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Oklahoma Thunder guard Russell Westbrook is looking to get his teammates involved in teammate and 2013-14 NBA MVP Kevin Durant’s absence. Durant will sit out six to eight weeks because of a Jones fracture in his right foot.
Westbrook told ESPN’s Royce Young on Oct. 13 that it’s not all about him without Durant, the 2013-14 NBA MVP, who is expected to sit out the first six to eight weeks of the upcoming season because of a Jones fracture in his right foot:
“In the wake of Kevin Durant’s preseason injury that will likely sideline him at least the first month of the season, the big question has been what Thunder teammate Russell Westbrook said Monday. ‘I kind of want to take the attention off me and put it more on the team. Everybody keeps asking what I’m going to do and how I’m going to change. I think it’s more about team and what we can do.’
“Durant will be sidelined for at least six to eight weeks because of a Jones fracture in his right foot. The league’s reigning MVP alerted the team Saturday of some aching in his foot, and after X-rays, it was discovered he had a small broken bone at the base of the small toe.
“The Thunder will be missing a player who led the league in scoring last season with 32 points per game, while averaging 7.4 rebounds and 5.5 assists. As Thunder coach Scott Brooks said, there’s no replacing Durant on the floor, but all the Thunder are aiming for is to attempt to keep their heads above water.
“‘One of the things I’m smart enough to realize is we’re not going to replace Kevin’s offensive efficiency, his scoring, his playmaking, his defense,’ Brooks said. ‘But what we can do as a group is get better, so that when he does come back, when he’s ready to come back, we’re a better team.’
“Westbrook, who missed 36 games last season himself because of complications stemming from a 2013 procedure to repair a torn meniscus, said he understands entirely what Durant is feeling.
“‘If anybody knows what it feels like, I would know,’ Westbrook said. ‘I talked to Kevin; he’s in good spirits. He’s going to get back as soon as he can to help us out.’
“During Westbrook’s extended absence from late December to the All-Star break, Durant elevated his game to incredible heights, averaging 35 points and 6.3 assists as the Thunder went 20-7. It was a stretch that helped Durant seal the MVP, and with Westbrook presented a similar opportunity to carry his team, the feeling is the enigmatic Thunder point guard is going to relish the opportunity. Except he claims to be maintaining a steady mindset.
“Asked how his role might change, Wesbrook responded simply, ‘It doesn’t.'”
For his part, NBA.com’s Jeff Kaplan believes this is Westbrook’s opportunity to evolve as a leader for the Thunder:
“In that vein, this could be the biggest moment of Westbrook’s career. He watched last season as Durant pulled the Thunder together in his absence, and even at one point pulled them to the top of the West standings as Durant put together a string of historic performances that earned him his first MVP.
“Westbrook won’t be asked to become Michael Jordan, but he will be required to grow beyond this team’s fiery, emotional leader. As a ball-dominant point guard who has already committed to pursuing more ball movement within the Thunder’s star-driven offense this season, this is Westbrook’s moment to seize opportunity from adversity, to expand his game and back Brooks’ recent claim that the 6-foot-3 burst of energy is the best point guard in the league.
“Westbrook will need the help of others to be sure, including defensive-minded shooting guard Andre Roberson, erratic shooting guard Jeremy Lamb, unproven forward Perry Jones and newly aquired sharpshooter Anthony Morrow, but it will be in Westbrook’s hands to involve them all as the team transitions to an offense that will be 30 points lighter without Durant.
“Westbrook, 25, is fully recovered from his three knee surgeries, and perfectly positioned to silence detractors who criticize his decision-making, shot selection and an unbridled aggression that can cross the line to wildness. This is Westbrook’s opportunity not to shoot for a scoring title, but to become the leader and facilitator that will make him a more complete player, and the Thunder an even more complex team to defend when Durant returns.”
Westbrook has averaged 20.1 points, 4.9 rebounds and 6.9 assists in 440 career regular-season games for the Thunder, per ESPN stats.