Updated 12:24 AM EST, Thu, Jan 21, 2021

Can Russell Westbrook Spark Oklahoma City’s Offense? News Updates

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Russell Westbrook's recovery window for a broken hand was 4-6 weeks. Oklahoma City couldn't afford to wait that long. Neither could Westbrook; not with the Thunder's season on the brink after just 16 games.

Less than a month removed from his third surgery in as many years, the thee-time All-Star returned Friday night to help OKC weave out of a season-long tailspin that's seen them drop within a half-game of the Western Conference cellar. Westbrook made an immediate impact, leading all Knicks and Thunder scorers with 32 points and eight assists, most coming before halftime. The accuracy was there- Westbrook made 8-of-11 shots in his first 15 minutes- but three turnovers signified a need to regain his tempo.

Oklahoma City isn't a title contender without Kevin Durant, who is recovering from a fracture of his own. Westbrook, however, is the cog that will keep Oklahoma City's season alive while the reigning MVP is on the mend.

The Thunder scored 90.1 points per game in Westbrook and Durant's absence. That's less that point more than the winless 76ers and nearly 16 points than their average last season. Worse yet, a well-rounded defense- ranked fourth in points allowed- hasn't had the luxury of pertinent scorers outside of Reggie Jackson and Serge Ibaka. Jackson places among the league's top guards in points, assists, and rebounds but may see a considerable lack of playing time with Westbrook back.

Westbrook needs Jackson to propel the Thunder offense. The team lacks any off-the-dribble creativity. They need playmakers to step up in Durant's absence. Jackson's efficiency has taken a hit since OKC's superstars went down. He's gone from 44 percent shooting last season to 41.6 this year and from 2.1 turnovers per game to 3.2. The burden was on Jackson to lead, and he couldn't do it without Westbrook or Durant.

If OKC sneaks into the playoffs, they would be the most dangerous eighth-seed in recent memory. Westbrook alone provide enough firepower to advance past the opening round. He was invigorating in the his lone game before suffering a fractured hand, posting 38 points and six assists in just 33 minutes against the Trail Blazers on Oct. 30.

OKC lost but it wasn't because of Westbrook. They didn't have Durant. They didn't have Jackson. Only nine men suited up. Friday night's thrashing of the Knicks proved that Westbrook is capable of resurrecting Oklahoma City, regardless of whether the "Durantula" is in the lineup.

For the Thunder to have a glimmer of a playoff chance, Westbrook will need more nights like Friday, and he'll need to do it consistently until Durant gets back.    

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