Last night, the Oklahoma City Thunder beat the Houston Rockets at home behind a combined 59 points, 17 rebounds and 14 assists from Russell Westbrook and Victor Oladipo. That kind of production from their new dynamic back court is the new recipe for success in OKC.
After playing just three games with the Thunder since being traded from the Orlando Magic, Oladipo signed a four-year extension, cementing the 24-year-old as part of the team’s future plans. Those plans will also involve Russell Westbrook since the five-time All-Star decided to sign an extension with the Thunder through 2017-18 on the heels of Kevin Durant’s departure.
Acquiring Oladipo served two beneficial purposes for the Thunder ahead of Kevin Durant’s decision to leave. It presented a roster upgrade at shooting guard (even though it took trading another core piece in Serge Ibaka) and freshened things up for Durant should he stay. At the same time, Oladipo became a sound contingency as one of the budding young talents in the league. If Durant were to leave, the Thunder still have the makings for a prominent future and an explosive backcourt to work with.
There might not be a better example for Oladipo than Westbrook at this stage in his career. They share the same powerful brand of athleticism, making Westbrook the consummate current standard for someone like Oladipo.
An enormous, ongoing task presents itself for Victor Oladipo, basically having to replace Kevin Durant, an equally lethal force as his running mate Westbrook. Although, the circumstances are different for Oladipo. There won’t be any debates about who’s the alpha dog of the Thunder. Oladipo is primed to defer to Westbrook for the time being, but that doesn’t absolve him of the responsibility to establish himself as a consistent and reliable no. 2 option.
But the onus doesn’t just fall on Oladipo in this process. Russell Westbrook has to embrace his role as both alpha and mentor, which is the best way for Oladipo to feel validated in his efforts to become a worthy wingman to one of the best players in the NBA.
Oladipo is off to a fine start, averaging just over 16 points per game through his first 12 games as a member of the Thunder. That’s exactly what he averaged last season with Orlando. Eventually, being the same player he was in Orlando won’t be enough. He’ll be expected to elevate his level of play as Westbrook continues to set the extreme and aggressive standard for himself and his teammates. Oladipo is to play a significant role in OKC’s new brand of potential, and while he’s comfortably in the backseat to Westbrook, he still has the task of progressing into a player who makes for an elite backcourt duo that can keep the Thunder fierce and playoff-worthy.