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Durant Injury Opens Door For Westbrook To Lead The Thunder

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OKLAHOMA CITY -

The day Oklahoma City Thunder fans were hoping would never come finally came on Sunday.

Kevin Durant was diagnosed with a foot injury and will miss at least the first month of the season. The injuries and bad luck the Thunder had avoided so well have finally come to OKC. It's unfortunate, but it's reality.

Of course, reality also dictates that for the first month of the season (at least) this team is now Russell Westbrook's.

Scary thought at first, but how fortunate is Oklahoma City that the player to take Durant's spot is a ballhandler that's not afraid to shoot? Can you imagine if OKC didn't have a bona fide star at point guard and the next man up was Serge Ibaka? Now that is a scary thought.

Going forward, this injury isn't about Durant or his future health—although those are valid concerns. The questions are about the Thunder as currently constructed and how Westbrook is going to lead this team.

Related Story: Thunder Officials: Kevin Durant Diagnosed With Jones Fracture

No one should expect Westbrook to be Durant in any capacity. Scoring, personality, even leadership, it doesn't matter. Westbrook is nothing like Durant and to expect him to turn into a Durant clone just because he is the alpha dog now is not fair to him.

Westbrook's personality doesn't lend itself well to being a leader. He's demonstrative and fiery, sure, but he doesn't channel that energy into inspiring his fellow teammates. That normally falls on the shoulders of Durant. That's not to say Westbrook never pumps up his teammates or offers an encouraging word, but those instances don't happen terribly often.

The criticism Westbrook endures on a game-by-game basis mostly stems from fans that put him and Durant side-by-side and find his personality about as cuddly as a cactus compared to Durant's teddy bear. Plenty of people don't like Westbrook. That's fine, but who he is as a person shouldn't affect the way his game is viewed.

Westbrook is virtually unguardable when he is on his game. His speed is unmatched in the NBA and very few have the athleticism he possesses. He won't have any problems getting his shot or scoring. The biggest test will be involving his teammates.

Passing isn't a problem for Westbrook, but even with one of the two best players on the planet on the court, Westbrook can still try to play the role of hero. Imagine how much more he could do it without Durant even in the picture. Westbrook's maturity is going to be put to the test in this area. How much does he really trust his teammates? How highly does he really think of himself?

It won't take long to see the answer to those questions. Like it or not, this team is Westbrook's for the foreseeable future. Instead of mourning the loss of Durant and bemoaning the fact a difficult personality is set to take over the Thunder, perhaps Thunder fans should be thankful there's another star ready to keep the ship afloat until Durant returns.

We're going to learn a lot about Russell Westbrook in the next two months; about his maturity, his leadership, even his overall ability. It's an important time for the rest of the Thunder, but for Westbrook, it may be the most important time of his career.

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