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Thursday Bolts: 9.13.18

Royce Young on Russell Westbrook’s right knee procedure: “Russell Westbrook underwent arthroscopic surgery on his right knee Wednesday, a procedure that likely will force him to miss the entire preseason and could sideline him for the Oklahoma City Thunder’s first few regular-season games. Westbrook will be re-evaluated in four weeks, with the Thunder opening the season Oct. 16 against the Golden State Warriors. If Westbrook is cleared after four weeks, he’ll be available to play in the Thunder’s opener against the Warriors, but obviously there will be no rush to get him back on the floor. Westbrook experienced some stiffness in the knee over the past week during individual workouts while preparing for training camp. He elected to have a standard scope as a pre-emptive “maintenance” procedure rather than potentially dealing with issues throughout the season. While the timing is not ideal with Thunder training camp opening on Sept. 25, the situation is not viewed by the team as anything to be alarmed about, with no lingering issues anticipated to follow the procedure.”

Erik Horne joined the NBA TV crew for a discussion about Westbrook’s knee:

Horne on how Westbrook’s injury may lead to early answers about the Thunder backcourt: “To the Thunder’s advantage, Schroder is a starting-caliber point guard who averaged 18.6 points, 6.3 assists and 3.1 rebounds per game the last two seasons as a starter in Atlanta, and excels in the pick-and-roll heavy scheme Westbrook has championed as the Thunder’s lead guard. Raymond Felton will slide into the backup point guard role he played last season. To the Thunder’s detriment, its starting backcourt will possibly be down two starters come opening night. Westbrook could return to game action before Andre Roberson, who is still recovering from rupturing the patellar tendon in his left knee in January. Roberson told The Oklahoman in July that he’d be ready for training camp, but said at his basketball camp in San Antonio in August he would return “when I feel ready,” and wants to be back to himself around December. Schroder could start alongside Alex Abrines, Terrance Ferguson or new acquisition Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot in preseason.”

Ti Windisch (FanSided) on the Thunder not knowing life without Westbrook: “Since Kevin Durant left Russell Westbrook and the Oklahoma City Thunder back in 2016, the Thunder have played a grand total of three games without their dynamic, fierce point guard across two regular and postseasons. All three games were regular season contests, and despite the Thunder going 2-1 in them it would seem that OKC will struggle if Westbrook does end up missing part of the regular season after his recent knee surgery. This iteration of the Thunder simply doesn’t know life without him. Westbrook has had injury-plagued seasons in the past, but those Thunder teams were built around multiple heavy usage stars ready to step in. This one has Paul George, who is an elite player, but who is best utilized as a second option. Having PG-13 helps, but it’s not quite the same as being able to fall back on Kevin Durant. Everybody will have to shoot more with no Westbrook in the lineup, including players typically not asked to do a whole lot on offense. Having George take some more shots is one thing, but asking Andre Roberson, Steven Adams or Jerami Grant to do more on offense could compromise their efficiency.”

Clay Horning (Norman Transcript) on the Thunder being as prepared as possible for Westbrook’s absence: “Should the seven-time all-star not be available for the Oct. 16 season opener at Golden State, because of a deal made over the summer with the Atlanta Hawks — the same deal that saved the Thunder a fortune in salary and luxury tax and shed Carmelo Anthony — Oklahoma City will still have a proven and starting-caliber point guard, Dennis Schroder, to lean on in the interim. Though it’s unclear if Westbrook’s unavailability will extend into the regular season, Schroder’s certain to receive more practice reps with the first team over the course of training camp and to play a bigger role during the Thunder’s preseason schedule, which begins Oct. 3 against Detroit at Chesapeake Energy Arena. Schroder averaged 31 minutes, 19.4 points and 6.2 assists over 67 games with the Hawks last season.”

Paul George landed at number 11 on SI’s Top 100 players list: “Indiana gave George the opportunity to lead a team of his own, which only led him to relish a day he didn’t have to. He is a star built for these times—both fully capable of taking a team over the top and fully aware of how much help it takes to win. Playing in Oklahoma City works for him. George does his best work when he doesn’t have to handle the ball on every possession, which is never really a problem with Russell Westbrook around. Both operate in ways that make the other’s job easier: Westbrook’s shot creation is a relief to George, who can do more of his work off the ball. Meanwhile, George is enough of a draw that a defense can’t just load up against Westbrook’s drives. One pushes, the other pulls. In truth, George could have that kind of basketball relationship with any number of stars around the league. Good fits come naturally when a scorer of George’s caliber doubles as an elite spot-up shooter. All sorts of lineups make sense when George can defend the best player across three positions.”

Gerald Bourguet (HoopsHabit) has Andre Roberson on his list of DPOY candidates: “OKC finished as the league’s 10th-best defense last year, but before Roberson’s season-ending injury, they were ranked fifth, giving up 103.1 points per 100 possessions. After that injury, they plummeted to 15th with a defensive rating of 107.0. The Thunder’s defense was also a whopping 11.2 points per 100 possessions stingier with him on the floor. There’s no question Roberson is one of the game’s elite defensive stoppers, but his issue is the low block and steal averages (1.2 and 0.9 per game, respectively), and the fact that he might not be 100 percent until December.”

Nick Gallo on the growth of Alex Abrines: “Overall, his foul and turnover numbers are trending in the right direction, and the coaching staff’s ability to keep Abrines and his shooting on the floor in crucial moments last season was quite encouraging. Abrines knew that coming to the best league in the world and competing for one of the very best teams in that league would be a challenge. Minutes aren’t guaranteed and the stakes are high. But this summer Abrines reiterated that he wants to leave everything he has on the floor, to make the children who attend his Spanish basketball camps proud and to rise to the occasion to be the type of running mate that can thrive alongside players like Russell Westbrook, Paul George and Steven Adams. The signs are there that Abrines is coming around in some of the nuance areas of the game, and the 25-year old is still entering his prime. Looking at the roster as a whole, Abrines’ continued ascension could transform him into the perfect complement to the Thunder’s generational superstars and high caliber role players. The Thunder is on a similar trajectory, with one Larry O’Brien trophy-sized goal in mind.”

Albert Dadson (HoopsHabit) with three goals for Nerlens Noel this season: “For the Thunder this season, he will have to man the middle when Steven Adams needs a rest. The team was worse on defense when Adams was out of the game and there was not a person on the roster that could stuff the middle like him when he needed a breather. With Noel on the team, the Thunder will have a defensive stopper in the middle for the second unit. In his rookie season, Noel posted 1.9 blocks per game and he followed that up with 1.5 blocks per game the next season. Those are the highest averages of his career, and he will need to go back to those days while with the Thunder. This season, Noel will have the opportunity to play an important role for OKC as a backup big and will be able to impact the game on the defensive end of the floor.”

Around the League: Dirk has high praise for Luka Doncic…. The sad story of Lorenzen Wright…. The best and worst of LeBron’s signature sneakers…. It’s always a Bull market for Tom Thibodeau…. The five best NBA careers ruined by injury…. Who are the NBA’s most productive passers?