The Oklahoma City Thunder, and the entire NBA for that matter, will be boosted by the return of superstar Kevin Durant. The Thunder have gotten off to a slow 5-12 start this season hampered by the injuries to Durant and point guard Russell Westbrook, who recently returned to the lineup in a win over the Knicks. Now with the return of both of their stars the Thunder face an uphill battle to get into the playoff race in a very deep Western Conference.
Last Year’s NBA MVP Kevin Durant has been out since fracturing his foot before the season and will now return in a game against the New Orleans Pelicans. His injury was a huge blow to a team that had championship expectations coming into this season, but the addition of an injury to Russell Westbrook has given this team an awful start to the season, as well. With a record of 5-12 the Thunder currently sit in 12th place in the West and are four and a half games out of the playoffs.
Even with their lackluster start, the one thing the Thunder have on their side is time, they have only played 17 games of an 82 game season. There are few positives about having your two stars out for a good chunk of the season, but another one is definitely the fact that the players around them had a chance to grow in their absence. In the time during Durant and Westbrook’s absence Reggie Jackson showed that he could be another really good scoring option. Jackson averaged 19.5 points and 7.5 assists in that time and now his confidence should be high, even though he will have to adjust to a diminished role.
After the injury to Durant it was expected that Russell Westbrook would be able to carry the team in their MVP’s absence, but his injury really limited the Thunder in their start. Westbrook returned in their last game and showed how good he is again with a 32-point effort adding 8 assists and 7 rebounds. He, along with Durant will have a tough hill to climb to return their team to contention.
For all NBA fans the Durant injury was a major dissapointment to this season because of how well he played last season, winning his first MVP. Over the summer he pulled out of Team USA to avoid injury and give himself some rest but still got injured before the season. The problem for him and the Thunder was the timing of his injury and the fact that the Western Conference might be even better than it was last season.
During this time of injuries the Thunder have shown what has held them back since making the James Harden trade, maybe the worst trade in the history of the league, their inability to surround Westbrook and Durant with talent. Outside of Serge Ibaka and Reggie Jackson there are few players on this team that would get major minutes on any other team in the NBA. Both Westbrook and Durant are heading towards free agency and OKC need to think about how they are going to convince them to stay on a team that has gotten worse every season since their NBA Finals loss to the Heat in 2012.
For the Oklahoma City Thunder the season truly starts now with the return of Kevin Durant added to the recent return of Russell Westbrook. They face a tough climb to get back into the playoff race in the West but should be able to get their considering those two players talent and the fact that they still have about 75 percent of the season left to go.
Commentary By Max Petkevicius
Photo Courtesy of Keith Allison – Creativecommons License