Here are the winners and losers of the Thunder’s 2013 postseason run:
Winner – Russell Westbrook’s reputation
Anyone doubting Westbrook’s importance to the Thunder’s success any more? *Crickets*. Over the past couple seasons, as a talented scoring machine who never seems to tire, Westbrook made a strong push toward etching his name among the league’s elite. But, ironically, his sudden absence from the court, for the first time since grade school, may have strengthened that case. He’s a top-10, likely top-5 talent and one of the NBA’s most indispensable players. You can use this past month as evidence.
Loser – Thunder fans
Just like the last three years, OKC ended its season with a heartbreaking loss in the postseason. But there was something different about 2013, something artificial. NBA history is lined with devastating injuries that derail the title hopes of serious contenders, but Thunder history was void of that experience until this year. You can — or should be able to — accept when your team loses a playoff series at full strength. But it becomes a lot tougher to swallow when your season, for all intents and purposes, ends on a random mid-afternoon on a non-gameday, through a surprising injury press release and a string of revealing tweets. Chalk it up in the ‘What if…’ category. Bad breaks happen.
Winner – Reggie Jackson
From a developmental standpoint, Jackson was one of the only silver linings from this stunted postseason run. The second-year guard received a bulk of the minutes left by Westbrook and played about as well as you could have expected. He seemed comfortable in a tough situation, flashing his natural skill and showing the organization he can be relied on in a heavier role next season. Really, if there was a knock on his postseason play, it was his occasional hesitance to remain aggressive, acting like a backup option when he was likely one of OKC’s better scoring options. His postseason averages: 13.9 points, 4.9 rebounds, 3.6 assists, 33.5 minutes and 48 percent shooting in 11 games. Solid contributions.
Loser – Kendrick Perkins
As has been detailed, the Amnesty Perkins movement is a pointless one. OKC is not going to pay one of its best locker room guys, with a still somewhat useful skill set, $18 million to just go away. But there’s no denying how bad he struggled during the past month, his limited offensive game exposed mightily in Westbrook’s absence. The first series, against Houston’s four-guard lineup, was just a bad matchup for Perkins. The second series, against Memphis’ talented frontline, he was just severely outplayed. Perkins’ final postseason numbers: 24 points, 24 turnovers, 39 fouls, 10-37 shooting, a plus/minus of -40 and a PER of -0.7, the worst in NBA Playoff history. Rough month.
Winner – Derek Fisher
The 17-year veteran continues to add to his ridiculous postseason resume. In an eight-game stretch right after Westbrook’s injury, Fisher turned into one of OKC’s more consistent players, drilling more than 50 percent of his threes, playing some solid defense and easily justifying the organization’s highly scrutinized move to sign him. Here are his career playoff numbers: 240 games (second all-time), 273 threes (fourth all-time) and five titles.
Loser – Kevin Durant’s legs
The Thunder star played admirably, even in defeat. And for a brief time after the Westbrook injury, KD played at such an unbelievably prolific rate that he had some optimists believing he could potentially carry this team, even without its All-Star point guard, through a Western Conference minefield and back to the Finals. Just take a look at his points-rebounds-assists in the nine post-Westbrook games: 41-14-4, 38-8-6, 36-7-7, 27-8-6, 35-15-6, 36-11-9, 25-11-5, 27-7-7 and 21-8-6. Those are crazy numbers, but ones that eventually caught up to him. The heavy offensive burden, extended minutes and physical Grizzlies defense eventually wore him down, leading to rough shooting and a frustrating end to his impressive playoff run.
Winner – Spurs and Grizzlies
Even with Westbrook, the Thunder was far from a lock to return to the NBA Finals. But entering the postseason, OKC was widely considered the conference favorites. That abruptly ended with the Westbrook news, clearing the path for Memphis and San Antonio to battle it out for a shot at the Heat (…or Pacers/Knicks).
Loser – The NBA
The league lost one of its most entertaining teams and marketable superstars less than a week into the two-month postseason journey. The Thunder, and its highly entertaining offense, was never the same. After an incredible season, Westbrook seemed destined for a fun ride through the NBA’s second season, with every converted mid-range pull-up or wild fastbreak lay-in complete with an ‘I’m the best point guard in the league’ scowl. He made the Thunder more fun, in turn making the playoffs more fun. So his loss was the league’s loss.