The Oklahoma City Thunder have won seven games in a row. That's authentically terrific, particularly for a team that started the year an unsightly 0-4. And this week, one particular aspect of this recent run has come to the fore and made itself entirely undeniable.
In so many ways, OKC just looks better without Russell Westbrook, who has missed the last two games with an ankle injury.
In fact, until Russ went down, the Thunder had never surrendered fewer than a full 100.
How much will Russell Westbrook's sprained ankle cost the Thunder?— Rachel Nichols (@Rachel__Nichols) November 7, 2018
Tracy McGrady looked at OKC's upcoming schedule and said: not much. pic.twitter.com/FSBUEEpq5G
Russ is such an all-consumingly high-usage player that you can't even really run anything resembling an actual offensive game plan when he's your first option. Everything is about Russ all the time, and you've got zero choice but to live with all the bricked jump shots, turnovers, ball-stopping possessions in crunch time, a vomit-inducing transition game, and wall-to-wall embarrassing defense.
And when Westbrook isn't out on the court, all of those things have a chance to fall by the wayside.
Westbrook is ELITE very ELITE .... BUT this team looks better without him at times— NEIGHBORHOOD HERO (@NextLevel_Will) November 9, 2018
Think about it -- Paul George becomes the primary option. Jerami Grant, who does anything but hurt OKC when he's out there, gets to assert himself more on both ends. A hungry, motivated Dennis Schroder can bring the fullest effort he's ever brought. Hamidou Diallo is even starting to come on. All told, it's as if losing Russ was the best thing that could have happened to a team that looked as toxic as a Superfund site in the first two weeks of the season.
When the Thunder beat the Rockets by 18 without Russ pic.twitter.com/X7Fp8YtNou— NBA on TNT (@NBAonTNT) November 9, 2018
Consider Thursday night's big win over the Houston Rockets, a team that boat-raced the Thunder time and time again last season. It was a surprisingly low-scoring affair, but zero Rockets reached 20 points. James Harden and Chris Paul, the latter of whom looks like his body is falling apart before our eyes, combined for 10 turnovers.
Meanwhile, increased usage for 20-year-old Thunder guard Terrance Ferguson produced 14 points on 50 percent shooting in 30 minutes, good for a terrific plus-22.
Chris Paul and James Harden are making 65 million smackers this year and got outplayed by Dennis Schröder and Terrance Ferguson— Tweetgood Mac (@SnottieDrippen) November 9, 2018
Since no team can win a title if Westbrook is its best player, there's a lot to think about here. So, a