Resume: 23.6 points (5th in league), 4.6 rebounds, 5.5 assists, 1.7 steals (8th in league), 35.3 minutes, 340 free throws made (5th in league), 413 free throws attempts (7th in league), 46% FG, 32% 3PT, and 82% FT… Team record in games played: 47-19… Playoffs: 23.1 points, 5.5 rebounds, 5.9 assists, 1.6 steals, 44% FG, 80% FT, 13-7 record… All-Star, 12th in MVP Voting, 2nd Team All-NBA
As the NBA is evolving into a league where concrete positions are becoming a thing of the past, I believe my opinion of Russell Westbrook will be drastically improved. I’m not the biggest advocate of Russell Westbrook “the point guard”, but I’m a big time supporter of Russell Westbrook “the basketball player.” Westbrook as a point guard is a sometimes shaky decision maker and shoots a little too much. Westbrook as a basketball player is a fearless, hard-nosed, athletic freak whose explosiveness pushing the ball up the court and his burst when he leaves the floor to attack the rim is equaled by maybe two or three other guys in the league. Additionally, he can very easily handle the scoring burden for Oklahoma City and do just about anything else you could possibly need a player to do.
Some might not see the difference between “point guard” and “basketball player”. To me, and I’m sure a lot of other basketball fans would agree with me, there is a blatant difference between the two. I love Westbrook’s competitive spirit. He firmly believes he is the best player on the floor at all times; that’s a great mentality to have. Kevin Durant is his teammate. Kevin Durant has a greater reason to believe he is the best player on the floor than Russell Westbrook does. See the problem? Obviously there are times when Russell Westbrook stepping up, taking the conch and saying, “I don’t care if Jesus Christ himself was on my team, I’m taking this effing game over” is a great thing. In the 2011 playoffs Westbrook was heavily criticized for shooting too much. He was even benched at times late in games for back-up point guard Eric Maynor. I placed some of the blame on Kevin Durant, who didn’t look nearly as eager or cold-blooded in 2011 as he did in 2012. Westbrook stepped up and took the initiative to be the man. Can you blame him? In game 4 of the NBA Finals (From here on out known as “The Cramp Game”) Westbrook went off for 43 points on 20-32 shooting. Did I have a problem with that? Not necessarily. In retrospect, I have a problem with the way the media covered it. The three biggest talking points after that game were:
1: LeBron James’ cramps
2: Russell Westbrook committing an unnecessary foul and dribbling the ball of his own foot
3: Russell Westbrook taking 32 shots, and Durant taking just 19.
LeBron’s cramps were rightfully so number one. But where was the love for Westbrook’s performance? He was knocking down every pull up jumper he took and attacking the rim relentlessly, getting no help from the refs who sent him to the line just three times the entire game. Three weeks earlier Rajon Rondo delivered a better, yet very similar performance in a losing effort, and analysts were calling it one of the best in postseason history. Westbrook didn’t even crack the top 3 talking points.
In a roundabout way Russell Westbrook is the LeBron James of the western conference, only on a much, MUCH smaller scale since in reality he is the 2nd best player on his own team. At times does Westbrook push the issue a little too much? Yes, but what point guard doesn’t do that on occasion? What people need to remember is that without a point guard—or player playing the point guard position—as great as Russell Westbrook, the Thunder are not a finals team.