Somewhere between wondering how good Steven Adams might be and worrying if Kelly Olynyk can possibly be strong enough to replace Kendrick Perkins is Russell Westbrook.
The NBA draft is Thursday night and the Thunder have the No. 12 pick, but more importantly than who, what position, and playing the, “If-only” game about the future possibilities and probabilities, the return of Westbrook is better than any lottery pick.
Remember, the Thunder were the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference when the playoffs started back in mid-April. They were the team to beat because Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook and three tepid bodies are a hard combination to guard, to stop and to slow down. Remember, even without James Harden, the Thunder were the favorites to return to the Finals and get another chance at the now two-time defending champ Miami Heat.
Remember, because until Westbrook’s knee was injured when Houston’s Patrick Beverley crashed into him, the Thunder had two All-Stars in the starting lineup. That injury made it nearly impossible to forget.
So, consider all your worrying about Perkins and forward Serge Ibaka to be un-necessary and un-needed. Concerned about Reggie Jackson’s minutes and progress? Contemplating how long before Jeremy Lamb gets a chance or whether Hasheem Thabeet will ever be half as good as he was supposed to be? Don’t be.
The Thunder can treat the 2013 draft like chicken in a Crockpot. Futz with it, fool around and tinker all they want. That’s fine.
Or, turn it on, let it simmer, don’t make a big deal about it. Everything will turn out OK.
That’s because Westbrook is going to be ready to go when the season starts in November, and just like a great putter makes up for poor iron play, Westbrook’s game sure fills a lot of other holes – the kind of voids that became obvious as the Thunder struggled past Houston and then stumbled against Memphis.
Kendrick Perkins hasn’t changed since we’ve known him in Thunder orange and blue. He was the same player this past year as he was when Oklahoma City made the Finals. If anything the rest of the team has improved, not regressed. Ibaka has gotten better. Collison has only been more reliable. Jackson proved to be a winner at point guard.
So why the worry?
Well, losing does that. It makes you rethink plans and makes you panic and there’s no reason to do that. So, thinking the 2013 draft is going to be a savior to a lost season is silly.
How any Oklahoma City fan could come up with a scenario where Adams, Olynyk or any mixing and matching from this year’s college players actually helps the team come November is beyond optimistic.
The thing to be mostly optimistic about is the three picks in two rounds. We know about the No. 12 pick, via Toronto, and the Thunder also have No. 29 and No. 32. Stockpiling centers might not be a bad idea, so taking a risk on Adams of Pittsburgh, who is said to have tremendous upside, might be worth it.
However, the steal of the draft could come by taking a chance on Michael Carter-Williams, a 6-foot-6, pass-first point guard from Syracuse. Taking Williams first would seem to make more sense. The Thunder don’t need a center to be successful. They need someone to facilitate Durant, Westbrook and Ibaka. Likely, Gorgui Dieng of Syracuse would still be there for the No. 29 pick, giving Oklahoma City a 6-11 athletic big man everyone says they have to have. Spend the No. 32 pick on Tim Hardaway Junior or Glen Rice Junior. Both are scoring options and both can get to the rim.
But no matter what the Thunder do, the best thing about the draft is it really doesn’t matter.
Oklahoma City doesn’t need draft day surprise to get better.