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What if Russell Westbrook is never quite as explosive again?

Oct 3, 2013, 8:11 PM EDT

Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook takes a break on the court against the Houston Rockets in the second half of their Game 2 NBA Playoffs basketball game in Oklahoma City. Reuters

Russell Westbrook is just 25 years old and diligent about recovery from the meniscus injury he suffered last playoffs. We’ve seen him throw his crutches into the pool, but we’ve now also seen him need a second surgery to clean everything up.

Still, he has said when he comes back he will be the same aggressive, explosive guy he’s always been.

But what if he’s not?

Here in Los Angeles (I nearby in the LBC) there is an interesting weekend morning show on ESPN Radio with former NBA assistant coach Dave Miller and orthopedic surgeon Robert Klapper (Dr. Klapper to you) mostly giving advice to weekend warriors who pull up lame. But they also discuss major sports injuries.

Dr. Klapper said some interesting things about Westbrook, as highlighted by Royce Young at Daily Thunder.

“So this is what’s going on. I want you to think of the meniscus as a slice of apple pie,” Klapper said. “If you tear the meniscus where the tip of the slice is, we clean it up and you’re playing within a few weeks. But, in the case of Russell Westbrook, he tore his meniscus where the crust of the slice of pie is. That’s in an area where we try to repair it when it tears there because there’s good circulation. We call it the red-red zone. Those are the cases, where when you operate, you got to keep the person on crutches, protect their weight-bearing and they’re not coming back right away. So that tells us that the first time they put stitches in, it obviously didn’t work and they’re trying to do it yet again….

“Well, just like real estate, what do they say?” he continued. “Location, location, location. When we are talking about the lateral meniscus, the meniscus on the outside of your knee, versus the medial meniscus, the difference between the two is the lateral meniscus gets all the rotational pivoting when you make maneuvers. And that is Russell Westbrook’s game. It’s not just a pounding structure, it’s actually a rotatory stabilizer. So his game is absolutely going to be impacted because it’s the lateral meniscus and not the medial meniscus.”

Thunder fans should take a deep breath… but yes, I’d be worried a little.

Klapper was not involved in the Westbrook surgeries nor has he consulted on this case, so take it with salt if you wish. But the question he raises is one that should worry Thunder fans:

What if Westbrook just is not the same?

Here’s the dirty little secret about the Thunder — their sets are simplistic. They can get away with that, especially in the regular season, because they have the best pure scorer on the planet in Kevin Durant and the explosive Westbrook. If you blow up their sets, one of those two go isolation and score at a rate most teams can’t match. (It’s more complex than that; this is the one paragraph synopsis.)

But what happens if Westbrook loses just half a step? Especially since there is no James Harden or even Kevin Martin to soak up those possessions.

The Thunder have a lot of questions to answer. So does Westbrook when he returns.

  1. gbpxlvi - Oct 3, 2013 at 8:19 PM

    Mmmmmmm pie

    • tomshoe - Oct 3, 2013 at 8:40 PM

      That would suck, it would be another potential dynasty, dead. Unless OKC strikes it big in the lottery again, I have my doubts KD would be happy standing around with no titles.

  2. antistratfordian - Oct 3, 2013 at 8:23 PM

    Yeah, I saw this yesterday. Something that people don’t really talk about is that Chris Paul still hasn’t returned to his pre-injury form from ’08 and ’09. He’s still very good, but he’s not what he used to be.

    • adamsjohn714 - Oct 4, 2013 at 12:19 AM

      Yes. He is.

  3. legend30 - Oct 3, 2013 at 9:32 PM

    What happens if Durant doesn’t win a ring?

    • stayhigh_247 - Oct 4, 2013 at 12:15 AM

      he’s still an hall of famer regardless, i know its early in his career but thats a given.

    • henryd3rd - Oct 4, 2013 at 5:20 AM

      Nothing! LaBron won’t mind!

  4. jerdogthompson - Oct 3, 2013 at 9:51 PM

    Yeah. Way to bring CP3 into the discussion. What a maroon.

    By the way Kurt good to hear ur hanging in the LBC my stomping grounds. Be sure to visit Pine ave, as you know Thursdays are better than Fridays for the bar scene. Hope you enjoy ur stay.

    • Kurt Helin - Oct 6, 2013 at 10:47 AM

      It’s not a stay, I’ve lived in Long Beach 12 years now.

  5. bigbamboom1 - Oct 3, 2013 at 10:33 PM

    Or, Westbrook may just slow his penetration game down a bit. Become a deadlier outside shooter. A more patient and deliberate penetrator. And become an expert passer. In other words. A lethal point guard that makes everyone in the lineup better. More in the mold of Isaiah Thomas. The Thunder can win quite a few titles with Durant, Ibaka and Westbrook if he commits to playing that way.

