Kevin Durant alongside him on the Oklahoma roster. However, Durant signed with the Golden State Warriors this summer in a move that sent shockwaves across the NBA. On his day, Durant is capable of winning games more or less on his own and Westbrook will now have to bear the full brunt of expectation as Oklahoma look to challenge for glory this season. After all, he is going to have to do it HIS way – just as this season preview (below) shows.
At the time of writing, 32Red list the Thunder as 50/1 outsiders for the NBA Championships this season but Westbrook will be quietly confident in his own ability to fire Oklahoma to the latter stages of the playoffs at the very least.
From there, it is anyone’s game. As long as the Thunder reach the postseason, anything else is a bonus. After all, you have to be in it to win it – and Oklahoma City fans will fancy their chances of reaching the Conference Finals for the third time in four years if they perform at their best.
Last season, Westbrook scored 23.5 points per game on average – two points higher than his career mean. He also proved his worth defensively, recording much improved statistics in rebounds, steals and turnovers. Ultimately, his colossal effort earned him a first inclusion in the All NBA First Team last year and that could give him the confidence to push on and improve further in 2017.
The Thunder star has been on the verge of greatness for quite some time but at 27 years old, he is now in his prime and Oklahoma MUST challenge for glory this year. Westbrook has already been selected for the All Star team on five occasions and the point guard finished as the scoring champion in 2015 – an incredible statistic considering the likes of LeBron James, Stephen Curry and Durant were all at their best.
Oklahoma will miss Durant dearly but Westbrook is more than capable of stepping up to the plate – in fact, he could perform even better without Durant alongside him. Last season, the Thunder man averaged 34.4 minutes on the court and fans will be expecting head coach Billy Donovan to let Westbrook roam this season. It would be foolish to write him off…
Russell Westbrook made his stand, and now the Thunder carry on: https://t.co/25qpekQyuo
— Royce Young (@royceyoung) August 5, 2016
Kevin Durant missed 48 games over the last couple of years and the Thunder won just 25 of those – a worrying statistic but fans shouldn’t get too caught up on this. After all, the NBA landscape changes every season and Oklahoma supporters should focus on backing their new-look side.
Donovan will have prepared his side to cope without Durant in the offseason and that is exactly the kind of thing that will be stamped out during training camp. On paper, the Thunder look well equipped to succeed without Durant and the Warriors man may end up regretting his decision to move on.
One thing is for sure: there will be a hostile atmosphere when Golden State visit the Chesapeake Energy Arena on February 11th. Oklahoma City supporters are well within their rights to boo and abuse Durant throughout the regular season but they may actually be better off without the second overall pick from the 2007 NBA Draft.
Yes, Durant is still a phenomenal talent but Westbrook may prosper as the Thunder’s driving force. If he performs at his very best, Westbrook can be Oklahoma’s Stephen Curry; that’s how good he can be.
Being completely honest, it wouldn’t be a huge surprise to see Westbrook pip Curry to the MVP award this year; the Thunder point guard is PUMPED to succeed… both for himself and for the people of Oklahoma, as shown in the video below.
At the time of writing, Westbrook is 4/1 with 32Red and Netbet to win the MVP award this season and Donovan will be desperate for his elite star to achieve some form of individual accolade in 2017.
Westbrook has (rather unfairly) spent a number of years in Kevin Durant’s shadow but this is his chance to shine as Oklahoma’s main man. Can Russell Westbrook fire the Oklahoma City Thunder to the NBA crown? It will be very difficult but we should never say never…