You love him or you hate him, and then there is every single possibility in between. Oklahoma City Thunder point guard Russell Westbrook is one of the league’s most exciting and frustrating players to watch, all at the same time. His nonstop energy may not be matched by anyone in the league, but every Thunder fan knows when it’s going to be a Westbrook possession. Even with the league’s best pure scorer in Kevin Durant, there are always those possessions where the ball is brought up the court and shot by Westbrook without getting into the hands of any other Thunder player. I like to call these Russessions.
There are three types of Russessions. One is the type where Westbrook quickly gets the ball on an outlet pass, dribbles up the court, and pulls up for a midrange jumper. The second Russession has him quickly drive to the basket and take an acrobatic layup. The last type is the possession where Westbrook winds down the shot clock in an isolation situation and hoists up a low percentage three pointer.
Many of these shots leave Thunder fans pulling out their hair. On the November 14th nationally televised game against the Golden State Warriors, the Thunder were down by two with under ten seconds left in the 4th quarter. When Durant got double teamed, he passed the ball to Westbrook, who took a crazy three pointer from five feet beyond the arc and with Klay Thompson in his face. As the shot went up, I screamed my displeasure. Still with almost five seconds left, he had time to at least dribble up and take a sane shot, but that anger immediately went away when the shot swished through the net. Andre Iguodala went on to hit the game winner at the buzzer, but Westbrook got his revenge later when he hit another crazy three, this time at the buzzer, to beat the Warriors in overtime.
It is these plays and decisions that take years off of the life of Thunder fans. When Westbrook is on, he’s almost unstoppable. But when he’s off, he’s bad. Really bad. Perhaps the most unique thing about Westbrook is that he has no shot filter. Whether he’s shooting 11-12 or 1-9, he will not stop taking shots. It’s simply the type of player that he is. He is not a conventional point guard, and he has the ability to make you ecstatic and break your heart multiple times throughout a game.
And then there’s his relationship with Kevin Durant. Durant is without a doubt one of the top two players in the NBA today, but there are multiple games where Westbrook takes many more shots than him. If there is one thing that Durant has been criticized for at this point in his career, it is his tendency to defer. With Westbrook on the court, there are many possessions where the ball does not get into the hands of the best pure scorer in the league. Durant simply does not have that same shooting fearlessness that Westbrook does. He picks his spots and tries to help facilitate the scoring of the other players. Durant himself sometimes thinks that he shoots too much.
There is no denying that the two play extremely well with each other. Those Westbrook to Durant alley-oops are things of beauty, and through their time in Oklahoma City, they have really learned how to play off of one another. When the both of them are running the floor, the Thunder have been able to win multiple playoff series against good, experienced teams. Without Westbrook, they are a different team. The Thunder, despite being in every game, lost convincingly to the Memphis Grizzlies in the second round of the playoffs last year, and have played close to .500 basketball in the games Westbrook has missed due to injury so far this year.
Without Westbrook, Durant has emerged as the leading MVP candidate, scoring almost 35 points per game. His assists per game are up, and his shooting percentage has stayed almost the same, despite defenses doubling him more than ever. In that span though, the Thunder have lost four of their last seven games, including a loss to the lowly Utah Jazz. Sure, Durant would love to win his first MVP award after finishing second to LeBron James so much, but the first priority is winning. Without Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant has shown the type of game changing scorer that he is capable of being, but we’ve seen this before. LeBron James left Cleveland because he was given the task of being the only star on a championship team. So yes, while Durant is capable of much more, Westbrook’s high usage is needed to keep the Thunder relevant as a true championship contender. As today’s NBA has shown, one superstar cannot win a title on their own. For this reason, Durant needs Westbrook as much as Westbrook needs Durant. He may not be an MVP with Westbrook playing, and the nonstop energy play of the point guard may be frustrating at times and result in fewer shots for Durant, it is a necessary change that the Thunder will welcome if it means they can win a championship.
So with that said, get well soon, Russ. Your team needs you.
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