Aside from the All Star games, and years after a Finals’ appearance, the sports world is starting to catch on as a whole as to who Russell Westbrook really is. In my eyes, it’s been long enough, very long overdue, but I credit my basketball background and scouting eye for that. Obviously, Westbrook has been a great player for the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Listed at point guard, he is the most explosive combo guard in the NBA, and he has been since the first injury to Derrick Rose. The talk has been about Rose, an elite point guard that has won the MVP award, as well as Westbrook’s MVP-winning teammate, Kevin Durant. I get it, the media loves the humble stars in Rose and Durant, but the common overkill of those players even had analysts overlooking Westbrook’s impact. Granted, Rose and Durant earned every bit of attention, but I’m not a fan of keeping hyped players in the headlines that just won’t improve, such as Carmelo Anthony of the New York Knicks.
Slowly but surely, the cream rising to the top showed out as MVP of the 2015 All Star Game. Before that, while acknowledging Durant as the best scorer in the game and a top player, the rock has been Westbrook and fans have disagreed with me for years about this topic. I’ve been speaking from a locker room standpoint, and it has been apparent on the court but people are always going to see what they want to see, or at least until some public media figure realizes something and speaks of it. I’m not that by any means. I just know basketball after playing, coaching, and even officiating, for about a quarter of a century.
Back to the man garnering this recent, well-deserved spotlight. In the Finals’ loss to the Miami Heat back in 2012, you kind of have to knit pick the two top teams in the league to find the source of the problem, and my fingers pointed at Durant’s lack of versatility, as well as head coach Scott Brooks. I think the Thunder have underachieved in that Finals’ series, and since then in the past few seasons and playoff appearances. The OKC offense is as predictable as they come, but Coach Brooks should could make life easier and advance further in the playoffs, if everything wasn’t so plain and vanilla. Brooks’ lack of creativity has contributed to my criticism of Durant, who has yet to even fulfill his potential versatility as a complete offensive player. I won’t discuss my hopes of things finally clicking for Durant on the defense end, because really, there is no reason that he can’t fill the boxes and do all the intangibles with his abilities and features. So no, this here is to elaborate on why Westbrook is the man I’ve been hyping before this recent love spree, and it has nothing to do with his clothing style!
It is a shame that the franchise chose Serge Ibaka over James Harden, who is now a candidate to win MVP for the Houston Rockets, and at this point saying “I told you so” may start to feel like a lie despite doing so. Along with not finding a way to make things work with Reggie Jackson, again I say, find a coach that can handle the X’s and O’s with great players and meshing the egos to keep a good thing going. The Thunder had the opportunity to be one of the best trios, not just a dynamic duo. For basketball historians, the Golden State Warriors had firepower from 1989 on, with Tim Hardaway, Mitch Richmond, and Chris Mullin, so don’t tell me that they couldn’t make magic and reap more success together.
Westbrook even persevered through a couple of injuries to look better than he ever has. The raw but talented guard out of UCLA has improved to the professional level like few have. Westbrook was nowhere near the player he is today, or even a few years ago, back at the collegiate level. His pull-up jumper has improved to the elite level his penetration and defense have been at. This aggressive, cold-blooded character, brings fire and energy to both ends of the floor every time he suits up. His work ethic and qualities have been rubbing off on Durant actually, check out his demeanor with more emotion on the court and a chip on his shoulder in interviews now. OKC’s winning hinges on Westbrook, who is going through a similar experience as Kobe Bryant, who says they are 100% alike in their preparation and thought process. Again, like I’ve said for a handful of years now, that’s exactly what I’ve shared in basketball conversations and yet, only my brother saw what I saw this entire time.
There isn’t anything that Westbrook can’t do on the floor. A player may be young and a little reckless with the ball at times, but I didn’t hold that against the potential he showed me because it’s been there all along. When it comes to a team sport and winning, it doesn’t matter that the media perceives the Thunder as Durant’s team, because you need the stars and the role players for success. Westbrook has been known as the sidekick that should give up the ball a little more, when I thought he needed to play that way because Durant is still learning to expand his game. Yes, as great as he has played, Durant can still take more advantage of his size in the post, which would result in more free throws and assists. Durant could be cutting more towards the basket, or even setting more picks to get himself open in easy ways. Westbrook, I can’t wait for the day he starts bullying opposing guards down low, like coaches Mark Jackson and Jason Kidd used to do. I don’t think any player has more steals that led to fastbreak points, mostly dunks in Westbrook’s case, than guys like Westbrook and Rajon Rondo.
Hopefully, you see what I mean about his two-way abilities, and the statistics back up his play as well. Also, his influence as a leader, his fire is contagious and he sets the tone by attacking the paint and putting pressure on the ball. He’s so active on the floor it’s exciting to watch. Just like everyone wants to rant and rave about the proven LeBron James or the potential of Anthony Davis, Westbrook is somewhere in-between and probably leans closer to James in terms of playing the guard position. Westbrook is a guy that draws many comparisons to other great players at different positions, as he continues to flex over guards around the league as the best rebounder too. Don’t believe me? Check the stats, and not just for this year either.
Now that you know more about Westbrook’s game than you did before, hopefully, don’t be surprised if he emerges as a candidate for MVP. For OKC’s sake, they can hang onto Westbrook and Durant beyond their current contracts, hire a better head coach, and have a real shot at a dynasty. But, since being drafted, I thought Westbrook has been bound for the purple and gold in Los Angeles. All I was doing was looking forward at where the Lakers and Westbrook would be, and now it makes even more sense that he goes home to revive the fallen franchise that will be without Bryant soon.