by Eddie Maisonet, III / @edthesportsfan

Patrick Beverly still can’t show his face in the state of Oklahoma at all.

Such is life when you ruin the hopes and dreams of a franchise whose intentions are squarely focused on winning a Championship by barreling into the knee of Russell Westbrook. Diagnosed with a slight tear in the right meniscus, Westbrook would be sidelined on the type of athletic defensive play that he attempts on a nightly basis. Almost a cruel and ironic fate for the dynamo that is Westbrook.

But seriously, Patrick Beverly, you can’t show your face in the Sooner State ever again. (OK, besides actual games versus the Thunder, but that’s it.)

In a scant nine games, the machine that was the Oklahoma City Thunder was reduced to rubble as an already primitive offense was reduced to Kevin Durant playing hero ball night after night. The Thunder’s defense lacked a sense of aggression and confidence, and the roster as a whole looked lost as their instigator was chilling up in the luxury box eating popcorn and wearing funny looking shirts.

Westbrook comes in at No. 12 on this current iteration of the SLAM Top 50, but it’s not his true place in the pantheon of great players in the NBA. The SLAM writers voted Westbrook in at No. 5, but that torn meniscus along with missing time on the schedule means that Westbrook had to be knocked down the list. Missing time, or put another way, being accountable, is what the Thunder will miss most. Westbrook never misses a game (hasn’t since his high school days), he always gives maximum effort on every play and for a still-young team—these things help set the tone. They are the intangibles every coach would love to have in their players.

“Russell’s leadership and improvement on the defensive end, to me, have made him not only one of the top point guards but one of the top players in the game. And I love the fact that he just does it every night at a high level. He doesn’t make excuses. When he plays bad, he owns up to it; when he plays good, he’s not telling the whole world how good he is.” — Scott Brooks

Ultimately for the Thunder, this could prove to be beneficial to them in the long run. It gives Reggie Jackson a chance to develop as a floor leader and scorer on the big stage instead of being just the King of the Summer League. It gives Jeremy Lamb a real chance to handle some of the scoring load left behind. Serge Ibaka will actually have to learn and utilize an actual post move or two. Durant…well, he’s Durant, so yeah. There’s nothing really to say about that guy. That bum.

Oklahoma City’s going to struggle. There will be growing pains, and at times, folks will be wondering what the hell is Scott Brooks doing. Westbrook (along with Durant) was OKC’s “Get Out Of Jail Free” card in real life, except that they used that card 20-30 times a game. Brooks must get better without Westbrook, and if he can, he’ll make Westbrook better because of it. Because somehow he’s got to find a way to get easy shots and manufacture offense, and that’s when Westbrook’s burden can be lightened in his return.

“I feel like I haven’t done nothing yet. Until we get some Championships around here, I won’t feel like I’ve done something.” — Westbrook

Because when Westbrook returns…well, I have a feeling that one of the five-best basketball players in the world will return with a vengeance, and he’ll be looking forward to proving that he is officially back.

Where should Russell Westbrook rank in the SLAM Top 50?

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SLAMonline Top 50 Players 2013
Rank Player Team Position Pos. Rank
50 Monta Ellis Mavs SG 5
49 Luol Deng Bulls SF 10
48 Ricky Rubio TWolves PG 14
47 Greg Monroe Pistons PF 12
46 Kawhi Leonard Spurs SF 9
45 Mike Conley Grizzlies PG 13
44 Al Jefferson Bobcats C 9
43 David Lee Warriors PF 11
42 Jrue Holiday Pelicans PG 12
41 Anthony Davis Pelicans PF 10
40 Joe Johnson Nets SG 4
39 Serge Ibaka Thunder PF 9
38 Kevin Garnett Nets PF 8
37 Rudy Gay Raptors SF 8
36 Paul Pierce Nets SF 7
35 Ty Lawson Nuggets PG 11
34 Pau Gasol Lakers PF 7
33 Al Horford Hawks C 8
32 Andre Iguodala Warriors SF 6
31 Brook Lopez Nets C 7
30 Zach Randolph Grizzlies PF 6
29 DeMarcus Cousins Kings C 6
28 Damian Lillard Blazers PG 10
27 Josh Smith Hawks SF 5
26 Joakim Noah Bulls C 5
25 Roy Hibbert Pacers C 4
24 John Wall Wizards PG 9
23 Chris Bosh Heat C 3
22 Tim Duncan Spurs PF 5
21 Dirk Nowitzki Mavs PF 4
20 LaMarcus Aldridge Blazers PF 3
19 Rajon Rondo Celtics PG 8
18 Marc Gasol Grizzlies C 2
17 Blake Griffin Clippers PF 2
16 Deron Williams Nets PG 7
15 Kevin Love TWolves PF 1
14 Dwyane Wade Heat SG 3
13 Paul George Pacers SF 4
12 Russell Westbrook Thunder PG 6

Rankings are based on expected contribution in ’13-14—to players’ team, the League and the game.