Oklahoma City Thunder superstar Russell Westbrook is a freak of nature, posting incredible numbers that have not been seen in NBA history.
The big picture: Although Westbrook is able to post amazing numbers in the regular season, it’s that same mindset that he plays with that ultimately dooms the Thunder from improving.
“Good Times“: Westbrook has taken the league by storm since being drafted fourth overall by the Seattle Supersonics in the 2008 NBA Draft. On a team with future MVP’s Kevin Durant and James Harden, and defensive powerhouse Serge Ibaka, Westbrook stood out because of his extreme intensity and his 100 mile-per-hour style of play.
With that quartet on the same team, they were able to take a fledgling Thunder squad to the NBA Finals in 2012, eventually falling to the Miami Heat in five games.
Although he wasn’t the primary option on offense, Westbrook still managed to put up solid numbers:
- A two-time All-Star (2011, 2012)
- Averaged 19.2 points, 4.7 rebounds and 6.7 assists per game.
- Shot 42/28/81 percent from the field, 3-point and free throw line, respectively.
However, with Harden being traded to the Houston Rockets in 2012, Durant joining the Golden State Warriors in 2016 and Ibaka being traded to the Orlando Magic that same offseason, the Thunder gave the keys to Wetbrook, hoping he would drive them back to the finals.
Westbrook’s world: As the last man standing, Westbrook elevated his game to an incredible level in 2017, posting career-highs in almost every category.
Since the 2016-17 season, Westbrook has:
- Won the MVP in 2017.
- Averaged a 30-point triple-double season in 2017, the second in league history after Oscar Robertson in 1962.
- Averaged a triple-double in three straight seasons (2017, 2018, 2019).
- During that span, averaged 26.6 points, 10.6 rebounds and 10.4 assists per game.
After trading for Indiana Pacers’ star Paul George and Carmelo Anthony during the 2017 offseason, Oklahoma City looked primed to regain their Thunder as one of the elite teams in the league. Even so, that is easier said than done.
Playoffs? More like layoffs: It seemed like the inclusion of George and Anthony would allow the Thunder to challenge the Warriors and Rockets for Western Conference dominance. But that wasn’t the case.
The Anthony/George/Westbrook pairing failed spectacularly, with Anthony proving to be unplayable in the Thunder’s six game playoff defeat in 2018 against the Utah Jazz.
Soon after, the Thunder traded Anthony to the Atlanta Hawks. The pairing of George and Westbrook worked better during the 2019 regular season as George solidified himself as an MVP candidate. Nevertheless, playoff success has eluded the Thunder.
With Westbrook leading the charge:
- The Thunder have won four playoff games in three seasons.
- Failed to advance past the first round.
- Outscored by 6.2 points per game by their opponents.
That same tenacity that Westbrook plays with has become a hinderance to the Thunder. He shot a career-worst 36 percent from the field with over four turnovers a game in the 2019 playoffs.
“Changes” featuring talent: If the Thunder want to keep advancing further into the postseason, changes obviously need to be made. As the leader of the team, it all begins with Westbrook and his demeanor.
While Westbrook is putting up amazing statistics on paper, the eye-test shows something different.
- He is constantly falling asleep on defense, electing to chase rebounds instead of boxing out.
- He tries to bulldoze his way to the rim and throws up a bad shot.
- He often takes ill-advised shots, especially from 3-point land where he is a career 30 percent shooter.
- He fails to make the proper plays on offense and defense.
Even though stats are important, Westbrook’s intangibles need some work. All the talent in the world won’t help if a player’s basketball IQ is lacking. Nevertheless, if Westbrook is able to cede some of the control and temper his aggression, combining that with his otherworldly talent can yield great results for the Thunder in the future.
The bottom line: It’s undeniable that Westbrook is a once-in-a-generation talent, able to perform incredible feats of wonder that 99 percent of the population can only dream of doing. That said, his recklessness and bravado has proven to be detrimental to the Thunder’s success. Though he may be a Thunder legend, it may be time to dial back his intensity for the betterment of the team.