Throughout his high school career at California’s Leuzinger in Lawndale, then UCLA and finally during his first five years with the Oklahoma City Thunder, Russell Westbrook never missed a game. That changed when he tore his right meniscus on April 24 against Houston in the opening round of the playoffs. But with training camp starting Saturday, Westbrook is ready to get back on the court and believes he’ll be better than ever.
There is no timetable for Westbrook’s return from the repaired meniscus. Thunder GM Sam Presti told the Oklahoman that Russ will work his way back during training camp:
We expect him to take part in parts of camp and work his way through different parts until he’s ultimately cleared for unrestricted activity. But it’s all going to be contingent upon how his body reacts to the additional load that he’ll be carrying.”
Russ — for his part — doesn’t have a doubt in his mind about a full recovery and even tells the Oklahoman, “I’m going to come back and be better.”
Westbrook’s unshakable confidence will be needed as he attempts to get back into the flow on the court. Even though he’s never faced an injury of this magnitude in his basketball career, there was no hemming and hawing about his health, or his confidence in, not just his game, but his surgically repaired leg, too.
“I’ll always have confidence. I never lose confidence in myself or my ability to do whatever. The organization has been doing a great job of helping me through the rehab process so I’m confident and I’ll be confident enough in my leg to do whatever I need to do.”
But Westbrook’s upcoming return — no matter when it happens — will “probably be overhyped,” he says with his trademark candor.
Still, “Every season I try to come back and be a better player. This season should be no different. I should try to come back and be a better player, better teammate and come back and try to win,” he adds.
With Westbrook sitting last season during all but one game of the Houston series and the entire Memphis series in the Western Conference Semifinals, the Thunder scored 9.3 points less per 100 possessions (via NBA.com). After finishing second in the league in scoring last season (a tenth of a point less per 100 possessions than Miami), the Thunder’s 102.5 PPP during the postseason without Russ would have ranked 18th in the league. True, the Thunder faced off against the grit n’ grind crew in Memphis, but their scoring numbers dipped even against the sieve-like Rockets defense.
SB Nation’s Tom Ziller recently looked at Russell’s impact as a shot creator and found his helter-skelter game is necessary for Thunder teammates like Serge Ibaka and then-sixth man Kevin Martin to get open looks they can’t create themselves.
The Thunder had a true shooting percentage of 58 percent during the regular season, but without Russ over their last 10 playoff games, that fell to 52.1 percent, per NBA.com. Obviously teams lock down on defense a lot more during the postseason, so those numbers are a bit skewed. But it’s important to remember just how important Russ is to what the Thunder do on offense, and much star Kevin Durant relies on Russ to ease the offensive load.
How do you think Westbrook will do when he gets back on the court?
Follow Spencer on Twitter at @countcenci.
Follow Dime on Twitter at @DimeMag.
Become a fan of Dime Magazine on Facebook HERE.