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?

Loading ... Loading ...
SLAMonline Top 50 Players 2013
RankPlayerTeamPositionPos. Rank
50Monta EllisMavsSG5
49Luol DengBullsSF10
48Ricky RubioTWolvesPG14
47Greg MonroePistonsPF12
46Kawhi LeonardSpursSF9
45Mike ConleyGrizzliesPG13
44Al JeffersonBobcatsC9
43David LeeWarriorsPF11
42Jrue HolidayPelicansPG12
41Anthony DavisPelicansPF10
40Joe JohnsonNetsSG4
39Serge IbakaThunderPF9
38Kevin GarnettNetsPF8
37Rudy GayRaptorsSF8
36Paul PierceNetsSF7
35Ty LawsonNuggetsPG11
34Pau GasolLakersPF7
33Al HorfordHawksC8
32Andre IguodalaWarriorsSF6
31Brook LopezNetsC7
30Zach RandolphGrizzliesPF6
29DeMarcus CousinsKingsC6
28Damian LillardBlazersPG10
27Josh SmithHawksSF5
26Joakim NoahBullsC5
25Roy HibbertPacersC4
24John WallWizardsPG9
23Chris BoshHeatC3
22Tim DuncanSpursPF5
21Dirk NowitzkiMavsPF4
20LaMarcus AldridgeBlazersPF3
19Rajon RondoCelticsPG8
18Marc GasolGrizzliesC2
17Blake GriffinClippersPF2
16Deron WilliamsNetsPG7
15Kevin LoveTWolvesPF1
14Dwyane WadeHeatSG3
13Paul GeorgePacersSF4
12Russell WestbrookThunderPG6

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