Biggest week of the season for the Thunder?
Probably. Well, definitely. Starting tonight, we’re going to get confirmation on a few things we probably already know.
But it’s really an opportunity to learn something big that we don’t.
Starting tonight, when the Thunder take on the Pacers in Indianapolis, we’ll see if Russell Westbrook is good enough to beat mediocre teams all by himself (he is). Later this week, with games at home against Cleveland and Golden State, we’re going to see if Russell Westbrook can beat really good teams all by himself (he’s not).
And ultimately, we’re going to see, once and for all, if this Thunder team can count on anyone other than Russell Westbrook when things really matter.
That’s the question, isn’t it? Because it isn’t about whether the Thunder will make the playoffs (they will), or if they will win a championship (they won’t). It’s about if the Thunder are good enough to compete (?), good enough to say, “Yes, this team is moving forward and it’s about if Thunder have the pieces around Russell Westbrook to pacify Westbrook and to convince a fan base that this bunch is worth watching for something more than a Westbrook triple-double.
Yes, we’ll be on triple-double watch again this week when Westbrook goes up against LeBron and then against KD and the Warriors, but really what we should be watching for is the barometer this week will prove to be.
Yes, this is a big week. No, the Thunder aren’t winning a title, but in a span of these three games there is an opportunity to learn more. Not about Westbrook. We know he can’t beat the great teams in the league all by his lonesome – certainly not in a series, that’s for sure. And no, he can’t continue to carry the rest of his teammates like a backpack, scoring 40-plus points per game while violently taking over fourth quarter after fourth quarter. That’s too much for anyone.
We can find out, truly learn, when the Thunder play a good team, who can be counted on. Right now, we really don’t know. Blame coach Billy Donovan. There’s some reason to. After all, rotations and substitution patters are inconsistent and spotty. Blame Steven Adams, who hasn’t lived up to his new contract. At least not yet, anyway. Blame Anthony Morrow and any others. All criticisms have a degree of validity. The point is, no one knows if Alex Abrines or any of the other new faces are going to be real players in this league. Is Cam Payne the answer at back-up point guard?
Well, you don’t find out against Portland and Sacramento. You learn the truth when you face Cleveland and Golden State.
The best thing that happens the rest of this season isn’t wins or losses. We know the Thunder are going to the playoffs and likely aren’t going too far. The best thing that happens is players other than Westbrook prove themselves to be worthy in Westbrook’s eyes. Good enough complements to Westbrook that he feels the team is moving in the right direction. What better chance to prove that than now – against Cleveland and against Golden State.
Whether Westbrook will stay in OKC long-term is the most-compelling story with this team. That’s a bit down the road, but not so far we can’t see it. In the meantime, the Thunder need to figure out who, if anyone, is going to be along for the ride with Westbrook.
It starts this week.