  6. johngalt1783 - Oct 3, 2013 at 10:49 PM

    Not surprising. I figured as much once I knew the nature of the injury. Having said that Andre Miller has had a very nice career never getting more than two inches off the court. Its debatable whether Miller has less lift than Laimbeer did.

    Anyway I think it is going to be tough for Westbrook because he doesn’t have the Billups or CP3 walk it up the court mentality and is nowhere near the shooter than CP3 is. Eric Gordon has had a lot of injuries due to a great extent on how aggressive he plays.

    When could be in the same situation as a pitcher who lives primarily off his heater and then has Tommy John surgery. Think Frank Tanana as an old case of this. Some have adjusted to become very good finesse pitchers but a bunch have never been able to adjust.

    I wish Westbrook the best.

    • asimonetti88 - Oct 3, 2013 at 11:54 PM

      “Andre Miller has had a very nice career never getting more than two inches off the court.”

      I lol’d. It will definitely be interesting if Westbrook develops a more consistent jump shot to keep defenses honest.

    • lhollis74 - Oct 4, 2013 at 12:50 AM

      Yes, but Andre has a very underrated handle, he can get anywhere he wants on the court without quickness or explosiveness. He gets his shot off usually cause his handle combined with footwork gets defenders off balance enough to clear space for a flat footed stand still jumper. Question is, does Westbrook have handles like that? I honestly am not sure one way or the other.

  7. thundersandpackers - Oct 4, 2013 at 12:08 AM

    I see it now. KD and Rose teaming up.

    • stayhigh_247 - Oct 4, 2013 at 12:14 AM

      If KD came to Chicago, that would be a dynasty.

  8. rickyspanish - Oct 4, 2013 at 12:13 AM


    Durant teaming up with Rose would look exactly like Durant and Westbrook. Westbrook and Rose are the same type of player. Physically gifted, fearless superstar athletes with a dash of inconsistency.

    • lhollis74 - Oct 4, 2013 at 12:43 AM

      Negative, remember Rose is closer to being a pure point than Westbrook. Take their college careers for reference, Westbrook did not play the point at ucla, he was off the ball, converted to point cuz he doesn’t have the height to play or guard the shooting guard position. Rose started at the point as a freshman for a very good Memphis team and was expected to mostly run the offense and distribute the ball, which he did very well, and wasn’t asked to score a lot cuz they already had plenty of scorers. If Durant played alongside Rose, he wouldn’t have to work so hard to receive a freaking pass, and would get the ball closer to the key with much more regularity, unlike he does currently always near the 3 point line.
      My biggest complaint against Westbrook has always been the fact that he doesn’t, or can’t get others easy shots. I’ve witnessed TOO many times where Westbrook has given up is dribble, Durant on the perimeter fending off defender with one arm, calling for ball with other hand 25 feet from the basket! What kind of point guard are you!?!

  9. lakerade - Oct 4, 2013 at 1:02 AM

    Westbrook doesn’t have the bulk that Andre has. And by bulk i mean basketball butt, like chuck bird magic aguirre melo aldridge and andre all have and use to great advantage. Westbrook’s game will change at some point, but it won’t be a post game featuring a ton of backing down an opponent.

    Although, with his range and elevation, that would be awesome to see. Back down the smaller ones, blow by the bigger ones. Either way, he’ll figure out a way to be effective, he’s too dynamic.

  10. freddysanford - Oct 4, 2013 at 3:36 PM

    46 years young sports medicine fanatic here, still balling like a maniac, running sub 7 min miles. First of all the pie analogy was poor because the meniscus is not shaped like a piece of pie. It’s an oval structure. At any rate, It is a incredibly resilient structure that can take an absolute pounding for many decades of sports. To tear it substantially, massive impact must be applied. Speaks to the force Westbrook generates when he moves. Never seen such explosiveness. Then again, many athletes are capable of that explosiveness, they’re just smarter than Westbrook. Westbrook’s ego didn’t want Westbrook to pace himself like he should have. Instead he has been going NUTS at full contact speed like a reckless nut. I predicted very early on his career would be short if he kept up that insane pace. Prediction complete. Rose will be in the same boat. These young reckless fools don’t impress me at all. Show me a man with self control and I will show you a wise player. Scouts are easily impressed. They never consider long term player health.

    • lhollis74 - Oct 5, 2013 at 2:53 AM

      Freddy, you are spot on, and it shows with d wade. If wade would have settled for more lay ups throughout the years in stead of trying to dunk every single time he gets near the rim, his knees wouldn’t have taken such a beating. He’s 6’4″” not 6’9″. But I believe he feels his superstar status is reliant on his high flying reputation cuz the long range shot isn’t there. The difference between star and superstar, is “box office”. “Box office” is three pointers and dunks, not lay ups and midrange.

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