Should we be happy about Westbrook's return?
By Jesse Pantuosco, Fantasy Sports Writer
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network.com) - Apparently Kevin Durant subscribes to the Shaquille O'Neal theory of nicknames: you can never have too many.
This year alone, Durant has been referred to as KD, Durantula, Slim Reaper and now The Servant.
But Friday with Grantland's Bill Simmons, Durant wasn't talking nicknames. He was talking about his injured teammate Russell Westbrook.
Speaking of Westbrook ... when is that dude coming back?
"Against Miami," Durant told Simmons, simultaneously inciting Twitter delirium throughout the planet.
Would you look at that? Oklahoma City's next game is scheduled for Thursday against Miami. Durant must be some kind of prophet or something.
Assuming this Westbrook fellow does suit up Thursday against the defending champs, we've got a lot to talk about.
Don't worry I'm not going to bore you with the scouting report. If you've made it this far into the article, I'm assuming you've seen Westbrook play before.
For fantasy owners, the question isn't "what will Westbrook do?" We already know what he's capable of (20.0 ppg, 6.9 apg in 419 NBA contests). It's what will everyone AROUND him do?
Reggie Jackson is one of the guys you're probably wondering about. In Westbrook's absence, Jackson has gained quite a fantasy following. In fact, heading into tonight's action, the 23-year-old Boston College product is owned in 98.8 percent of ESPN leagues. As the great Derek Zoolander would put it, "that's a bit above average."
With Westbrook on crutches, Jackson has carved out a spot for himself in the starting lineup. In 27 games without Westbrook, he's averaged 32 minutes per game, a noticeable increase from his usual 24.9.
Not surprisingly, the expanded minutes have led to increased point production. In the last two months, Jackson has averaged 14.8 ppg while attempting 14 shots per game. Compare that to his 12.5 ppg average in 28 games prior to Westbrook's injury (10.6 field goal attempts per game). Efficiency has eluded Jackson (just 41.9 percent from the field without Westbrook) but in the fantasy realm, we all know that volume is just as important.
Let's not be shortsighted about this. Even if he is the best player in our particular solar system (or second-best depending on how enamored you are with LeBron James), Durant's fantasy value is undoubtedly going to be affected by Westbrook's return. And not in a good way.
For Durant owners, these last two months have been absolute debauchery. Seriously, you're craziest spring break in Cancun can't compare to Durant's epic stretch of fantasy silliness. With Westbrook on bench patrol, Durant has endured a tidal wave of awesome, scoring 35.0 ppg on 52.7 percent shooting.
That compares rather favorably to his still barely-human 28.2 ppg with Westbrook in the lineup. Durant has averaged a Carmelo-like 22.4 field goal attempts per game during Westbrook's eight-week vacation (18.3 before his injury).
The domino effect continues. Serge Ibaka, though still relevant because of his shot-blocking expertise, certainly will lose value with Westbrook back in the starting five.
Ibaka's field goal percentage has been far higher with Westbrook gone (56.4 percent versus 52.0), though his rebounding numbers have been about the same (9.0 rpg with Westbrook, 8.5 rpg without). Ibaka's 15.7 ppg average without Westbrook is slightly higher than the 14.4 ppg he posted in 28 games before he got hurt.
And how about Jeremy Lamb, another guy who's been gaining steam without Westbrook in the lineup? The second-year man out of UConn has seen almost 24 mpg over his last 27 appearances. The 10.5 ppg he's averaged over that span isn't anything to write home about but as a 21-year-old, it's something you can build off of.
As bright and shiny as Lamb's future may be, his recent progress could be slowed by the return of Westbrook. With Westbrook feasting on as many open looks as possible (as well as plenty of not-so open looks), Lamb would be hard-pressed to match the 9.5 shots per game he's totaled over the last two months.
As heartbreaking as Westbrook's return must be to fantasy owners, it's easy to see why OKC is anxious to have him back. Even with lesser-known guys like Jackson and Lamb being able to spread their wings, the Thunder just hasn't been the same without its floor general.
Oklahoma City has won 74.1 percent of its games in Westbrook's absence (20-7) compared to an impossible 82.1 percent before his injury (23-5). OKC's ppg average has dropped by nearly three points without Westbrook (103.6 ppg versus 106.4).
Westbrook will be greeted with open arms Thursday when he returns to Chesapeake Energy Arena. Just don't expect fantasy owners, especially ones with Durant and Jackson on their teams, to be quite as cheerful.
02/18 17:46:44 ET