Thanks to Westbrook's ludicrous, record-smashing season, the first phase of that project has gone about as well as anyone could've hoped. And make no mistake: Thunder general manager Sam Presti very much sees this season as phase one.
"I think he's getting better," Presti told ESPN's Ramona Shelburne on Sunday, after Westbrook recorded his 42nd triple-double of the year (breaking Oscar Robertson's single-season record) and eliminated the Denver Nuggets from playoff contention with a game-winning 30-footer at the buzzer.
"I think he's become a better player. With players at that level, it's generally going to happen in these small, incremental ways unless the circumstances change around you. In this case, the circumstances obviously changed. The team is different. It's been a season of discovery for our team and our organization."
The Thunder had previously gotten a glimpse of what a team revolving around Westbrook's incandescent star might look like. Durant spent most of the 2014-15 season on the shelf, and Westbrook produced some astonishing individual results after taking the reins, winning the scoring title and averaging 31.4 points, 8.6 rebounds, and 9.9 assists after the All-Star break. That team ultimately fell just shy of the playoffs, but it helped write the blueprint for how the Durant-less Thunder might thrive.
They are, by Presti's admission, very much still honing that blueprint. While the front office has surrounded Westbrook with size, athleticism, and defensive mobility, the supporting cast still lacks depth and is woefully short on spot-up shooting threats, leaving the offense overly reliant on Westbrook. But the team didn't have much time to adjust to their new reality in the wake of the Durant bombshell, and Presti is confident they'll find the right alchemy as they continue to learn more about who they now are.
"There's a discovery period for Russell that's taking place, and we're at the very front end of that," he said. "We're not making any bones about that. We haven't had a tremendous amount of time to understand and to build. It's going to take some time, but I will say that if this is the first year of that process and project for us, he's made it very exciting."