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Westbrook is Unleashed, but Proceed with Caution Backing OKC

Russell Westbrook Oklahoma City Thunder NBA

Back in mid-May, the Oklahoma City Thunder were on the brink of punching their ticket to the NBA Finals. They had a 3-1 series lead over the Golden State Warriors in the Western Conference final but couldn’t finish the job. Ultimately, the Warriors battled back and won that series in seven games.

Since then, Kevin Durant famously bounced out of OKC to join the Warriors, leaving the Thunder to Russell Westbrook. While the Durant move deservedly grabbed all the headlines, one thing that should not be overlooked is the fact that Westbrook is now the definitive alpha dog in OKC.

The impact of KD's loss has yet to be felt on the floor, but if last season was any indication, what’s ahead might not be good. Durant missed 10 games last season, but Russ didn’t play in two of those either. So there were eight instances when Westbrook was the de facto alpha and the results weren’t great.

Westbrook Without Durant in 2015-16
2015/11/13vs PHIW102-85W-13
2015/11/15vs BOSL100-85L-5
2015/11/16@ MEML122-114L+2.5
2015/11/18vs NOPW110-103L-12
2015/11/20vs NYKL93-90L-6.5
2016/11/22vs DALW117-114L-3.5
2016/01/04vs SACL116-104L-7.5
2016/03/29@ DETL88-82L+1.5

Yeah, that’s a horrific 1-7 ATS mark (3-5 SU) in those eight games without KD. Not great, Bob.

While this certainly doesn’t mean that OKC is a fade option night in and night out as soon as the season tips off on Oct. 25, it sure is interesting. Personally, with everything that’s gone down in the offseason, we’re going to see a Russ with a chip on his shoulder. And angry Russ is the best kind of Russ. The possibilities of a KD-free Westbrook are exciting, to say the least.

Here’s a look at where the Thunder stand as far as the futures board is concerned.

NBA Championship +4000

For the Thunder to do this, it throws a wrench into the whole “you need more than one superstar to win an NBA championship” narrative that has dominated the ideology for years. And I happen to agree with that thinking.

Look, I love Russell Westbrook. And if you like the NBA and the game of basketball in general, then you love him too. But this Thunder team isn’t winning the title. Victor Oladipo is nice and between Steven Adams and Enes Kanter, all of the rebounds are OKC’s. But if the Thunder couldn’t do it with KD, I sense they struggle to do so without him.

Western Conference +2000

In a conference with the Warriors, Los Angeles Clippers and San Antonio Spurs? Nah. I will go on record as saying OKC will make the postseason, but it will clearly be as a low seed. Still, if Russ is averaging near triple-double numbers and OKC is hovering around the top and makes a positive trade at the deadline to bolster its squad, maybe this isn’t so far-fetched.

Northwest Division +250

Online shop Bovada lists the Thunder as the favorites to win a very deep Northwest. Are the Thunder better than the Portland Trail Blazers or Utah Jazz? I doubt it. Many are expecting the Jazz to make great strides (though the Gordon Hayward injury sure doesn’t help) and Portland, though overpaying players left and right, features a killer backcourt and the offensive brilliance of Terry Stotts.

Throw in the fact that the young Timberwolves are ready to make a giant leap with Karl-Anthony Towns, Andrew Wiggins and now Tom Thibodeau as head coach, that makes four contenders.

If this price were a bit lower, I’d be all over it, but at +250, I’m just not feeling it. Maybe wait this one out to see where the team stands after a couple of months.

Season Win Total: 43.5

In 2008-09, the Thunder won just 23 games. Since then, they’ve eclipsed 43.5 every season, even in the shortened ’11-12 campaign (47) and the ’14-15 season (45) when Durant played in just 27 games and Westbrook missed 15.

The Thunder are still going to be competitive. People say they lack shooting from beyond the arc, but Oladipo, Ersan Ilyasova, Anthony Morrow and newcomer Alex Abrines can all shoot. They’ll rebound better than most (especially on the offensive end) and they’ll play good D. Backing the OVER here is the best futures bet on the OKC board here.

2016 Oklahoma City Thunder Futures Odds
NBA Championship+4000
Western Conference+2000
Northwest Division+250
Win Total43.5

Odds as of October 22 at Bovada